A guide to Facebook Messenger Bots—how they work, what you can use them for, and how to create your own.
You’ve heard the buzz. Chatbots will replace mobile apps. Chatbots will replace email marketing. Chatbots will replace customer care agents. Chatbots will cut your costs and increase your revenue. And they’re gonna do it all while you sleep.
There’s a lot of hype floating around right now about chatbots in general, and Facebook Messenger bots in particular. It’s no surprise that, according to a survey by Oracle, 80 percent of businesses want a chatbot in place by 2020.
Can bots really do everything they promise? It’s still early days. In the meantime, here are some real world examples and best practices to give you a firm footing in this new landscape.
Bonus: Download a free guide that teaches you how to turn Facebook traffic into sales in four simple steps using Hootsuite.
What are Facebook Messenger bots (a.k.a Facebook chatbots)?
Basically, a chatbot is a piece of automated messaging software that uses AI to converse with people.
Bots are programmed to understand questions, provide answers, and execute tasks. From a customer’s perspective, they’re a friendly and accessible time-saver. Rather than opening an app (let alone downloading one), making a phone call (ew), running a search, or loading a webpage, your customer can just type a message, like they would to a friend.
Chatbots have been around in some form for decades, and currently they exist on webpages, in apps, on social media—you name it.
A Facebook Messenger bot is a chatbot that lives in Facebook Messenger, meaning it converses with some of the 1.3 billion people who use Facebook Messenger every month.
If you’re on Facebook, you probably already have a Facebook Messenger strategy. A Facebook Messenger bot is how you scale that strategy.
As of the 2018 F8 conference, Facebook has 300,000 active Messenger bots. That’s three times as many as the year prior.
Why use Facebook Messenger bots for business?
There are two major advantages to using a Facebook Messenger bot.
First, there’s a low barrier to entry for both you and your target audience. Facebook Messenger is the third most-used app in the world, used by 68 percent of app users.
And it’s not just for group chats among friends and family. A recent Nielsen survey found that people think messaging is the second-best way to talk to a business. People exchange 2 billion messages with businesses over Facebook Messenger every month.
Compare this to the rest of the mobile app market, where 71 percent of users delete an app within 90 days.
If you want to communicate with your customers, building a Facebook Messenger bot is a lot cheaper than building a mobile app.
The second advantage is that the field is still wide open. While Facebook has 6 million advertisers, there are only 300,000 chatbots. That’s a lot less competition.
Meanwhile, marketing email click-through rates (3.1 percent, on average) haven’t improved in years, and only 30 percent of marketing emails are even opened. Chatbots can help you bypass inbox competition too.
So that’s the context. Let’s break down exactly what a Messenger chatbot can help you do:
1. Reach your audience directly
Headliner Labs found that people are 3.5 times more likely to open a Facebook Message than a marketing email. And since customers can respond (usually by pressing a CTA button—they don’t even need to type), they’re likely to move further down your marketing funnel.
On top of that, Facebook Messenger has sponsored ads, which can be sent to anyone who has previously been in touch with your Page. Yes, this means that you already have a subscriber list. You can use these ads in tandem with your chatbot to target high-intent customers.
2. Save time and money on customer care
Customers expect 24/7 availability, but they hate waiting on hold. They also ask many of the same questions over and over (and over) again.
If you’re spending a lot of time helping people track deliveries, check your return policy, or book appointments, a little automation will go a long way. Free up your focus for the tasks that a Messenger chatbot can’t do.
3. Identify leads
As your bot greets potential customers, it can identify their needs, ask basic questions, (i.e., “What’s your budget?”) and immediately direct high-quality leads to your human sales team.
4. Handle e-commerce transactions
With the right script, bots can do the selling, too. And because everything happens without leaving the comfort of Facebook Messenger, drop-off rates are lower than in a traditional ad-to-webpage pipeline.
Also, conversational commerce leaves room for personalized upselling as the bot makes suggestions. Everything from “Seems your flight won’t be leaving until 4PM. Would you prefer a late check-out?” to “Fries with that?”
5. Re-engage customers
Bots are capable of retaining information, and you can use those details to go the extra mile.
Rather than paying for a barrage of advertising, a Facebook Messenger bot can reach out personally, offering relevant content at the right time. Remind a customer about those cycling shorts still sitting in her cart, or that she sent her mother-in-law birthday flowers this time last year.
How are businesses using Facebook Messenger bots?
Each bot is as unique as the business it serves.
They can help with common customer service questions, like delivery tracking and appointment booking. But they can also drive discovery—suggesting the perfect pair of jeans, booking a direct flight to London, or ordering dinner.
