Discussions about chatbots have been doing the rounds for a while now, they're usually encased within a ‘will they/won’t they?' hit the mainstream-type discussion, in which marketers like to tell us we’re on the cusp of THE next big technological development, whilst sceptics will say it’s all a load of hype over something with quite limited capabilities.
Think what you might but chatbots are simple, cheap and can interact with humans on a level that allows businesses to automate more efficiently than ever. Since Facebook Messenger first opened its platform to bots back in April, over 30,000 bots have emerged (including imitations of 50 Cent, Aerosmith, Justin Bieber, President Obama and The Pope) and moving away from Siri and Google Voice’s obvious limitations, this new generation of bots boast better language processing, user recognition, learning and evolution tools.
In the coming years, indicators suggest that every business will have a bot because they’ll be the fastest, easiest and most effective way to interact with and target customers. And so, as 2017 looks set to be the year of the bot's rise, we took a look at how brands are using them in their current incarnations.
Hosted on Telegram (a chatbot-friendly messaging app with over 1 million active users globally), the Forbes Bot is automated with no editors involved. Once subscribed, users get a handful of Forbes’ most popular stories twice a day, or they can subscribe to specific channels such as tech, business, investing, etc. Forbes chose Telegram over competitors because of its ‘secret chat’ function - a conversation mode with strong encryption that makes it popular in countries such as Russia, Indonesia and those in the Middle East. By using the medium Forbes hopes to reach wider audiences around the world with its news.
The hardest part about learning a new language got a lot easier when Duolingo launched its language bots. Taking the awkwardness and anxiety out of everyday situations with ‘real life’ conversations, users can interact with a taxi driver, chef and police officer amongst others, across the French, Spanish and German languages. And of course, the more users practice, the smarter and more reactive the bots get.
Winning top marks for innovation, Casper’s Insomniabot3000 is aimed at all those struggling to sleep in the small hours of the night and allows users to talk about whatever is on their mind - be it stress, anxiety or caffeine - to help them get back to sleep. The bot is accessible via text message after 11pm and the overarching idea is simple but effective: “we wanted to make a bot that made 3 a.m. a little less lonely" said Casper's head of communications. When users start to feel sleepy they can just text "bye" and the bot will take the hint.
Throughout the US elections, the NYT’s politics bot kept users updated with the latest poll numbers, election news, forecasts, key takeaways and more. This was one of many major digital changes that had occurred in the four years since the last U.S election, and it was the first time the NYT had experimented with bot-based news delivery. The publisher is planning more bots such as this one in 2017.
Joy promises to help you track and improve your mental health by detecting your moods and keeping a journal about its findings that you can reflect on to get a clearer image on your mental state over a period of time. Creator, Danny Freed, was inspired to make the bot after a friend unexpectedly committed suicide. The bot’s primary aim is to help people who aren’t currently seeing a therapist to interact with their mental health. Over time, Freed hopes Joy will evolve into a CBT tool to help treat things like anxiety.
A special mention to the now defunct PokémonGo bot which, at the height of the game’s fame, along with many other similar bots of varying names, helped uses hack the game by finding nearby Pokémon, calculating Pokémon CPs once evolved and teaching users how to win gym battles. Unsurprisingly the bot hit over 1 million messages within its launch week.
Bearhug is a chatbot targeted specifically at females as a way to easily track their periods. Super simple and very helpful, not only can it help track periods but it will also make recommendations on when users are most fertile. Bearhug is a great example of a bot that doesn’t annoy with regular massages and gets the job done.
Jewellery brand Lokai and nonprofit Charity: Water launched their ‘Walk with Yeshi’ chatbot to help people visualise the challenges people in rural areas of the world face in getting clean drinking water. Everyday Yeshi, a young Ethiopian girl walks for two hours to find water so Lokai and Charity Water teamed up with AKQA to create a bot that takes Facebook users through the experience with her. Once someone starts chatting with the bot, Yeshi sends out images, videos, audio clips and maps. Users can also follow a digital map of her route across the country from Messenger.
Tommy Hilfiger and Burberry both used Facebook Messenger bots during London Fashion Week to preview collections, but Burberry wore it best with a bot that allowed users watch its exclusive fashion show live on the platform, and then interact and navigate the collection as it walked down the runway.
Banks took a gamble on chatbots towards the tail-end of 2017 with the Bank of America, Mastercard and more all launching chatbots to help answer customer’s questions about their financial accounts, initiate transactions and get financial advice. The Bank of America’s new digital assistant, ‘Erica’, (get it?) is available inside the bank's mobile app and the company hopes it will help customers develop better money habits by offering them advice on how and where to save money. That said, trusting a bank is hard enough at the best of times, let alone when it’s messaging you directly...