Facebook Messenger and Chatbots for Brands

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The Pros and Cons
By Annabel Hodges, contributor. 3 January, 2017
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Until recently, Facebook Messenger was a way to exchange private messages among friends. However that is changing as brands and publishers infiltrate your messages with the help of Messenger Bots.

So How Does it Work?

In April 2016, Facebook launched Bots as part of their Messenger platform, an automated system that acts like a real-life customer service platform within Messenger, with the potential to handle increasingly complex customer enquiries 24 hours a day. There are however pros and cons to the system to date. Facebook has opened up their chatbot platform for brands to build their own bots using their network. These bots can range from very simple - such as setting up an appointment time - to highly sophisticated variants capable of much more interaction – such as a bot that can answer open-ended questions, providing a truly personalised experience. The difficulty is that highly sophisticated bots also require significant technical input and maintenance, and therefore much greater investment. There’s also the danger that the technology can be a little too sophisticated for its own good, Microsoft had to apologise for its AI chatbot tay-ai earlier this year when it learned how to say racist comments from conversations on Twitter.

CNN is using Messenger Bots to provide users with personalised breaking news when they send a simple keyword enquiry

Who’s Using it?

A host of brands have already embraced the technology. CNN is using Messenger Bots to provide its users with personalised breaking news when they send a simple keyword enquiry. Meanwhile Dutch airline KLM uses Messenger to promote more interaction with their customers, from boarding passes to flight status updates, while providing a 24/7 customer hotline. Mastercard recently unveiled their new chatbot, due to launch in the US next year. Banks will be able to customise Mastercard’s bot and/or integrate into their own bots while users can connect their cards with the Messenger app to get more information on their card activity. American Express has also launched a Messenger bot which will allow users to access additional benefits including restaurant recommendations and loyalty programme messages as well as accessing their account information.

Should Your Brand use Messenger Bots?

Chat bots are the next step in automation, reducing even further the need for in-person business transactions and interactions. Combine this with the existing Facebook Messenger network and the opportunity for brands using the technology is huge. Facebook knows its users and Messenger Bots can use this data to their advantage. In fact, in theory, bots could completely replace current customer service systems. However this is dependent on the development of the machine-learning AI over time. Communication with the bots remains quite simplistic at present, limiting potential conversations and personalised questions.

Facebook Messenger Bots certainly have a huge amount of potential, a step beyond live chat, email or phone customer service. One unknown factor is Facebook’s ongoing investment in the technology. The Facebook platform is both a key advantage and a key disadvantage. Facebook’s users and data are invaluable however this could come at a cost, being entirely dependent on Facebook. If they decide to no longer invest in the technology, there is no easy alternative. With solid arguments in both the pros and cons camp, do you think Messenger is a worthwhile investment for your company?

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Originally hailing from the UK, Sydneysider Annabel is a digital marketer with over a decade's experience working with global agencies and brands. A data and spreadsheet aficionado, she recently swapped SEO for motherhood and we eagerly await the analytics report! She is also maternally bilingual in French and English and speaks fluent Spanish.