Back in April 2016, an announcement was made by Facebook inviting third parties to use the Facebook Messenger platform to host their own chatbots.
Since then, you may have noticed the option to communicate with bots through your Facebook messenger app.
When tapping the ‘Search’ bar, you’ll now see a section just for ‘Bots’—waiting for you to strike up a conversation. From the Wall Street Journal to the NFL, users will find a variety to choose from.
But although they may seem new to you, they actually go back a long way.
First thing’s first: what is a chatbot?
A chatbot (sometimes known as a chatterbot or talkbot) is an automated computer program that uses an algorithm to maintain a ‘real’ online conversation with its user.
In addition to the responses they are originally programmed with, some bots are designed to ‘learn’ over time based on who they’ve spoken to, making them more intelligent as time goes on.
The purpose of these bots can vary. Some are created simply for entertainment. Others are designed to provide a service or promote a product on behalf of a business.
Want to give them a try? You’ll be spoiled for choice. Since the Facebook platform was launched, over 11,000 chatbots have been introduced to the site.
How the trend began
Chatbots have presented themselves in a variety of forms since their inception.
In terms of social media and online messaging, the trend for chatbots started as far back as AOL Instant Messenger and MSN. Previous users of these platforms may remember Smarterchild, a popular chatbot comically known for receiving endless torment and forcing its users to apologize if they wanted to continue the chat. Although designed for fun and games, Smarterchild was a fine example of what the future could hold for intelligent, responsive bots.
Another invention is Cleverbot—a prime example of a bot that’s learned from its past conversations. Despite starting out well, its learned behaviour has unfortunately led to some questionable content that makes no sense at all, and occasional romantic advances from the bot. So while it’s awesome to see how bots can develop over time, it’s probably best to avoid a self-learning bot if you’re going to using it professionally.
Instead, opt for professional, informative content that properly reflects your brand.
You may have experienced a bot in the form of on-site livechat, rather than a human being. Although not often as responsive as a person would be, these bots are designed to point users in the right direction.
More recently, many tech users will be familiar with Apple’s Siri. Although her responses are limited, Siri can retrieve information for the user and even hold a basic conversation.
These are just a few examples of how bots have gained popularity on the web, serving as a launchpad for where they are today.
The evolution of the chatbot
Despite chatbots evolving and adapting to the latest platforms, their basis is essentially the same. It’s a way to engage in real-time with a computer and make sense of its responses—be they silly or serious.
Artificial intelligence has advanced since the likes of SmarterChild launched over a decade ago, resulting in bots that are even closer to the way the human mind works.
The primary focus now, however, is business. Facebook encourages bots that promote an interactive experience, provide helpful content and serve as customer service for businesses.
Chatbots for business: how to use them effectively
If a bot can be a brand ambassador, representative and customer service provider all at once, why wouldn’t a business give it a try?
Here’s what some well-known brands are up to:
CNN and the Wall Street Journal
These two companies commonly appear as suggested bots in Facebook Messenger – likely due to their credibility as large organizations.
After launching the bot within Messenger, CNN will ask if you’d prefer to receive updates on top stories or a curated round-up based on what you’ve been reading around the web. WSJ will offer you a daily morning briefing, sent directly to you as a Facebook message each day.
Similarly, Tech Crunch offers a daily digest of all things tech. This is an easy and effective way to organically redirect Messenger users to the TechCrunch blog.
If you just can’t muster the energy to order pizza from a dedicated site, you’re in luck.
Now, you can do it with Facebook Messenger.
Both Domino’s and Pizza Hut have bots that support orders and tracking from the kitchen to your couch—just send a message to get started!
Earlier in 2016, Messenger users could initiate a chat with Miss Piggy from The Muppets. The bot provided comic relief to its users, bringing light hearted anecdotes to the conversation. But, more importantly, its content naturally referenced the new show it was designed to promote: Up Late with Miss Piggy.
Although this bot has since shut down (it now redirects to the official fan page instead), it remains a great example of marketing that gets people talking.
With big brands embracing the concept, small businesses are following along. Not only is this down to the pure convenience on having a bot do promotional work on your behalf, there’s also the costs to consider. When compared to other marketing costs, setting up a bot is very affordable. While not everyone has the coding skills necessary to DIY, tools such as FlowXO are a low-cost option for creating, customizing and managing your own bots.
No matter how you get your bot up and running, aim to inject some of your brand’s personality into the finished AI. Users want to feel as if they’re talking to a real person, so don’t shy away from casual, friendly language and a joke or two.
Are bots really worth it?
If you’re willing to put in the time to get a bot set up, it could end up being an easy converter. Not only will it save your customers time when researching your products, it could also encourage sales through well planned automated responses.
As for your consumers themselves, they might simply like the quirk, or may be impressed by your dedication to responsive service. Either way, such a novel creation shows the effort you’ve put into your marketing tactics and is likely to build customer loyalty.
Go ahead and give it a try. Who knows where artificial intelligence could take you?