Behavioural science principles: personalise content

Published by Nick Murphy on

Behavioural science principles: personalise content

There are a lot of misperceptions about what personalising content really means. We ‘personalise’ content all the time. For example, when we surf the internet or scan a magazine, we are seeking out those pieces of information most relevant to our goals. In our day-to-day lives we have hundreds of micro-goals that compete with each other for our attention. We personalise the world around us, curating it into a shopping list of ‘actions’ we need to take, either now or at some time in the future.

What do we mean by ‘personalising’ content?

In system design, personalising content is the process of enabling OR anticipating the jobs our user has to do with the content we have. If you were building a shopping list app, this would mean anticipating the things our customers might want to buy based on what shops they’ve visited in the past, in a dashboard this might mean showing the user certain information based on something we know about their job role, or it might be allowing a user the ability to save kitchen designs they like and have these ‘liked’ kitchen designs inform the kitchens they see next time (Pinterest is a great example of this).

We make spaces people visit to gather information that helps them do their tasks

We are system designers – we collate and curate the information that people interact or engage with. Therefore, we should consider our users’ objectives as central to our task. We shouldn’t design content where we impose our view of the world on users. Instead, we should try and build the most welcoming world we can and let our users decide how they consume from it. Create a welcoming world that puts people at ease.

An approach that is often overlooked when doing this, is what I’m going to call ‘groupalisation’.

Groupalisation is about trying to create a world that is welcoming to a person by creating a world that reflects the group(s) they participate in. This could be their job role ‘project managers’, ‘engineers’ etc or some other social identifier like ‘risk taker’, ‘care worker’. The reason we do this is because when we are at ease in our group we make decisions more easily, trust the information we are presented with more, and may be more welcoming to new information.

Consider the difference between someone who walks into a restaurant and is greeted by a group of friends who they see each week and someone who arrives at a networking event where they don’t know anybody.

In the restaurant they are instantly at ease, they understand their place and they take a seat at the table next to a friend and immediately engage in conversation – the order of the evening plays out as they expect.

Now consider the alternative context, you walk into a networking event where you don’t know anybody, the room is uninviting, you are immediately uncertain of your place, who you should talk to, how the event will proceed and what your role will be in it.

The power of groupalisation

Social signals that point users to where they should look are much more likely to be followed than ones based on simple ‘information architecture’ or a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. It could be allowing users to see what members of their cohort are doing in your system (GDPR allowing), or using experts or champions that the user identifies with as being ‘one of them’. It could also include creating visual designs that reflect the group’s identity, or a simple mechanism like allowing a user the option to say which group identifier best describes them (ask any Destiny player whether they are a Warlock, Hunter or Titan).

How we’ve applied this approach

We’ve developed systematic ways to do this using meta data about group membership and applying visual themes that toggle depending on which group a member is a part of. We’ve even customised whole functionality that changes depending on what we think that group is likely to need to do or the decisions we expect them to make. Once you have sufficiently ‘groupalised’ your content, you can consider other ways to encourage users to store, save, archive and retrieve the information they might want at a later date – these are the tactics of ‘personalisation’.

When we are considering our strategies to personalise content, we should first and foremost always place ourselves in our users’ shoes and anticipate what we think they need. We should also always remember that one of the things we need most is social connection to a group of like-minded others. Factor this into your personalisation strategies early on, as it may have an outsized impact on how you structure your information.

If you’d like to understand how you could use personalisation in your learning solutions, please contact us.