They can upsell by suggesting a t-shirt to go with those jeans, or a bottle of kombucha with that dragon bowl.
They can remind you that you forgot to click purchase on those sneakers.
They can track your delivery, and then check in to see how those jeans fit once they’ve arrived.
They can notify you about an offer they think you’d like, and they’ll remember your size or time zone or nut allergy.
They might even tell you a joke while you’re at it.
Here are a few best-in-class chatbot examples to inspire you.
Marriott’s focus on stellar customer service means that they’ve been at the forefront of the chatbot boom. They created their first Facebook Messenger chatbot in 2016 to help guests link their Marriott and Starwood rewards accounts after the companies merged.
The bot was so popular that Marriott transitioned it into a booking bot: guests can enter their dates in a city, and receive hotel suggestions. This bot also highlights content from Marriott’s magazine, Traveller, integrating useful local information and news for the guest’s upcoming visit.
Separately, last year Marriott created a careers chatbot to target millennial job seekers. “MC” helps prospective candidates find the right job in the right city, and simultaneously provides education on Marriott values and history. This makes a lot of sense coming from a brand that aims to treat its employees as well as its customers.
The cosmetics retailer’s Reservation Assistant bot is simple but brilliant.
Sephora offers free makeovers in their stores, and this bot eliminates five steps from the booking process. Implementing it led to an 11 percent higher booking rate. (And a lot more folks buying a purple eyeliner they didn’t know they needed til they saw it in the mirror—customers spent an average of $50 once in-store.)
During the 2017 NFL season, Bud Light promoted its team-branded cans by creating a chatbot that could order and deliver a case of beer in under an hour on game days.
The genius here is a blend of personalization (customers get to pick their favourite team), hyper-locality (geo-targeting allowed the bot to select the best delivery partner for the area), and timeliness (the bot reminded users each game day that it was time to stock the fridge.) This bot saw an 83 percent engagement rate.
Bonus: Download a free guide that teaches you how to turn Facebook traffic into sales in four simple steps using Hootsuite.Get the free guide right now!
This bot acts as an extension of Whole Foods’ content marketing strategy by acting as a concierge that drives discovery of recipes based on ingredients. The bot can also help you narrow down ideas by dish type or dietary restriction.
And yes, you can search by emoji.
UNICEF’s U-report bot is built to gather opinions and data from young people around the world on issues that matter to them, with the goal of amplifying their voices to create real policy change. The bot has engaged over 2 million subscribers.
If you’ve ever tried to collect feedback from your customers, take note: chatbots don’t just chat, they can listen, too.
Tools for building Facebook Messenger bots
If all of this has you inspired to create your own chatbot, here are a few solutions to check out. We’ve divided them into two categories based on their capabilities and the investment required: self-serve and enterprise.
Many of these tools include integrations with Hootsuite. We’ve noted them specifically below, but you can also check in the Hootsuite App Directory.
Streamchat is one of the most basic chatbot tools out there. It’s meant to be used for simple automations and autoresponders, like out-of-office replies or “We’ll get back to you as soon as we can!” messages, rather than for managing a broader workflow. It’s quick to implement and easy to start with if you’re just dipping your toes into the chatbot waters.
PS: Streamchat integrates with Hootsuite Inbox using the Facebook Messenger handover protocol.
As one of the largest self-serve platforms for building Facebook Messenger bots, Chatfuel has an impressive client list: everyone from TechCrunch to Netflix to the Cincinnati Bengals.
They have an intuitive visual interface for those without a coding background, but developers will like the editable front-end and customization options. While you can build a bot for free, a lot of the more complex (and interesting) tools are only available with Chatfuel Pro accounts. Either way, it might be helpful to know that Chatfuel integrates with Hootsuite Inbox using the Facebook Messenger handover protocol.
This free tool features a visual chatbot builder for Facebook Messenger with several bells and whistles, including: Q&A triggers, Live Chat Takeover, Chatbot Templates, Custom Attributes, and more. There’s also a “Chat Blast” feature, similar to Chatfuel’s “broadcasting” feature, that allows you to send messages to multiple users at once.
If you upgrade to a “Pro” plan, you’ll have access to some of the more valuable features, like scheduling, analytics, and drip campaign setup.
PS: MobileMonkey is primarily designed for non-technical users. That means no coding required. It also integrates with Hootsuite Inbox using the Facebook Messenger handover protocol.
ManyChat’s interface is one of the least intimidating out there. However, it may be better suited to those making simpler bots—message management can get cumbersome as the conversation gets complex.
