The rise of chatbots continues across the digital business world, helping startups address huge audiences without the cost of staffing or the hassle of outsourcing. Chatbots enable educational institutions and support charities to connect to students and their users in a neutral voice about all sorts of subjects. For many, it is easier to obtain sensitive information from a chatbot than from a person. But the biggest leap and change is in how brands and their consumers engage as chatbots become the voice of choice for products, services and goods.
Social media as a service over the last decade has given brands massive scope to reach out and engage an audience. But the idea of ‘having a conversation’ never really took off despite the marketing hype and the likes of Facebook and Twitter urging that it was the way forward. Instead, tweets, pictures and posts have been shared to the moon and back, but it has been hard to hold any meaningful discussion between brands and their customers.
For all the tens of thousands of ‘wow’, ‘lol’ and ‘ooh’ comments, the one question worthy of a response was probably not one the social media team could answer, if it even noticed the comment in the deluge.
Questions like, ‘when will that product be available in my town/my size/this flavour?’ or similar are the ideal point for a brand to actually talk to a keen consumer and share some information. Yet even when not overlooked, such questions have often been met with stock answers: ‘sorry, I can’t help with that’ or ‘we’ll get back to you when we have more information’.
The rise of the social brand chatbot
This lack of feedback has been slowly changing with the arrival of the chatbot. Over the rapidly evolving generations, chatbots for brands have gone from plain scripted Borg-like Q&A chatbots to chatterboxes with a sense of personality and humour to match the brand, and the ability to answer a wide range of questions.
Chatbots for brands can be used to greet people on websites, stores, within social media apps like Messenger and elsewhere online. Chatbots can even help out in busy social spaces, like pop-up shops, trade show events and elsewhere through kiosk bots to help ease the workload on staff and allow them to help with priority queries.
With hundreds of thousands of chatbots on Facebook Messenger, the race is on to add value to the services that they offer. Chatbots can promote brands latest offerings, they can assist in transactions, but are now more likely to help when recommending products and services to people, taking an active part in the process.
Cutting edge chatbots using AI or clever questioning to find out what people want, pointing them in the right direction faster than typical online store fronts. Based on their questions, bots can collect data and help the brand understand consumer interest, which can help it decide what marketing or product update to try next as it better understands its users.
This is a far cry from the early bots that could only reply to frequently asked questions (which should still remain a valuable service of any bot), and brands with ambition should be looking beyond this into using their chatbots as part of advanced marketing tools and for greater purposes.
It is arguable that the chatbot hasn’t had its ‘Apple 1984 advert’ moment, yet. But we can’t be far off that first brand that finds the magic ingredient to make a chatbot a key part of a marketing campaign, and the rest of the world to wonder why it hadn’t happened already. You can be sure that many brands are trying to figure out what that is right now.
The brand bots of the future
Many brands may be operating one bot for Q&A, one for marketing and others to engage across specific products, but as chatbot technology and AI matures, the chatbot should form a uniform interface across all of a brand’s different social media and avenues of engagement. In fact, chatbots are the obvious solution for companies that have too many silos.
The bot will know what people want or are interested in from their social media profiles, previous sales and other items they have shown an interest in. The bot can also be used to collecting fresh user information to round out a profile, to build and process customer orders, with the chance of upselling, and reminding people to share what they are interested in.
All of that is starting to take place within the one flow, across a single chat, rather than a chatbot conversation ending by sending someone to the store front or technical support page. As bots get smarter, they can pull in information for the user, link to other services to carry out their wishes and help.
Any bot that can do that will be the go-to-service for a consumer, and people are more likely discuss and promote the benefits of a really smart chatbot than one that merely offers the usual services.
As the bots grow in popularity, they can be used to push more advanced social media marketing messages, delivering offers and content at the perfect moment for the customer. They can also maintain a conversation over days, weeks and months, always being there for the customer to pick up where they left off, and through conversation, they are more likely to complete a sale than with someone who had a few items left in a basket some time ago.
Pros and cons of social media chatbots
The biggest asset of a chatbot is its ability to change the conversation to make it more personal on the fly. Try doing that with an email marketing campaign template or some robot tweet posts. Instead, chatbots can use deep learning to personalise both the message and the tone to address the customer in the right voice, and provide the most likely brand messages to reach and drive them to action.
Chatbots can also help drive engagement through conversational marketing. Instead of the chatbot leading the conversation, it can ask questions and help find out what the consumer really wants. And all of this is done in a way that can feel personal to the user, especially as people get used to chatbots in every facet of life from travel to government, utilities to health and fitness.
