How Facebook Bots Will Support Businesses

Last week, Facebook held its annual global developer conference – ‘F8’ – in Fort Mason, San Francisco. Historically – and, as you’d expect – the conference has been used by Facebook as a platform to launch or announce its latest technological developments.

2016 was, of course, no different with a whole raft of new and improved features making it to the shores of developers’ attentions. But one such feature caught our attention more than others; the hotly anticipated mobile Messenger Platform and, in particular, its bots.

Below, we take an in-depth look at Facebook’s foray into artificial intelligence (AI) and, in particular, what they could mean for businesses globally.

An Introduction to Facebook Bots

Simply put, a bot is a piece of software that can be programmed to carry out repetitive or mundane tasks. A basic expression of this is Googlebot, which Google uses to discover new and changed web pages and update its index.

Facebook’s bot is a little different. Described as having ‘Artificial Intelligence’, these bots – built by businesses and moderated by Facebook – appear just below ‘people’ on Facebook’s Messenger app. Just click to talk.

“No one wants to install a new app for every service or business that they want to interact with.” – Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

And this close relationship with humans is more than simply convenient; being AI – at least, to some degree – Facebook bots have the ability to learn and interact on a roughly human level. This means bots on Facebook can respond to user requests intelligently – what’s the weather like? Is there any traffic? Where’s my package? All without the issue of time.

But why the sudden interest in bots? Well, in Zuckerberg’s own words, “no one wants to install a new app for every service or business that they want to interact with.” And that’s the point. Bots can, to a certain extent, mitigate a growing over reliance on individual applications.

Time Saving

Along the lines of traditional bot use, the most obvious way Facebook’s bots can assist businesses is in time saving. If Facebook’s “AI” can interact with customers on a level almost indistinguishable from a human, then there’s no reason to keep constant focus on that particular channel of communication – or, employ someone to do so.

Extrapolating the impact of this new functionality out further, businesses will be able to take bookings, orders and even make intelligent product suggestions to customers looking for a particular type of garment, all without time consuming human interaction.

“We think that you should be able to just message a business, in the same way you’d message a friend.” – Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

To some this may sound unappealing – a step beyond the much derided smartphone “buffer face” culture – but many don’t value human sales interactions. If a service is brisk and efficient, there’s no issue.

As Zuckerberg himself said, “we think that you should be able to just message a business, in the same way you’d message a friend. You should get a quick response, and it shouldn’t take your full attention like a phone call would, and you shouldn’t have to install a new app.”

A New Era of Targeted Advertising?

If there’s one thing Facebook’s good at, then it’s harvesting user data for targeted advertising. Every month, seemingly, there are new features made available to businesses, enabling them to put their message in front of increasingly targeted audiences. The options are impressively granular.

And what we’ve seen from Facebook bots could herald a new era of targeted advertising. The key? Artificial intelligence. After all, AI implies the capacity for learning. And the capacity for learning suggests that bots will be able to understand what product or service a certain individual is looking for.

“…what we’ve seen from Facebook bots could herald a new era of targeted advertising.”

Speaking at F8, Head of Facebook Messenger David Marcus said the company was “…testing if business bots can re-engage people on threads with sponsored messages…”. And while the so-called test is “small tiny” it does suggest that Facebook is looking into the possibility of sponsored advertising via bots on its Messenger platform.

For instance, if you regularly use a bot created by your favourite online fashion retailer to browse clothes in your style and size, that bot will “learn” from that experience. And when that retailer launches a similar style in its upcoming spring/summer range, that information can be used by the bot to target a commercial message towards someone it knows is interested.

“Facebook’s rich data sets, combined with bots’ ability to “learn” would make for a compelling advertising prospect for business owners.”

Though there will, no doubt, be a few concerns raised about privacy and over commercialisation here – “I can’t log into Messenger without a brand trying to encourage me to spend” – it’s nevertheless an exciting development. Facebook’s rich data sets, combined with bots’ ability to “learn” would make for a compelling advertising prospect for business owners.

Whether or not these developments will herald a new era of targeted advertising will depend on a number of factors. Not least, Facebook’s willingness to push commercial messages via the Messenger platform and, should they roll it out, the general response to that development.

Either way, bots already present a compelling proposition for businesses looking to save time or make interacting with their services that little bit more attractive to consumers. Watch this space, bots might just change the way you and I interact with one another and everyone around us.

Digital Visitor is a social media agency specialising in connecting brands with their most valuable audiences through targeted social media marketing, influencer PR and lead generation marketing…

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