Think about some of the world’s most popular web technologies for a minute and notice just how much they enhance the human conversations and relationships. Facebook is a living canvas of our relationships and now with timeline it can be a personal history of all of these human connections over our lifetimes. There is sophisticated technology behind all of this, but it is entirely focused on enabling the human relationship.
What is Twitter, technologically speaking, but a series of short, tagged content managed by an ever-growing number of pieces of hardware to serve it? Looking at it from the human side, it is so much more – a method to communicate emergent human experience and foster global human relationships on a scale unlike anything that we have had before.
LinkedIn is an incredibly sophisticated, powerful database – but its value lies not as a database, but with the professional human relationships it helps to build and facilitate.
In much the same way, college websites are built on many different kinds of technology but exist primarily to help human beings communicate with each other. The sites we use in higher education crunch numbers, model data, run queries, tag information, and much, much more from a technical standpoint, but the reason they do all of these things really isn’t technical at all.
When thinking about what features, functionality, layout, and structure your website should have, it can be beneficial to start with the human relationships you want to build, conversations you’d like to have or stories you want to tell and work backward into the technology that accomplishes those in the best way.
For example, take the major gifts officer who is trying to convince a donor that the university is worth giving to – this is a deeply human relationship, one that requires a long period of one on one conversation and a building up of trust and rapport. The website should make the case for giving through donor stories and then provide clear information on how to connect with the human being on the other side.
A good, engaging admissions site includes lots of human conversations or ways to initiate conversations later on – student blogs with comments, a live chat feature, and information on visiting campus or one on one interviews – all with the end goal of connecting people to other people.
mStoner produces websites for higher education; but launching your website isn’t our ultimate goal – we are looking to enhance the human relationships that you have with your various constituents.
We want your prospects who visit your admissions site to feel connected to the students who are already there. We want your alumni stories to resonate with other alumni so that they remember what those human relationships were like in the past and rekindle them in the present. We want information to be easy to find so that people can contact the right people for the right human conversations.
This approach even applies to the purely transactional elements, such as filling out forms. A good transactional page is one that gets you through the process as quickly and intuitively as possible, leaving you with more time and avoiding you sitting at your keyboard shouting “I just want to talk to a real human being!”
Our web project process at mStoner emphasizes people first as well – at the beginning of every one of our projects, we send a team of people out to an educational institution for two straight days of just….talking to each other. No technology necessary. We want your human stories and insights. We want the beginning of our relationship with you to be a very human one just like we want your website to be the beginning of a very human relationship with your audience.
The next time you begin a new technology project (website or not), begin with the human conversations that need to take place and think about the person to person relationships that need to be fostered. Ask yourself if the technology solution that you are proposing is something that will enhance the human conversation or hinder it. Starting from this vantage point will help identify what’s truly important to the success of your project, and what is simply technology for technology’s sake. Trust me, your humans will thank you for it.