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The Low-Down on Chatbots

chatbot-adobestockChatbots. Alongside VR, this year has certainly been the year of chatbot technology and AI. So what are these chatbots I speak of? Look no further, here’s the lowdown on all things chatbots.

What are chatbots and what is AI?

A chatbot is a chat service that is powered by certain rules. The technology is nothing new and stems all the way back from the 1960s. I remember as a child in Sweden during the 1990s, we had a chatbot doctor program on our computer at school which was meant to educate us on different diseases. You could ask questions giving your symptoms and it would come back with various answers. Safe to say that it wasn’t used for its educational purposes by 10-year old kids.

So why have chatbots been making waves this year? Usage of messaging apps is continuing to grow worldwide — in July, Facebook announced over 1 billion active users on the platform and WeChat in China has 806 million monthly active users. Statistically people are spending more time on messaging apps than on social media. Naturally, communication with customers and fans has to be where they tend to hang out and in 2016, it certainly is messaging apps.

With that, chatbots have found their appeal again — and the possibilities are exciting. First, chatbots can live within any major chat platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Kik or WhatsApp for example. For platforms such as Facebook, the opportunities are huge. Think even more granular targeting for advertising as well as the opportunity to reach users directly about new products through messaging.

In some cases, chatbots can be powered by AI (artificial intelligence) instead of being scripted. This kind of chatbot has the ability to learn and absorb information as a human would and therefore can evolve over time to give more appropriate answers. Of course this can go terribly wrong as well, see Microsoft’s Tay Tay for proof. Note: if you’re planning on testing out a chatbot, Twitter is probably the worst place to start, as the bot has a hard time processing sarcasm and humour.

What are some of the examples we’ve seen this year?

Justin Bieber: The unofficial Justin Bieber chatbot was launched a few weeks ago and managed to gather 3 million messages in a week. The company behind this is a startup called Sequel, which launched the chatbot on Messenger and Kik. I have so far been talking about Bieber’s crazy time with Selena, which ‘he’ has tried to set straight with me. It’s a fun app for a while but the answers come in almost too quickly for a person to keep up with!

DJ Lazy Set: This DJing bot, which launched in April on Twitter and is now also available on Facebook, will give you a playlist recommendation based on any artist you suggest. Astoundingly accurate and certainly interesting, DJ Lazy Set is almost like a Pandora-style recommendation engine. The playlists it creates are all saved in the users collection and you can even pick a few artists for the creation of one playlist if you like.

Hardwell: From digital agency We Make Awesome Sh. comes the Hardwell app — a Facebook Messenger app with some seriously cool features to keep people engaged for a longer period of time. Fans of Hardwell can vote for ‘Track of the Week’ or leave audio messages for a chance to feature on Hardwell’s ‘Fan Shout-Out of the Week,’ all without leaving the platform. A clever way to grab, and keep, fans’ attention, this bot is actually relevant for fans rather than just a gimmick.

For more examples on recent music chatbots, check out Music Ally’s summary of those worthy of note.


How do you get started yourself?

Building a simple chatbot doesn’t have to be difficult but the maintenance and development of the bot tends to require more resources. There are platform services out there to make it easier to build your bot, for example, which allows you to build a Facebook Messenger bot without the need for coding. If you would like to work with external partners to build your chatbot, there are plenty of companies that can help you get started.

Or joining an online community might work for you. I am myself part of the ‘Bots’ Facebook group started by Matt Schlicht, founder and editor at Chatbots Magazine. This group not only keeps you updated on all the latest developments but also allows for a simple way to contact developers as well as get feedback on bots you might have built yourself. If you’re interested in digging deeper, Matt’s excellent article on how to get started with building your chatbot includes more resources. chatbot

Not ready for the chatbot universe but you’d like to dip your toe in messaging apps and AI? We’ve got you covered.

You can still communicate via Facebook Messenger. 

Facebook Messenger does allow you to set up instant replies, a greeting message as well as a responsive message. For example, you can set up a competition where you can ask people to respond through Messenger and then include a direct thank you message via your instant reply. You can even offer exclusive material to those that write to you via Messenger if you set up the reward as an instant reply. I suggest including a greeting too so that people who aren’t interested in taking part in an active campaign are aware of it and can contact you another way. Alternatively, you can interact with messaging apps by creating your own stickers and GIFs as well.

Other AI platforms.

If you’re feeling a bit adventurous with AI, there are other ways of making use of the technology. With Google’s free Deep Dream generator, you can turn images into unrecognisable, slightly trippy new versions of themselves. The more you run your images through Deep Dream, the more ‘psychedelic’ they become. Years & Years used the technology to create their video for their “Desire (Gryffin Remix)” — take a look.

Are you thinking about creating a chatbot or interested in knowing more? Contact your client manager or interactive marketing team at The Orchard and we’ll help you out.

Image courtesy of maxfarruh/Adobe Stock.

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