If Facebook Messenger isn’t high on your list of marketing assets, it may be time to reconsider that decision, and here’s why: its adoption rate. One billion people have adopted Facebook Messenger as their primary communication channel. That’s not how many people downloaded the app; it’s the number of people who regularly use Messenger to talk to friends, family members and now even businesses.
Back in April, Mark Zuckerberg announced the Messenger Platform, a new service that enables businesses to build custom bots and as a result, form deeper and more contextual interactions with customers. It’s a new opportunity to reach a massive user base with sales, marketing and customer support messaging. Since the launch, more than 11,000 bots have been added.
From how to build your own bot to who’s using them successfully, here’s everything you need to know about Facebook Messenger bots.
What Is a Facebook Messenger Bot?
Facebook Messenger Bots are live-messaging tools used through Facebook’s Messenger platform to help answer or provide information through automation. The term “bot” refers to a general piece of software that automates a task. In the case of Messenger, you’re automating conversation. These conversations can range from sharing weather updates to confirming reservations to sending receipts from a recent purchase.
There are three main capabilities at the core of bots for Messenger:
- Send/Receive API: This includes the ability to send and receive text, images and rich bubbles with CTAs.
- Generic message templates: Rather than rely on programming language, people can tap buttons and other visuals to interact with your bot.
- Welcome screen + Null state CTAs: Facebook is giving you the tools, but the experience is yours to customize. It starts with a welcome screen, your Messenger greeting and a call to action to “Get Started.”
Another key feature of bots for Messenger is natural language assistance. Through the use of a Wit.ai Bot Engine, bots are able to turn natural language into actionable data. This means you can create conversational bots capable of understanding natural language. The new Wit.ai AP, which is still in early beta, can predict the next actions your bot should perform.
Create Your Messenger Strategy
Before you decide to create a bot, you need to define the experience you want to create for your customers. What are your social media goals? Are you creating a bot for utility or simply for entertainment? Understanding what you hope to accomplish will help you create the best experience for people interacting with your bot.
The next thing to consider is what you want people to do. What actions do you want users to take? Is it a simple process or are there multiple tasks you want them to complete? Think of how these things are done outside of Messenger first and then use that information to design your interactions within Messenger.
As always, the engagement doesn’t have to stop when the action is complete. Consider different ways you can keep the interaction going. Just be sure to limit your focus to a couple key areas. Trying to do too much can create confusion and dilute the experience.
Once you’ve considered all of these questions and you’re ready to begin building your bot, visit developers.facebook.com/products/messenger/ and click “Start Building.”
Promote Your Facebook Messenger Bot
The conversations will take place in Messenger, but that doesn’t mean customers who find you on other parts of the web will miss out. Facebook has created a variety of ways for people to discover your bot.
Plugins are a great way to build awareness and let people know you’re on Messenger. Facebook offers two plugins you can add to your website or emails.
The first bot, “Send to Messenger,” lets you initiate a conversation in Messenger with the person who clicked. This gives people the option to receive information from you. It works well with bots that deal with transactional notifications like receipts or shipping alerts.
The second one, “Message Us,” takes the person who clicked directly to Messenger and allows them to start a conversation with you by sending the first message. Make sure you’re prepared to introduce yourself when someone reaches out.
The plugins work on both desktop and mobile web. On desktop the person will be sent to messenger.com and on mobile they’ll be sent to the native Messenger app. You may also want to add some text near the plugin that explains what will happen when it’s clicked. This will help set expectations about the experience.
This feature allows you to reach people in Messenger if you have their phone number and their consent to be contacted by you. Any conversation initiated this way will be received as a Message Request. This allows people to be reached by the bots they want to interact with.
Codes & Links
Messenger codes and links can be placed anywhere on your site to invite people to start a conversation with you. With Messenger codes, people use the camera on their phone to scan the image and find you on Messenger. Messenger links are short URLs people can click to instantly start a conversation with you.
Introduce Your Messenger Experience
Messenger bots are still fairly new, so not all of your customers will be familiar with how to use them or what to expect out of the interaction. Once you’re discovered, there are three tools built into Messenger that help you explain what the experience includes, how it works and why people should use it.
