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Leveraging Personalization for Social Impact

Personalization is one of the most effective ways to increase website engagement. While we are used to experiencing it in the commercial sector, it’s also a powerful way for social sector organizations to increase engagement with key audiences.

People are used to customized experiences from their interactions with platforms such as Amazon, Facebook and Instagram which provide specifically-tailored content that correspond with an individual’s interests and social networks. But it’s not just big tech that’s using personalization to improve engagement; personalization is increasingly common on media platforms as well as smaller e-commerce websites. Personalization has an important place in digital strategy for social sector organizations too. In addition to providing a best-in-class user experience, it can address one of the most common challenges we see with nonprofit and government websites: trying to address too many audiences at once. Major donors, members, partners and stakeholders all have different information needs, and it can be challenging to design a site and maintain a content strategy that speaks effectively to all of them. Personalization can solve this problem by delivering customized content based on an individual’s previous behavior on your site, or based on what you already know about an individual in your CRM (e.g., Salesforce, NetSuite, HubSpot). This is a great option for information-dense sites or sites with multiple audiences.

Developing a personalization strategy

There are a few technical solutions out there, but before you jump to the technical solutions, start first by laying out a strategic foundation. To be effective, it’s important to know from the start that simply installing a plugin is not a one-stop solution to implement personalization. And while localization is relatively easy to do early on, most organizations do require dedicated time and resources to learn more about user behavior.  
  1. Set goals. It’s important to take the time to decide where on the site you want to use personalization and why. Are you trying to increase engagement in a certain section to drive more donations from a certain audience segment? Do you want to grow your email list, or event attendance? Knowing what you’re trying to achieve is key to smart personalization.
  2. Define audience segments (and map them to your content strategy). Once you know what you’re trying to do with personalization, define the groups of people that you want to target. Segments could include geographic location, whether the individual has been to the site before, or what content they’ve interacted with already. Or, if there’s a member login, it might be based on data that is stored in your CRM. It’s important that your content strategy maps to your target segments. If your content isn’t specific to certain audience segments, and tagged with clear taxonomy terms, then you may be limited in terms of the data you can track.
  3. Collect data. Once you have your audience segments set up in whichever personalization tool you have chosen, it’s time to… wait. Effective personalization is based on a solid foundation of data, and it takes time to learn how your audience is interacting with your site. There are some things that are possible right away, like localization of content, but more advanced personalization takes time. Typically we recommend organizations take a few months to collect data, then start delivering content based on just a few parameters to test what works best with their audiences.
  4. Deliver personalized content. Once you have some data to work with, you can start to develop and deliver personalized content to your users. We recommend starting slowly, based on pages visited or browsing behavior, before moving onto more complex customizations like cross-channel personalization or combining multiple personalizations.

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