A Bot Named Sue: Facebook Chatbots

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As very few people know, Facebook released their version of a virtual assistant, M, in August 2015. Its was able to purchase items for users, arrange deliveries, reserve restaurant tables, make travel plans– things human personal assistants do. As of April 2017, it was only available to 10,000 users. That means, out of over one billion Facebook users, less than .001% of all users had access to M. M lived inside of Facebook messenger up until this January when Facebook announced it would be discontinuing M. However, the company has stated that what they’ve learned from M would be applied to other artificial intelligence projects at Facebook, like the Facebook chatbots.

what are facebook chat bots?

When Facebook announced chatbots for messenger, there was a lot of hype for brands to be able to use them in their quest for marketing automation. Unfortunately, early iterations of the bots bombed in the area of public opinion. Remember headlines like “Please, Facebook, Don’t Make Me Speak to Your Awful Chatbots”, “Facebook’s New Chatbots Still Need Work”, or even “Facebook Chatbots are Frustrating and Useless”? 2016 was not a good year for Facebook’s chatbots. Luckily, thanks to the failed M project, chatbots have gotten a whole lot smarter and engaging. Facebook estimates that their chatbots generate 2 billion messages with the people they engage and the number keeps growing as chatbots continue to improve and messaging apps as a whole are increasing by 60 percent year over year. Imagine you wanted to reserve a table at your favorite restaurant tonight. You might go to Google, search for the restaurant and either call the number listed or you might be taken to a site like Open Table to make your reservation. Then, you go to the restaurant, check in and wait for your table to be ready. You might get an old-school buzzer, the staff might call your name over a loudspeaker, or you could get a text message. But, you still have to check in to get your table and go through multiple steps to get to that point. With a chatbot, you would simply type in “make me a reservation for 4 at 7pm tonight”. Then, when your table is ready, the chatbot would send you a notification. While simplified examples are not as widespread as many would like, it is a valuable idea for brands looking to improve their online purchasing offerings and interactions with their target audience.

How Do Facebook Chatbots Work?

A “bot” is a generalized term used to describe any software that helps to automate a task; this means that a chatbot is software used to automate conversations. What takes Facebook chatbots even further is that they’re created using Facebook’s special platform that can turn natural language (human language) into structured data (computer language). The whole concept behind Facebook chatbots is that they should be as easy to interact with as a human. Not only can the Facebook chatbot parse and understand human speech patterns, it can also learn from them. The more a bot is interacted with, the smarter it gets. This is a type of artificial intelligence, or AI.  

How Can My Brand’s Target Audience Interact With My Facebook Chatbot?

A critical challenge Facebook had to overcome was discovery. How could prospective customers even find a Facebook chatbot to interact with? Interacting with a Facebook chatbot typically requires someone to go to a brand’s page and hit “Message Us”. Unless a customer is already familiar with the brand and the bot, many wouldn’t bother seeking it out. And, when a user is already interacting with a bot, the conversation would often get lost in the mix of Messenger conversations. Facebook listened to bot developers and has started trying to make it easier for businesses and organizations to promote the new pathway into their brand. Some ways Facebook is making it easier for potential customers to interact with brands are:  
  • Messenger links – If you have a verified page for your business on Facebook, Messenger Links will use your page’s username to create a short link that, when clicked, will open a conversation with your brand in the Messenger app.
  • Click-to-Messenger Ads Placing ads for your chatbot across Facebook’s platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger) is a great way to use the power of social media ads to leverage your brand.
  • Sponsored Messages  If someone previously engaged with your chatbot but contact has dropped off, you can send a sponsored message to re-engage with them. All sponsored messages will be labeled “sponsored” within the chat.
  • The Discover Tab – In their Messenger app, Facebook created a “Discover” tab for customers to browse and  search for different Facebook chatbots. Results in the Discover tab are personalized to each person based on Facebook’s complex algorithms.

How Can Your Brand Benefit From Facebook Chatbots?

The statistics predict that by 2020, 70 percent of businesses will adopt chatbots and other forms of AI to increase their business revenue and people are actually 10x more likely to engage with a chatbot that a real human. People are beginning to prefer interacting with chatbots because their responses are immediate and can solve their problems with ease. Chatbots remove the frustration of sitting on hold with customer service to ask a 5 second question. The younger generation is used to being able to do everything online– shopping, banking, ordering food, making travel plans and more. They don’t want to sit on the phone waiting to talk to someone who reads off a script and provides little benefit. Since most customer complaints are pretty simple to resolve, forcing customers to wait to resolve their problems creates more problems. By providing another option for your customers, you can lower the stress of dealing with customer service and increase overall brand satisfaction. Your brand can also gather more data to help drive your marketing strategy. Facebook chatbots can be programed to track purchasing patterns and monitor data from consumers. It can tell your brand what products to market differently, what products to focus on and which products need to be redeveloped.

How Can Your Brand Create A Facebook Chatbot?

There’s a few ways you can make a Facebook chatbot for your brand. First, you can use one of many free or paid tools on the Internet. It’s easy to do, most often inexpensive to run, and you don’t need to know any coding to make it work. Or, you can find someone who understands the ins and outs of coding for Facebook’s special platform. This will give your users an incredibly customized experience that isn’t constricted by template limitations. It’s really about what you’re looking to do with your chatbot and what makes sense for your brand. There are a few things to keep in mind when designing your Facebook chatbot: Give it a unique name. When your potential customers do a search for your name, you want them to quickly find your bot and not get distracted by other options or frustrated when they can’t find your brand. Let your customers know how to get started. Your website has a CTA so why would you expect your customers to just stare at a blank screen in their chat? The initial interface can be totally foreign to users so it’s important to help them set up through automatic prompts. Make your bot sound like a relatable person. Your Facebook chatbot should try to mimic the natural flow of conversation to make it easier for customers to ask questions and get answers. Your bot should also use simple phrases and verbiage to keep it easy to understand. Have a few tricks up your sleeve. Don’t reveal all the features of your chatbot at once! Chatbots can be as simple or as complex as you’d like them to be, but revealing all the features at once can overwhelm users. Instead of releasing everything right out the gate, slowly build up the user’s comfort and familiarity by offering the right options at the right time based off the natural flow of the conversation. Interested in trying a Facebook chatbot to see what all the hype is about? Check out these fun and handy examples:  
  • HealthTap –  with just the tap of a finger, get the answer to your questions from physicians around the world for free.
  • Poncho –  Curious what to wear today? Ask Poncho! This Facebook chatbot will give you weather updates and even a daily weather report if you ask for it based on your location.
  • Kayak –  You can easily find flights and hotels by using this Facebook chatbot. The bot will ask you simple questions like destination and travel date before showing you the best fares.
  If you want to see how someone used a chatbot to send flowers to Zuckerberg himself, check out this piece by Marketing Land.
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