Chatbots are all the rage these days, and for good reason. They’re incredibly fun to create (I had fun creating this one) and they’re pretty effective when done right.

A few months back, I was asked to talk about Facebook Messenger chatbots on Apiary Digital’s The Hive Is Alive podcast (rate, review, and subscribe here). For some background info, Apiary is a collective of location-independent, top-notch digital marketers. If you’re looking for a team to help with paid social, SEO, SEM, or analytics, I strongly suggest you reach out to Apiary to see if they’d be a good fit.

Full disclosure: I’m a Paid Social Consultant at Apiary, and I have a hand in producing the podcast episodes. I know my affiliation might make me biased, so don’t take my word for it… request an Apiary Digital free digital diagnostic 😉

Here’s the episode in it’s entirety. Keep scrolling to read the transcript.


Here’s the episode transcript…

What are chatbots?

A chatbot is a online robot or bot that automates conversations. They’re a popular topic these days, but they’ve been around for over 50 years. ELIZA was the first chatbot that people recognize. ELIZA acted like a therapist.

My first memory of a bot was in the in the AOL Instant Messenger days. Back then, I actually built a bot designed for AIM using some 3rd party tool that I can’t remember the name of. I actually can’t even remember what I made the bot for, but I feel like I had a fun. There was another bot that was built for AIM that got really popular (at least I think it did) called SmarterChild. SmarterChild was built to be a resource. What time was Little Miss Sunshine playing? What’s the temperature outside? That kind of stuff.

So couple years ago, Facebook started to allow businesses to make their own chatbots for Messenger. This was huge. Just some of the numbers…there over 1 billion people using Messenger every month. There are over 2 billion messages sent to businesses every month. Now we can tap into that highly engaged user base, and hopefully marketers don’t ruin the space.

What are the rules for Facebook Chat Bots?

There aren’t a ton of rules yet for Facebook Messenger Bots, but there is two big important rules.

1) To battle spam or bait-and-switching, you can’t message a user with a promotional message unless they’ve messaged you within 24 hours. Things like 20% off or a new special price on shoes. That kind stuff would be considered promotional messaging.

Facebook takes this very seriously. In fact, if you try to request access to Subscription Messaging on the settings of your Facebook page, you get this lengthy pop-up that makes you upload a video telling Facebook about how you’re going to be using Subscription Messaging (non-promotional messages on a reoccurring basis).

2) You can’t run an ad within Messenger conversations unless that user has messaged you in the past. Again, this is Facebook’s effort to combat spam and to avoid totally destroy the user experience on Messenger.

Important to note: This type of ad placement within the conversation is the one way you can get around that 24 hour rule.

If you have enough users messaging your Page, you should absolutely run this ad placement because… think about it… anyone who messages your Page is interested to some degree in what you’re selling. And like Alyssa was saying in the previous episode about Facebook Messenger, you

How do you build a chat bot?

So there’s really 2 ways to build a Facebook Messenger chatbot. You can develop your own, which obviously requires a set of resources a lot of businesses don’t have OR you can use a 3rd party service to build one. Some of the popular ones right now are ManyChat, ChatFuel, and Botsify.

What’s really cool is that these 3rd party tools make it relatively easy to build a chatbot and they’re priced for all budgets, similar to email CRM pricing. Last I checked, a paid plan on ManyChat was 10 bucks for under 500 subscribers.

Best practices to not be spammy

Finding that magic frequency for your chatbot is going to be key because too many messages will really annoying for the user. I think while chatbots are most closely aligned to email marketing, when you’re thinking about frequency you need to think along the lines of SMS marketing. Users are getting the notifications on their phone when you message them. At least intially, err on the side of a conservative frequency.

That being said, your frequency really depends on your business, the purpose of your chatbot, and the level of interest or the expectations from the user.

  • If a user opts in to get a motivational quote or housekeeping tip every day, they’re expecting daily messages
  • If they opted in to get a free Amazon Marketing Services whitepaper, they might not be expecting daily messages
  • If they opt in because they want to know when a new blog post about National Parks is up, its a little tough to tell

Things to look out for are drops in engagement. If you start noticing that a user isn’t clicking or messaging you back anymore, that’s probably a sign that you’re messaging them too much. They’ve gone numb to your notifications.

What are the main differences between FB messenger and email?

Great question because in a lot ways Messenger bot marketing is a lot like clever email marketing.

