At the end of last year, I predicted that chatbots would become an essential marketing tool because they enable brands to engage with their audiences through the platforms they're already using to interact with family, friends, followers, and fans. 

But now, just two years after Facebook launched chatbots on its platform, publishing brands such as The Washington Post, The Guardian and Mic are shutting down their Facebook   chatbots, while customer service brand bots--like Southwest, Kohls, KLM, and Esteé Lauder--are still going strong. So, why are publishers calling it quits, when others are just winding up?

The answer comes down to experience: Chatbots not only need to reach users where they live digitally, but they also need to provide them with an interaction that feels authentic and satisfies their needs (whatever those needs may be).

Many publishers couldn't get past using their chatbots as a source of referral traffic--and they pushed out headlines rather than "listening" and creating richer conversations.

People aren't looking for another RSS feed of articles they could easily find scrolling through their social feed, but rather, they want a helpful connection--like they might have with another human. This may speak to why brand bots are soaring while publishers' chatbots struggle to succeed.

It's rare that a customer can engage with a brand in real-time - from the comforts of their home and sweatpants--but chatbots made that possible. A decade ago people may have been afraid to engage with a robot-like autoresponder for fear of deception (in fact, California is soon requiring chatbots to label themselves as such, or pay a fine), but today, we like the idea of an immediate response to our many questions, without having to engage with another person.

Publishers like CNN and the Washington Post created chatbots that allowed followers to get their news quickly, without much work on the part of the company's social media manager. When CNN announced the launch of its bot, it highlighted the ability for someone to send the page a message with a keyword like "Zika" or "presidential election" and get the latest news from CNN, right to their inbox. They called it when the "news gets personal," and while they're sticking with their bot, many aren't.

According to Digiday, chabots turned out to be less of a source for referral traffic than publishers expected, but the cause is likely not chatbots overall, but what the chatbot is providing the user. Bots are valuable, but only if they're giving the person engaging with them an experience they can't get with a simple Google search.

Quartz created a chatbot in October of 2017 that was timed with the launch of the newest season of Netflix's Stranger Things. Bot developer John Keefe said when the publisher launches themed bots, such as this one, they find around 90 percent of users complete the "experience." That's stark, in comparison to the Washington Post's 2016 Summer Olympics bot, which was taken down due to low user engagement.

Quartz, which has created a new revenue stream with its own in-house bot studio, will continue to develop bots that provide their followers with an experience. Those publishers who have opted to call it quits are going for a more "traditional" approach - sharing the news on social.  

While this shiny object didn't work out for (most) publishers, brands are still experimenting with all that they can do with chatbots--and the stunning experiences those virtual messengers can help to create. 

Published on: Oct 30, 2018