Remember back in the ’80s, when we all thought that by the year 2000, we’d own flying cars and have legit robot maids like the Jetsons did? It felt like the future was just around the corner!
Fast forward to today – Siri, Cortana, and Alexa have showed up in our phones and living rooms, listening to our voices and doing their very best to carry out our demands.
If you paid attention to a little announcement earlier this year, you might think that Facebook chat bots (or “chat extensions”) are the next part of the future – the future future? – and they’re taking over social media marketing.
But while everyone around you is talking about bots and how we never have to talk to another human again, you might be sitting there wondering:
Wait, how do messenger bots work, anyway? And should I even use them?
The ins and outs of bots
Basically, a bot is a simple computer program used to perform highly repetitive operations. If you’re answering the same questions over and over again via email, you might be familiar with canned responses. A bot is like canned responses on overdrive.
Bots recognize certain actions or keystrokes and can respond accordingly with whatever you’ve taught them to know. Think of your bot as your very well trained guard dog – sweet, obedient, and does only what you’ve specifically trained it to do.
In fact, you’re likely already using bots designed by someone else. For example:
The messaging app Slack opened up its platform to bot builders and, boy, did they run wild. Beyond Slackbot, the built-in bot who can provide you with customized, automatic responses, there are now hundreds of additional bots that can be added to your Slack Team to do everything from pulling your online mentions into a channel to ordering Taco Bell for you (seriously).
If you’ve used Facebook Messenger to make plans with someone (or maybe you were just searching for the Bitmoji) you may have noticed the “Request a Ride” option when you click the More button:
You can now order an Uber or Lyft right from Messenger. Sure, it’s only a few extra steps to leave Facebook Messenger and open the Lyft app, but bots are built on simplifying all the things. They’re fun like that.
Booking a flight and trying to coordinate your trip with a few other people? Click into Facebook Messenger, search for Kayak, type in what you’re looking for, and the Kayak chatbot gets busy.
And while you could do that in Kayak’s own app, the key feature here is being able to share your plans with friends with the click of a button right in the Messenger app.
Kayak lets you search, share, and buy, all without leaving Facebook Messenger.
Okay, so we’ve established that bots are showing up everywhere – but what does your business have to do with a major brand like Kayak or Slack?
And also…don’t you have to know how to code to build a bot?
And also also…is this whole bot thing a worthwhile way to automate your business?
Let’s figure all this out!
How does a bot work?
Let’s role-play for a second here. You pretend to be you scrolling through Facebook, and we’ll pretend to be a business you’re a fan of (feels, obvious, right?).
You’re scrolling along and you see a post from us. In our post, we say, “Help us solve an office quarrel: what social media platform do you spend the most time on? Message us your answer!”
So you, being the helpful soul you are, send us a message with your answer.
Immediately you get a reply back from us with a thank you and a big welcome like this:
You’re stoked to get messages from us (thanks!) and decide to opt in, which triggers the next message from the bot.
We send you the promised blog content and updates when they’re available, and you more easily share them, since you’re inside Facebook already. Our bot points you back to our blog again and again, and you find yourself learning more and more about us. And since we’re spending all this time together now, you decide to become a customer.
Hooray! Bot for the win, right?
But it’s not always quite so simple…
Good bot / bad bot
So bots can bring you new customers, strengthen relationships with potential customers, and help you cut down on repetitive conversations over time. But you need the actual bot to make it happen, right?
While you could certainly code one from scratch, you actually don’t have to! Bot building companies are popping up all over the place, making it easy for non-coders to get in on the bot game.
Of course, like all forms of marketing, chatbots should be used as just another piece of the puzzle, and always aim to direct potential customers to your website. Chatbots should not be used to overload Messenger inboxes, frustrate your fans, or replace your other marketing channels completely.
With all of these options, what’s not to love about bots?
Well, a major consideration is losing that human element. Messenger bots can only do what you tell them to do – and there are limits to what’s possible. If someone asks a question that your bot isn’t prepared to answer, it can certainly give off a strong robot vibe that could frustrate potential customers.
(You know that feeling when you try to call a business and have to spend 15 minutes navigating an automated menu? Yeah, it’s not great.)
If you’re the early adopter type that can’t resist trying the newest thing at any cost, bots might be for you – but if you’re more protective and cautious, it might be best to stick to the automations you already know and love.
To bot, or not to bot
Before you run off to put a bot in place in your business, here are a few things to consider:
Over ONE BILLION people (as a whole) use Facebook Messenger.
That’s a lot of people. And according to ManyChat, Facebook messages have an 80% open rate and score clickthrough rates that are 4-10x that of email.
Is your business on Facebook?
Chatbots connect to your Facebook page, so you want to be sure you’re actively posting to that page and engaging with your fans. (A scheduling tool can take care of the posting part – and give you more time for the engaging part!)
Is your audience on Facebook?
Bots can’t do the work for you on their own. Like any performer, bots need an audience – your audience. If you can easily manage your own Facebook messages, a bot might be overkill with more risks than potential rewards.
Do you already automate other pieces of your business?
You may have established other forms of automation in your business already (from something as simple as an email autoresponder to a service as wildly helpful as, say, a social media scheduling tool that recycles your content for you).
If that’s the case, those systems are already saving you time, so you can forget messaging bots and respond to your audience yourself – providing that genuine personal touch that we all love to see behind a business.
Are you currently promoting a product or service?
While chatbots are great for regular interactions, they come in extra handy as you get ready to promote a product or service. Consider this: video game franchise Call of Duty used chat to exchange nearly 6 million messages with eager gamers awaiting a release in just the first 24 hours it was online.
(This is also a good example of why some businesses choose bots. When you’re not receiving literally millions of messages per day, though, they aren’t quite as necessary.)
A final consideration is this: do you really need a bot right now?
It may seem obvious that Team Edgar loves automation. But can it go too far? Does your brand need to implement something like a bot when perhaps simply automating your social media posts would help free up some of your time to share real life interactions with your audience?
Yes, even in the fun-filled world of automation, there can be too much of a good thing – and a chatbot might be the proverbial cart before the horse if you aren’t already engaging with your audience on your Facebook Page to begin with.
What do YOU think of bots?
The Jetsons had Rosie, iPhones have Siri, and marketers have bots. And while a bot might not be the right fit for you right now, it could be a valuable addition to your automation playbook later on.
So what’s your verdict on marketing bots?
A convenient lifesaver?
A step too far from human interaction?
A dangerous move toward AI becoming self-aware and conquering mankind?
Let us know what YOU think of bots in the comments below!