On the plus side, ManyChat has plenty of tools that will help you promote your bot and evaluate user analytics. It’s free at first, but after you hit a certain number of subscribers you’ll need to start paying for a Pro account.
Chatkit provides enterprise level solutions for automated messaging on Facebook Messenger, as well as SMS messaging and Google RCS (a.k.a. Google Chat). It is lauded for its wide range of integrations, including Zendesk and Shopify.
Used by Coca Cola and Samsung, Reply.AI is an enterprise level, all-in-one conversational AI platform for sales, support, and marketing conversations on Facebook Messenger (as well as Web, LINE, WeChat, Telegram, Kik, and SMS messaging). The chatbot builder is “drag-and-drop” style and has high reviews for its ease-of-use.
Some unique features include: advanced analytics, audited security practices, role-based access control, and internationalization. It also integrates with Hootsuite Inbox using the Facebook Messenger handover protocol.
Another no-coding-required bot builder, the Bot Platform is one of the most popular and trusted enterprise solutions in the game—at least when it comes to Facebook Messenger and Workplace. BBC, Showtime, RuPaul, and Sony Music are all customers. People seem to really love its analytics and segmentation capabilities.
Bonus: The Bot Platform integrates with Hootsuite Inbox using the Facebook Messenger handover protocol, too
This is an enterprise-level, fully-managed bot provider, meaning you tell them what you want and they’ll build it for you. Their clients include top brands in range of industries, but especially in retail and CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies. This is probably because their chatbots can catalog and host a view of products within the chat itself, making it a favorite of beauty companies like Vichy, Covergirl and L’Oreal. Automat also integrates with Hootsuite Inbox using the Facebook Messenger handover protocol.
Conversable is the enterprise-class, SaaS platform that will build your bot with you. They work with a lot of Fortune 500 companies (they’re behind the Whole Foods, Pizza Hut, 7-11, and Dunkin Donuts bots, among others). They go beyond Facebook Messenger, and will make sure your conversations are happening across all channels, including voice-based ones (like, for instance, OnStar).
If you’re up for coding your own Messenger bot, Facebook provides a multitude of resources. And they are always working with their developer community to come up with new ideas to improve the user experience. Sephora and Nike, for instance, are currently testing augmented reality camera effects for their customers.
Facebook Messenger bot best practices
Here are some hard-earned tips from the experts, aimed at those of you who are ready to build your own Facebook Messenger bot.
Set your expectations
No bot can do everything—yet. When you’re designing your first campaign, select one goal or use case for the bot to handle. Popular ideas include customer service, lead identification, product promotion, or discovery.
Keep it simple, and walk before you run.
Set your customer’s expectations
This works the other way, too: often, your bot will be teaching the user how to interact with it as it goes. Alas, utopian-minded people who expect your appointment-booking bot to pass the Turing test may be disappointed. And folks who have no idea what a bot is could be equally frustrated.
Clearly define the chatbot’s role in initial interactions to keep everyone on the same page. Then, throughout the interaction, program the chatbot to take the lead in guiding the user through the experience.
Segmenting your customers and getting to know them drives engagement. Bots that invite a person to identify their preferences and narrow down options have much higher click-through rates. Build a bot that people genuinely want to interact with.
Get to the point
Bots are still pretty novel, but ultimately the goal here is to save users time. According to Jonathan Schriftman of Snaps (the bot-builder behind Bud Light, Gatorade Edge, and others), there’s a significant drop in users when a bot takes more than five clicks to get to point-of-sale.
Always have a human on-hand
A bot’s success depends on its ability to recognize when a human being is needed. Automated conversations are fabulously speedy and responsive, but they can’t replace human connection.
Customers should have the option, at any point in the conversation, to connect with a person.
Pro tip: Hootsuite Inbox supports the Facebook Messenger handover protocol, so you can manage and reply to all your direct messages in one place, including ones initiated by chatbots.
While a bot’s ability to store and remember information is one of its most attractive features (everyone wants to feel like a regular!) be up front with users about data retention. What data will be stored? How will it be used? How can a person opt out?
Give your users power over their private information.
Once you’ve built it, integrate your bot into your marketing calendar and your overall Facebook strategy. Your Facebook Messenger bot isn’t replacing email, customer service agents, or apps yet, but it offers features of all three, which means it must be treated like the unique beast it is.
As you test strengths and measure performance, keep an eye on the way chatbots continue to evolve in the marketplace. After all, this is AI we’re talking about. Have we even scratched the surface?
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With files from Shannon Tien.