The social media marketing arena and, more generally, the digital marketing world is inevitably one of the most dynamic, innovative and disrupting sectors, with new technologies popping up almost weekly and swarms of tools and products being launched almost daily. One of the latest and most exciting innovations in this area is undoubtedly represented by “chatbots”, virtual assistants who can autonomously interact with users and prospects on Messenger, Telegram and many other platforms (even more exotic ones such as Amazon Echo or Microsoft Cortana) and manage in total independence information request, lead acquisition, first-level customer care and even complete e-commerce transactions.
Given the power with which this innovation is sweeping magazines and blogs (mainly related to social media but also more “pop” ones – even Vogue has launched its own chatbot!) and especially their practical effect, in this article we will explain in bit more details the “chatbots” phenomenon, showing you why this is really a trend to follow today and, above all, giving you a practical way to easily start offering to your customers this new, intriguing and powerful social media marketing tool.
Let’s start with the basics and define what a chatbot is – without getting too technical but trying nonetheless to understand a bit better what happens “under the hood”
A chatbot is, in its simplest and most essential form, a software that integrates with a messaging or virtual assistant platform such as Messenger, Telegram, Slack, Cortana or Amazon Echo and knows how to intercept and reply to messages that users send using that system. For example a Messenger chatbot is linked to a Facebook page and thanks to a very well documented API it is able to “hook” itself to the page getting called whenever someone sends a message, activating its internal algorithm so that it can interact autonomously with that person, either by triggering certain answers based on specific “keywords” that the user has typed or trying to interpret the “intent” of the message through artificial intelligence and natural language processing mechanisms, responding as appropriately as possible.
As you can see from this simple description, the flexibility of such a tool enables marketers and digital entrepreneurs to provide a full, rich and effective conversation allowing users to query a knowledge base, receive 24/7, 365 days a year automated yet possibly complete and useful customer support or consult catalogs, lists of articles and breaking news in a natural and engaging way.
Analyzing deeper the reasons why chatbots are a unique opportunity, right now and right here, we can identify at least five good because, 5 compelling arguments (actually, 4 + 1 “bonus” 😉 that should convince any social media marketer to start studying, designing and deploying chatbots – today.
If you think about it, the most natural way that mankind has to interact with other people (humans, businesses or brand), engage and discover the world is using “conversations”: ask questions, get answers, and proceed in a logical and chronological way through a series of verbal interactions with an “other” than themselves. Although artificial intelligence has not yet reached levels that mimics a real human (don’t let the marketing fool you about this…), chatbots already allow people to access the same information that could be provided by a website or a book through a discursive, interactive and definitely more natural interface, using questions and answers.
The number of monthly users of the major messaging platforms have already surpassed the people that use the “Big 4” social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin): people love to “chat” especially on platforms such as Facebook Messenger (where every month almost one and a half billion users talks and interacts with friends, relatives, businesses and brand). The potential market is really immense, made by virtually every single person who has a connection to the Internet – no matter on what device.
Speaking about devices, at least 75%of people use the chat apps from their smartphones: what this means is that with a chatbot you will always be right in the pockets of your users, prospects and customers – who, as you can easily imagine (and see for yourself), are ready to respond very swiftly to any alert from their phones, especially those from chat apps. In addition to this, Messenger and other platforms “remember” what’s been said and the answers received, allowing the user to continue the conversion path that the marketer will have defined very naturally, almost without realizing it and no matter on what device, situation or moment he is chatting.
If up until now we have seen why it makes (a lot of) sense to start using chatbots, we will now define why it’s important to start right now.
The first, main reason is that there still is (relatively) little competition. Of the 20 million pages currently existing on Facebook, for example, only 100,000 have an associated chatbot – less than 0.5%. Agencies, companies and consultants fast and smart enough to understand today the immense potential of this tool still have the chance to leverage such a powerful channel before the rest of the competition, gaining quickly the positions from which it will be very difficult to remove them. Remember the first businesses that have used SEO or Social Media Marketing?
The last (but not least!) reason, the “bonus” we mentioned before, it is that despite what might appear creating chatbots for clients and for oneself is, after all, quite simple to do.
Leaving aside the direct use of the API of the various platforms – obviously those with programming skills can start from scratch and write their own bot in the language they prefer, from PHP to Python, Java or C# – there are are a few platforms for creating chatbots that, a bit like WordPress does for websites, enable non-technical professionals, consultants and marketers to design, create and manage powerful bots ready to be used on Messenger, Slack Telegram and other platforms..
A Google search for “chatbot builder” should always provide the freshest results and allow anyone with reasonable computer skills to develop and deploy their own chatbot, often within minutes.
What do you think about all this? Have you already made a chatbot for you or any of your customers? Do you have doubts or questions? Comments are open!
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.