Generic messaging never resonates as well as highly personalized interactions — and no one likes to feel like they are getting a canned response. Conversations focused on personal, empathetic engagement are much more likely to build meaningful relationships with your students. 

Beyond using their name or simple points of data, truly personalized conversations address the full spectrum of individual student needs at a given time. At Mainstay, we work closely with partner institutions and organizations to create and execute personalized scripts and campaigns — determining exactly how to engage the right people at the right time, with timely and relevant messages. 

Engaging students on their terms 

“Writing for teenagers is really hard — especially in the form of a chatbot, which is something very new for a lot of institutions,” says Ilana Habib, Mainstay’s director of managed services. But Ilana and her team are uniquely positioned to tackle the challenge. “Engaging adolescents through emerging technology is really our sweet spot,” she continues.

In fact, llana has dedicated her entire career to this endeavor. During her undergraduate studies at MIT, she worked in the Media Lab and Education Arcade to translate traditional, print-based curriculum into compelling digital content. From there, she earned her master’s degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education, working at the intersection of higher ed, technology, and educational equity.

“18-year-olds are an absolutely fascinating group to work with,” she says. “They’re at a stage in their lives when one meaningful conversation can have a tremendous impact. And that’s where Mainstay’s platform is so spectacular: It empowers our partners to have those conversations in a highly personalized and intentional way, at scale.”

Connecting with students on the channels they prefer is key to facilitating those profound conversations. The strategies that worked in the past don’t always resonate with today’s students. Less than 25% of emails related to education are ever opened, and the majority of those emails never elicit a response or inspire action. Mainstay partners who text with their students see a huge boost to engagement — with an average response rate of about 40% — which is an incredible improvement over other communication channels. When our partner institutions take advantage of Mainstay’s managed services, that engagement rate typically jumps to 60 – 70% — which is almost unheard of through other channels.

The research and expertise that goes into our managed services team’s script-building is a key reason that managed scripts can achieve such extraordinary engagement. Here are few examples of Mainstay’s managed services scripts in action:

Supporting students with empathy

Two of the largest college access networks in the country, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) and the Common App, rely on Mainstay’s managed services to supercharge their behaviorally intelligent chatbots, called ADVi and Oli, respectively.

Mainstay’s managed services-driven messages reach more than a million students per week, offering admissions guidance, providing real-time answers, and serving timely reminders about things like scholarships, the FAFSA, and other important actions. If a student’s inquiry requires a human touch, conversations are routed to trained advisors who step in to provide real-time, one-to-one support. 

“A large majority of students we engage with are first-generation, low-income, or underrepresented students — or some combination of the three,” Ilana, the proud daughter of a first-generation Cuban immigrant, explains. “Throughout the Mainstay team, there’s a lot of personal connection to the work that we’re doing, which really drives our empathy-first approach. It’s so important to remember that applying to college isn’t the only thing happening in an 18-year-old person’s life.” 

Conversations need to reflect this reality. For example, the pandemic has put a huge financial strain on many students and their families, causing high school graduates’ postsecondary enrollment rate to drop nearly seven percent. During this time, Oli has provided the critical support a University of La Verne freshman needed to achieve her college dream. “[Oli] gave me access to financial and educational resources that I would’ve never known existed without it. I think of Oli like a friend. It supported me on my journey, like a friend would, every step of the way,” she says.

After the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, Mainstay’s managed services team even crafted empathetic messages so partner institutions could check in with their students and better understand their needs and concerns during a highly tumultuous time.

Building relationships with student engagement 

With such highly personalized touchpoints, it’s easy for students to sort of forget they’re engaging with a bot. “There’s this willing suspension of disbelief,” says Ilana. “Students know that ADVi and Oli are chatbots, but after a while, they start engaging with them as they would a friend.”

Take a John Jay College of Criminal Justice student, for example. “Oli was my guardian angel. As a first-generation college student, I didn’t have the privilege to get the help I needed at home on my college journey. Even though Oli may be a robot, I felt like someone had my back,” she says.

It’s not uncommon for “bot appreciation posts” to pop up on Reddit and other social media channels. It’s moments like these when Ilana is reminded that she has, in her words, “the best job in the world.”

All the while, Mainstay’s automated knowledge base expands with each of these personalized student interactions — and grows smarter every day. Advanced analytics make it easy to listen to students’ needs at scale. Plus, Mainstay’s many partnerships with leading experts help our conversational experts continuously refine and enhance targeted campaign messages for maximum impact.

So, what is the secret to truly authentic student engagement? “It comes down to three things,” Ilana says. “Timing, targeting, and tone. You can’t think of your chatbot as the ‘nudge-blaster 9,000.’ If you’re sending messages like, ‘Alert! Alert! You have a bill due,’ you aren’t using the technology to your institution’s advantage. The more trust you build, the more value you will get from the platform.”

Expert guidance for deeper student engagement 

Mainstay’s managed services team helps institutions like yours deliver the personalized information your students need — without your team having to spend hours crafting one-off responses.

Instead of struggling to find the perfect phrase, GIF, or emoji that will resonate with your students, Mainstay’s managed services team can do it for you. Request a demo today to learn more about how you can partner with Mainstay to supercharge your engagement and drive positive outcomes. 

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