When it comes to community portals, usability has improved in leaps and bounds in the last five years. Personalising portals and intranets themselves is nothing new, but the way that technology has advanced in recent years has made it much more accessible. Personalisation basically allows content to be served to individual users based on their behaviour when they’re using the portal. It’s now used more extensively in marketing too and many sites have now followed the lead of companies like Amazon to offer personalised content and offers to customers.
The nature of a community site is a little different of course, but the principle remains the same. Personalisation these days is not just based on search queries, but is more dynamic in that it depends too on where the visitor has arrived from, the kind of content they’ve accessed in the past and their general behaviour on the portal.
Initiating engagement on community sites is not always easy to achieve. Personalisation helps with this as visitors are being served information that they actually want. Studies have shown that visitors to commercial sites will become annoyed if they see ads and content that they feel is irrelevant to them and will leave the site. Again, the principle in community sites remain the same, if the information that they want to see isn’t there, or they’re presented with the wrong information, then engagement will be very difficult to achieve.
Pushing Targeted Information
In terms of the form of personalisation, it’s first necessary to push targeted content to individual users. This is sometimes tricky to achieve but with today’s technologies and powerful CMS modules such as those offered by elcomCMS, it’s certainly very doable. Of course, like any project it requires good planning and should follow best practices, such as:
- A personalised homepage with the ability to choose what content types they would like featured. If you think about how you can customise your page when logged into Google or Yahoo, then you’re aiming for something similar.
- Automation, or the ability for information to be presented dynamically over time, based on the user’s preferences and history.
It’s impossible to know 100% what visitors using the portal will like (especially in the early stages) so it’s also necessary to ensure that information on the portal is easily discoverable too. A good search function can take care of this and the content should be arranged in a well organised structure so that if the content is not pushed to a certain user they can still find it.
The Psychology of Personalisation
There’s a reason why personalisation works when it comes to the community portal and engagement. Psychologically, as humans we like to be seen as individuals with our own set of desires and behaviours. Personalisation allows us to feel that we’re accentuating our personal attributes when we interact with a portal that has been tailored to our needs. It provides positive affirmation of our identity and since it explicitly differentiates us from others, this provides a positive experience of the portal. And of course, anything that encourages positive thinking will be used more extensively by the community visitor.
According to Sriram Kalyanaraman and S. Shyam Sundar in The Psychological Appeal of Personalized Content in Web Portals: Does Customization Affect Attitudes and Behaviour?:
“Although the interface has the engineering capability to offer customized features, the locus of customization resides with the individual, that is, the interface is sensitive to user preferences and offers individualized content as output. Because users can recognize their own preferences in the customized output, the self as source criterion will likely result in users perceiving a greater sense of ownership of portal content, leading to increased liking for the portal.”
Social Media Users are Highly Engaged
Social media has shown that personalisation is a key contributor to high engagement. Which of course means that a user will be far less engaged on a standard portal which offers little to nothing in terms of personalisation. For evidence of this, it’s really only necessary to look to the meteoric rise of social media in the last decade.
Social media is, at its core, all about the self, despite the fact that it allows users to keep in touch with a wide range of people. How people present themselves on social media tends to differ slightly to how they present themselves in real life situations. What is clear is that users of social media are highly engaged with it as a medium as it allows them the sense of affirmation such as that described above.
For the most part, this is because of the ability people have to personalise their experience. Whilst of course it’s slightly different for a community portal, the basic premise remains the same – give an individual the opportunity to personalise the experience and they will become more willing to use it and engage fully with it.
Of course, social media has its ‘lurkers’ – those users who quietly watch what’s going on without being actively engaged – but this is natural, we’re all different and there will always be some users who are more engaged than others. However, so long as everyone is using the portal and you have some users who can become active ambassadors for the portal, then you have little to worry about.
Intranets and community portals are notoriously difficult to gain any engagement on, especially if they’re not properly planned out at the beginning of the project. Personalisation can help to ensure that engagement is gained, and that community users continue to come back and re-engage with the site in future.