by Paige Burton-Argo on June 7, 2012

A month ago, Jami and I traveled to Salina to meet with a group of high school seniors to find out where they get their information about colleges and how they make a decision on which to attend. This was part of our research for a small college looking to expand their enrollment.

One of the questions we asked was how these students preferred to be contacted by a college. Here is what I expected to hear: that they didn’t want to be bothered with phone calls or college fairs, that they would rather get an e-mail or check out a Facebook page or explore a website on their own.

Here is what we heard instead: I want someone from the college who is knowledgeable and friendly to contact me personally and talk to me one-on-one.

For a second, I wondered if I had been transported back in time. I was still in the Internet age, right? Where cell phones have become an extension of one’s hand and people talk more over social media than in person?

What especially surprised me was that this was not just how one student felt — they all agreed that personal contact was most important. Having a college rep single them out and give them specific information pertaining to their interests makes them feel like the college cares about them. The next preferred method of contact was phone calls, then e-mails and brochures. Only a few of the students said that they had depended on college websites to gather information.

In Content is Currency: Developing Powerful Content for Web and Mobile, Jon Wuebben makes an important point about human interaction in marketing: “Though the web is just words and images, customers still like to know that there are real people behind the business. They want to know about how you got into business, what drives you, and that you care about your business and your customers.” No matter what kind of business you are in — and a college is a business — people need to feel connected to you before they invest their trust (and their money) into what you are offering.

Like me, many people wrongly assume that the younger generations want communication that is fast and can be accessed from a computer or mobile device. While technology allows us to explore an infinite volume of information quickly and almost effortlessly, it should not be the only way consumers connect with your business. When you take the time to talk to someone face-to-face, to ask about their needs and how you can fill them, it makes a world of difference.

With that in mind, the last thing you want is to have a great meeting with a potential client, and then disappoint them with a lackluster web presence. Establishing new relationships is great, but maintaining those relationships long-term is the key to success. In this busy, fast-paced world, not everyone has the time to arrange a face-to-face with the people they do business with, but if you create a website full of personality, your visitors will feel like they already know you. Make your website friendlier with things like videos and photos, a blog where you can share tips and insights, or an “About Us” page that tells people why you started your business in the first place.

As the newest member of New Boston (I joined the team in April), I am still viewing everything with fresh eyes. When I was checking out the company before I applied, I was excited by the possibility of working with such a dynamic group of people. You can’t help but want to meet them after browsing through the bios on the staff page. This is the kind of content that websites should aim for: engaging, funny and personable. Most importantly, my fellow New Bostonians follow through by being genuinely wonderful people when you are fortunate enough to meet them.

So, next time you go to send an e-mail because you don’t want to “bother somebody,” maybe pick up the phone instead. And never underestimate the ability of high school students to surprise you!