In this post, after a brief technical introduction we will see how this innovative technology can and should find a prominent place in any social media marketing strategy – no matter the size, budget and goals of the business for which it is designed.
Chatbots popularity comes from the rise of IM platforms (Messenger alone has over 1.2 billion monthly active users) and the introduction of APIs that allow developers to programmatically create dialogues and conversations with users who interact with these chat and virtual assistants system (in addition to the extremely popular Messenger there are bots for Slack, Telegram, WeChat but also Skype, Cortana and Amazon Echo).
Coders and marketers can use these API and the most common programming languages to define rules and algorithms, allowing these “bots” to autonomously answer questions, provide the information that was requested and even guide visitors through a path of contact, interest and conversion – directly in the chat app.
Given the increasing difficulty that businesses have in reaching their audience through organic channels and the rising cost of advertising on the various social and web networks, such a new yet already extremely effective system for engaging users, prospects and leads is really a breath of fresh air for every social media manager that is always looking to help his clients in a reliable, affordable and scalable way. For these reasons – and because chatbots already have a quite “cool” aura – there are already quite a few notable examples of big brands and some smart local businesses that use Facebook Messenger chatbots in pretty slick and interesting ways, from Sephora “reservation assistant” to Musement bot for discovering nearby museums, art expositions and monuments, from Burberry’s “customer care” chatbot to “Redfoo”, the Messenger bot built to engage fans of this pop singer.
So, in the following paragraphs we will see a few ways chatbots can be used to get powerful results for any online or offline business that uses social media as a mean to reach, inform and convert prospects.
More engagement, less (human) load
The first benefit of creating and deploying a chatbot is an increase in engagement. Allowing users that ask questions directly to a business Facebook page and always receive immediate, rich, relevant and detailed answers is by itself a way to create a stronger bond and more loyalty, delivering more value to prospects and customers while reducing the load that the back office must deal with, allowing humans to intervene only as “second level” leaving all the first-contact activities to the bot.
A word of caution here before proceeding: a chatbot cannot and should not be presented as a human, never. For all the incredible new discoveries (and fears…) surrounding Artificial Intelligence, machines have not yet reached a level of actual intelligence that allows a computer program to completely mimic a human conversation: brands and businesses should always be upfront in stating that the user is actually talking with an automated system, which can help them and guide them but that has boundaries and a limited comprehension of human language, behavior, jokes and slang. Faking a human presence and tricking users into thinking they are actually chatting with a real man or woman is usually picked up in a matter of seconds and inevitably leads to spectacular fails, angry visitors, frustrated expectations and a ruined reputation.
Spreading contents programmatically
Messenger and other chat platforms can easily become an additional channel where all the contents that a business produces – blog posts, infographics, videos, white papers and whatever else – can be automatically and effectively distributed. Chatbots can be integrated with RSS feeds and can be programmed to use some advanced marketing automation sequences, engaging prospects and alerting them of new, interesting content on a platform that has an open rate close to 80% – a dream come true for marketers, especially when compared to email where it’s already a miracle when open rates half of that are achieved…
Collect and score leads – automatically!
A chatbot can work very well as an automatic lead generation and scoring machine. For example on Facebook, once a visitor starts chatting with a bot he is immediately added to the list of users that can be engaged at a later stage by the bot and page owner: this transform the usually complex and bit awkward process of acquiring interested leads seamless and natural, making Messenger Ads a powerful way to get new contacts very cheaply.
In addition to this, as the user chats with the bot asking questions, providing answers and clicking buttons, the chatbot can automatically “score” him and understand what he is more interested in, allowing the owner to rank prospects and immediately increase the effectiveness of any future outreach campaign. With a cleverly designed set of “tags” and analytics tools a marketer can follow the path and all the interactions a user has with a bot, understanding the most common questions and at the same time preparing custom messages for specific paths or for users that trigger specific tags – for example when they ask about pricing info or view a certain real estate listing and so on. In other words, as the user chats he is constantly, seamlessly and often happily providing information that can be harvested, analyzed, processed and used to understand the best moves, words and offers for converting that prospect.
To make all this even more powerful and useful, some platforms offer native integration with popular email marketing tools such as Mailchimp or Zapier empowering marketers to send all the contacts acquired during the chat directly to a Mailchimp list or a Drip campaign, ready to be marketed and nurtured further, entering the ampler funnel that was prepared and making chatbots another powerful way to acquire leads.
Closing the loop
If all these lead generation and scoring features already make Messenger bots an extremely powerful system in the arsenal of tools that modern digital marketers can use, to make things even more complete and “close the loop” the most advanced bots can integrate e-commerce features, allowing customers to complete a purchase right there and then, without ever leaving the Messenger chat window.
While such a system currently requires some quite complex coding (as we are all still waiting for a wider release of the “buy button” feature by Facebook, a real bonanza for social e-commerce as it will allow users to purchase products with one tap, using the payment info they have already provided to Facebook), just imagine how powerful all this could be once a bot is integrated with an existing e-commerce catalog: with the right interface that allows users to query the list of products right in the chat app, shows the most appropriate results just like a real shopping assistant and then presents the prospect with a seamless, natural, 1-click way to complete the purchase once he has engaged and invested so much time and fun with the bot… wouldn’t that be the dream situation for every online marketer? And wouldn’t the conversion rates in such a setup be multiples of what businesses are currently experiencing on more traditional interfaces such as regular websites?
The secret here – and, more generally, in this whole chatbots opportunity we have been presenting – is that chatting is a much more natural way for people to acquire information and be convinced of something that consulting a website or an app, losing their eyes in front of walls of text with distracting links and often confusing instructions. Talking is the most natural and ancient social activity and while bots will in no way replace real human interactions, they are definitely a step toward a more effective satisfying, useful and, after all, human way to use the Internet for fun and profit.
Convinced? Good – so how can you get the ball rolling? There are basically two way to start using chatbots:
- Learn the Facebook Messenger API and then use your preferred programming language – Go, PHP, Java, Python or whatever else – to interact with the Messenger platform and create a bot from scratch
- Use one of the many platforms for creating chatbots, web-based systems similar to a “WordPress for bots” where instead of creating websites users can build and customize bots, in total autonomy. A simple search for “chatbots builder platforms” on Google should always give you the most up-to-date and complete list
While the first option is a lot more flexible (and definitely the only route for custom requirements, for example integrations with an existing database of content or products), the second alternative usually allows marketers to deploy a chatbot in minutes, with results generally in line with the requirements of the average small and medium business.
In any case, no matter what is your choice, the important thing is to start thinking, planning, designing and deploying chatbots – they are definitely here to stay, most likely for a very long time!
Bio: Silvio Porcellana is an entrepreneur, marketers and coder working on the Interweb since 1999. In 2017 he created ChatbotsBuilder, a complete, simple and free-to-use platform for building Facebook Messenger chatbots.