Chatbots are fast spreading in to every aspect of people’s lives, and as such reduce the concern and opposition to them. Yes, people will still have bad bot experiences but the majority of bots are good and getting better at delivering positive outcomes, and as brands get smarter at using them, there is every likelihood that success rates will increase and – as with the reticence toward smartphones and other technologies – people will get over their fears and adopt them just like another part of the digital world.
Using the likes of Skype, Facebook Messenger for Business, Viber as well as apps and websites, brands can use chatbots in social media marketing to deliver increasingly sophisticated messaging, and if you want to look further into the future of chatbots, the AI behind the bots will increasingly choose what those messages are, rather than relying on the branding or marketing team to produce a constant stream of updated chat lines.
What is the purpose of chatbots on social media?
For brands still wondering where chatbots can fit into their marketing agenda, bots are now the first point of contact for an increasing number of interactions. Global brands down to boutique local firms are using the chatbot as a way to say hello 24/7 online, to introduce the brand or a new product and provide feedback and gain insights.
Bots can be used to push a new service, to encourage people to find out more about a brand, or to engage in some fun, whimsy or to provide facts and relevant information, something which is especially useful during a branding or PR crisis when there is a lot of uncertainty in the air.
Social media advertising trends lean toward chatbot use with the likes of Kodak using a bot to encourage people to print out their shared photos. Nike has a chatbot that encourages limited edition trainer collectors to snap up the latest models.
Some brands expect their bots to be global affairs, while others let regional departments create bots that appeal to local audiences, like Pepsi’s bot that could show middle-eastern fans the history of the brand’s logo and drink designs.
Chatbot platforms let designers build apps using plain text, that can be translated into many languages. They can show off images, video and emojis to help add depth and value to conversations, and link into the CRM, web store and other services to help complete transactions. And, as every brand should be aware, a chatbot should be able to link a chat to a real person if needed, especially in banking or healthcare, where some hands-on advice might be needed.
Why social media chatbots are the future of communication
Social media trends are already pushing towards chatbots. What is easier, having your marketing intern furiously typing away in response to a deluge of queries on Twitter, or letting a chatbot deal seamlessly with potential endless requests? Bots are also more cost-efficient, and self-learning bots will soon be able to train themselves how to best answer a user’s question.
That level of smartness along with increasing automation for most businesses will enable the brand to scale and still have a voice, to be personal even though it is a computer system doing all the talking. Of course, the brand should always point out that the chatbot is an AI, and even if it’s a particularly smart one, not try to con people into thinking they are talking to a person.
Consumers also need to be aware that their chats are safe, secure, and are not kept for an excessive length of time. Yes, there will be security issues with chatbots. But, like the rise of the cloud, in most cases, safe and secure usage will help people gain confidence in chatting to a virtual assistant or bot.
Bots will soon also be talking to each other, not in the jokey Twitter way when brands collide for a bit of repartee, but if one bot can’t help out with a query, it might pass the message on to another, or bots will do business-to-business communication through bots, removing the need for people to make orders or requests.
Factor chatbots into an Internet of Things-enabled world, and it makes sense that brands are on hand to engage and join in the conversation. From drinks dispensers that can handle loyalty coupons or discounts, no matter where the customer is, to offering advice at travel kiosks or shopping mall information desks, where the usual staff will know little about a particular query.
As the chatbot moves way past business experiment to becoming part of the digital furniture, all brands need a bot on their side to handle the unexpected queries and volume of interest at any exciting time in the growth of the company. Large and small brands will find their customers expect a bot to be on hand to deal with queries and to act as a key part of the customer experience.
From helping drive interest in products to becoming a marketing tool in their own right through fun engagement, cheeky chat or the ability to help out in a small crisis, the chatbot is very much at the cutting edge of any brand’s digital arsenal. And, for the business, bots will help streamline customer service, marketing tasks and make reaching out to customers less of a challenge.
Chatbots won’t replace adverts or social media posts, but they can augment them in some exciting and fantastic new ways. And in a short period of time, any brand without a bot will look highly out of place, as they deal with requests from the youngest of consumers to the silver surfers of the future who grew up talking to bots from day one.
An Irish writer and editor, Conor began his writing career as a Science Fiction author, with a particular interest in online games and virtual reality. It’s perhaps no wonder then that he was drawn towards writing about an exciting and innovative technology that is going to have just as profound an effect on the way the world works than the best imagined futures by Sci-Fi authors.