This is what people see the first time they find you on Messenger. Greetings are considered an introduction and summary. Use this as a chance to add some context to your bot. What’s its main functionality? This shouldn’t be used as your bot’s instruction manual because your greeting disappears once someone taps “Get Started” or sends you a message. Plus, there’s a 160 character limit so keep it welcoming and concise.
Get Started Button
Located just below your Messenger Greeting is the “Get Started” button. This serves as a call-to-action. Once tapped or clicked, your bot receives a signal that can be used to send a personalized welcome message back. This is when your greeting disappears and the interaction officially begins.
Even if people don’t know what to say in their first message, the “Get Started” button helps to initiate an interaction. The first message sent from your bot, the welcome message, can help prompt them further.
The welcome message is the first message people receive when they interact with you for the first time. This is your chance to get more specific about the experience, clarify your functionality and set expectations. You definitely want to craft this message carefully as it should encourage a response.
One simple step you can take to increase chances of a response is to address people by name. Make the message feel personal. You can also use buttons to add structure to your message and highlight specific actions people can take. This is an easy way to add calls-to-action to your message and help people complete tasks or get more information.
It’s recommended that these buttons begin with a verb and are limited to one to three words. This will help people quickly understand the action they’re taking and what will happen as a result.
These three elements aren’t static. As your Messenger experience changes, so too should your greeting and welcome message. If you’re not getting a lot of responses, review these assets and make sure the information is still accurate, relevant and most of all helpful.
3 Examples of Branded Facebook Messenger Bots
Dozens of businesses committed to release their own branded bots and some already saw a positive impact on their bottom line. But as you move forward with your plans, remember this isn’t about you. It’s about creating a unique experience for your customers. Here are three excellent examples of how brands are providing value to customers through Messenger bots:
The popular travel search engine Hipmunk promises to answer travel questions and provide recommendations to travelers through its Messenger chatbot. In its welcome message, customers can choose from travel advice, search flights and search hotels.
When actually interacting with the bot, users can enter vague statements such as, “I’d like to go on a beach vacation in August,” or more specific searches like “Nonstop flights from ORD to LAX 8/15-8/17.”
Whole Foods Market
The Whole Foods chatbot lets users search its database of recipes—a smart choice for a grocery chain. The bot kicks off the conversation by explaining how it works. You can either search for something specific or browse through its recipe database by type of dish, cuisine or special dietary restriction.
What makes the experience even more fun is customers can mix and match text and emojis. You can enter a word using text or simply select the emoji that matches the food item you’re searching for.
The company plans to add more features, including the ability to link the chatbot to your Whole Foods account, save recipes for later and sign up for coupons.
As one of the first bots available on the Messenger Platform, 1-800-Flowers enables customers to order flowers or speak with a support specialist. If choosing to order, customers are asked to provide the delivery address and are then given a carousel of arrangements to choose from.
Chris McCann, president of 1-800-Flowers, explained the response from customers has been positive. In a conversation with Digiday, McCann said more than 70% of the company’s bot orders have been from new customers.
Should You Create a Facebook Messenger Bot?
As a marketer, it’s tempting to want to try out the newest tools, but you have to ask yourself a few questions before diving in.
- Are your customers using Messenger? First you need to determine if your audience has a strong presence on Facebook. If not, then the chances they’re using Messenger is slim and any effort to develop a bot would be wasted.
- Do you have a use case? Your Messenger bot needs a purpose. Wanting to create a presence for your business in Messenger isn’t a strong enough reason. You have to think about your customers and whether or not it’ll provide value for them. Keep in mind this isn’t another version of your website. You need to think about how people use mobile, and if the type of interactions your customers want to have with you are a good fit for a mobile platform.
- Do you have time to support it? Your relationship with your Messenger bot doesn’t end once it’s built. You need to devote time to promoting it and monitoring the customer experience. You’ll also want to keep a close eye on incoming questions for anything your bot can’t answer.
Additionally, automating aspects of your social media strategy can be helpful, but it should never replace the human element from your outreach. Automation should enhance your strategy, not take over. If you develop a customer care bot for Messenger, don’t rely solely on that to ensure the happiness of your customers. Make sure you have a hands-on approach and use a social media management tool like Sprout Social to keep you organized.
Jennifer Beese: Jennifer Beese has worked as a community manager and social media strategist. When she’s not writing, you can find her studying anatomy and physiology—she literally has a skeleton in her closet—or under the stars with her telescope.