29th April 2016

The Good, the Bad and the Bots

By now, anyone who uses Facebook (or any type of social media channel) will be aware that social networks are transforming at phenomenal speeds.

When Zuckerberg launched Facebook way back in 2004, his plan was to use the site as a dating platform – now there are over 1.59 billion active users on the network each month (that’s a lot, just in case anyone was wondering). So, the question on any social addict’s mind is – what’s next for the super-sized technology giant?

The answer is bots. Not actual robots like in Will Smith’s I, Robot (although that would be pretty amazing), but something a little simpler – for the time being anyway.

Facebook bots is a new feature that will be incorporated into the Messenger app. The idea is that it will serve as a robotic customer service representative for news, weather and retail companies.

It’s supposed to make our lives easier and reduce the time we spend looking for news or an outfit for that upcoming night out. At the moment though, bots are very limited but, as artificial intelligence (A.I.) develops, you’ll be able to talk to them like they’re one of your mates. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be like Siri, as you’ll be restricted to typing on the app.

How are brands using it already?

CNN’s new bot, for example, can give you updates on the latest news or guess what stories might interest you, but as soon as you stray beyond a few pre-set commands, you’ll get an error message with a quirky face as the bot doesn’t seem to understand you.

At the moment, the CNN bot’s main focus is to log enough information to start guessing which users it can interact with and what they might be interested in. While Facebook users actively have to go out of their way to talk to the bots at the moment, there could come a time when bots become intrusive, spammy or annoying by themselves.

Let’s take a look at KFC, a fast food restaurant which is, let’s face it, not that fast… all we really want is an eight piece, boneless chicken select box without the 20 minute wait. In theory, bots aim to let you order food in the app which would reduce the waiting times. What a revelation!

The reality of it at the moment though, is that many of the interactions you can have with the bots are fairly limited – although it does vary a bit depending on the company. A bot from a company called Poncho can provide daily weather updates based on your location. It can also personalize its answers based on whether you’ve got hay-fever or are prone to getting frizzy hair, so it will be popular with the majority of 18 year old girls out there.

In conclusion, I think bots have the potential to be a great new feature in Facebook Messenger, as long as it doesn’t become a way for brands to spam the audience as this could push people away from Facebook altogether. If bots are monitored, it could be a great way for brands to target their audiences and communicate with them on a more human level, especially as the interface develops over time.

By Thomas Tanswell, B2B Social Media Apprentice