At Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), we are developing a system for automatic persona generation (APG). The demo is available online at https://persona.qcri.org
As a part of this research, we’re interested in the information needs of end users of personas . People working in different domains are interested in different information, after all. For example, journalists want to know what type of news the personas are consuming, while e-commerce marketers want to know what products they are buying.
We have reviewed a lot of material relating to interviewing customers in order to create the persona profiles because, although our approach is based on automation and computational techniques, we have an interest to experiment with mixed personas utilizing qualitative data to enrich the automatically generated personas .
This brief post shares some of the key insights we’ve found. [Update: there is an extended version of persona interview questions in our team’s blog. I suggest checking it out.]
In general, when creating personas we need to query two types of information:
- Information needs of persona users => this means what information people inside our organization want to know
- Customer information => this means what information we can learn about the customers
For the former, we have developed an Information Needs Questionnaire with eight questions:
- What are your objectives for content creation / marketing?
- What kind of customer-related decisions you make?
- What kind of customer information you need?
- What analytics information are you currently using?
- What kind of customer-related questions you don’t currently get good answers to?
- How would you use personas in your own work?
- What information you find useful in the persona mockup?
- What information is missing from the mockup?
The purpose of these questions is to discover the interviewee’s professional information needs. This is useful for developing analytics systems, e.g. automatic persona generation, but also extends to traditional persona creation.
In the following, we summarize some questions intended for customers.
From Mr. Steve Cartwright (2015) 
“I know that when I am preparing buyer personas I have a whole heap of questions that I ask in fact I have a PowerPoint I go through with clients, this enables me to generate the personas that I need. However, if you start by simply asking:
· Who are they?
· What do these people do?
· Are they married, singles, living with a partner?
· What problems or concerns do they have, that your industry niche can solve?
· Where do they hang out and what do they do online?
· Are these people decision makers, influencers or referral sources?
Just those six questions are all you need to get started and to start to understand who you’re customers are and to turn your business into a customer centric one.”
From “Nisha” (2013) :
“Questions for B2B marketers to delve into while creating buyer personas include:
- Buyer experience and reporting officer of the prospect
- Professional background of the prospect
- Kind of organization
- Organizations’ segment focus
- History of purchases
- Change in role in past few years
- Market forces influencing buyers
- Most urgent problems
- What funded initiatives does the buyer have
- What are the motivations that drive the buyer
- What the buyer’s needs?
- What is the budget?
- Who are involved in the decision-making?
- Attitude of the company towards the product/service
From Jesse Ness  (2016):
These are the most basic questions that you should be asking your target customers, such as:
· Are they married?
· How old are they?
· Where do they live?
· Do they have children? How many? What ages?
· Which country/city did they grow up in?
· Education questions:
Our early school and college education help us shape as adults. People usually tend to answer these questions more honestly.
· What level of education did they complete?
· Which schools did they attend? Public or Private?
· What did they study?
· Were they popular at school?
· Which extra-curricular activities (if any) did they take part in?
· Career questions:
Questions about the working life of your prospects reveals a lot of interesting details about them.
· What industry do they work in?
· What is their current job level?
· What was their first full-time job?
· How did they end up where they are today?
· Has their career track been traditional or did they switch from another industry?
· Financial questions:
Your customers finances will tell you what they can afford and how easily they make their purchasing decisions.
· How often you buy high ticket items?
· How much are they worth?
· Are they responsible for making purchasing decision in the household?
Keep in mind that people tend to answer financial questions incorrectly, even in anonymous online surveys. Some might even construe this as an invasion of their privacy. Temper your results accordingly (usually by decreasing the stated average income).”
There is a myriad of questions one can ask from the customers when creating persona profiles. However, they should be based on first defining internal information needs. In the persona creation process, the above question lists serve as inspiration.
Interested in automatic persona generation for your company? Contact Dr. Jim Jansen: [email protected]
 Personas are fictive characters based on real data about the underlying audience. Their purpose is to make customer analytics more easily understandable than numbers and graphs.
 Salminen, J., Şengün, S., Haewoon, K., Jansen, B. J., An, J., Jung, S., … Harrell, F. (2017). Generating Cultural Personas from Social Data: A Perspective of Middle Eastern Users. In Proceedings of The Fourth International Symposium on Social Networks Analysis, Management and Security (SNAMS-2017). Prague, Czech Republic.