I think a good place to start is to list some of the main similarities…

  1. You have to opt-in to both, making this a very middle-to-bottom funnel tactic
  2. You can learn about a user by the actions they take within your bot or email
  3. You can set up flows and drip campaigns (or broadcasts) that are totally automated

The key differences are…

  • Messenger is more conversational– you can actually have a one-to-one conversation with a future or current customer. Email is one-way conversation.
  • While a chatbot is automated, it can be handed off to a human at any point if you set it up correctly
  • The open and click-through rates for Messenger are sky high– we’re talking 80-90% open rates, with 2-3Xs higher CTR than email
  • Messenger messages trigger notifcations on the Messenger app and Facebook, two of the most popular apps to have on your phone
  • Messenger is a more seamless, painless experience– you don’t have to leave Facebook (or wherever you’re starting the conversation) to have a conversation with a business
  • It’s a lot easier to opt-in to a chatbot, all the user has to do is send a message.
  • And when someone opts in to your bot, Facebook already knows the user’s name, email, phone number, and a ton of other key information
  • You can utilize Facebook comments to deliver messages, a really cool feature provided by these chatbot tools. You can have a post that says, “Comment “I want that” to get a free Auto Maintenance Checklist” and then as someone comments on that post “I want that”, your bot will instantly deliever the content via Messenger. Pretty cool.
  • You can deliver content within Messenger. You can attach a video, send whitepapers, include images without worrying about giant files, you know that your message will be delivered

Important to mention, one isn’t better than the other. I’d argue that while both tactics can assist each other– you can absolutely start a conversaiton with a consumer on Messenger and then move it to email to convert– it’s more likely that these tactics will run parallel to each other– some users will prefer engaging via chat, and some old school users like myself prefer the more traditional medium of email.

In a perfect world with unlimited resources, you should do both Messenger and email marketing. If you can only do one for whatever reason, you’ll have to take a hard look at your audience and where they like to hang out online.

Potential question about metrics and measurement. how do we measure chat bot effectiveness?

Same metrics as email. CTR, open rate, conversions, etc

Where in the funnel would chat bot be the most effective do you think?

Because you have to opt-in, chatbots are typically a middle funnel tactic with bottom funnel capabilities. With some exceptions, I wouldn’t target or expect a cold audience to opt-in to a businesss’ chatbot.

The same strategies to entice someone to volunteer their email address for an email opt-in form will work with Messenger. Think whitepapers, checklists, exclusive content or promos, creative gimmicks, alerts, reminders, those kind things are compellings and drive opt-ins.

I mention “bottom funnel capabilities” because you can facilitate a purchase within Messenger. A user can actually go through the whole purchase process, including payment, all within Messenger.

Where do the ad placements drive? Do users stay within Facebook or do the chat bots drive to a brand site?

I think it’s important go over all the ways to use Messenger for ads.

Message Ads are ads with a “Send to Message” CTA and the button leads to a Messenger conversation. This ad shows up in all the places you’re used to seeing Facebook Ads.

Message Ads are not a placement. Message Ads are a really great way to grow your chatboat subscriber list and Custom Audiences.effective, because remember, all you need is a user to message you to opt in.

As far as placements go, you have 2 choices…

  1. Messenger Home, which Alyssa went through in part 1 of this podcast series (which everyone should go and listen to, because it’s really interesting). To quickly recap though, this your usual traffic / conversion / app install / message ads that gets placed on the home screen of Messenger.
  2. Sponsored Messages is an ad placement that looks like a message in someone’s Messenger inbox. The big limitation with this placement is that you can only target users who have messaged you in the past. Also, if you select this placement, Facebook will force you turn off other placements– this type of placement needs to run on its own.

Both these placements allow you to drive users wherever you’d like, whether that be your website or app or Messenger. With Send-to-Message destinations and Sponsored Message placements you do have some flexibility on the type content you can deliver. Videos, images, links to your site are options within a Messenger conversation.

Will we eventually see ‘responds to chatbots’ as a targeting metric?

I think so, and in a lot of ways the targeting is already there. For instance, Message Ads are optimized to show to users that are likely to message, and they work really well at doing just that.

There’s already some roundabout Behavior targeting options like “users who’ve used Facebook Payments in the last 90 days” or users who’ve made “higher than average purchases” with FB Payments. Facebook Payments functions through Messenger.

I think adding “users who interact with chatbots”  is a logical Behavior targeting option and I would shocked if we didn’t see it pop up in the next year or so.

Are tags stored only within the 3rd party tools or also Facebook?

So right now, tags are features that are exclusive to the 3rd party tools. Obviously, Facebook knows a lot about it’s users already, but anything that’s learned through a chatbot is stored only on the platform hosting that chatbot.

To add to that, these tags come in handy when the conversation gets moved to a real person. A real salesperson or customer service rep is armed with a ton of info about the user before jumping into a conversation. And in a lot of these tools, as the live chat is happening, a rep can manually add more tags based on things revealed in the conversation.

These tags will help determine the chatbot flows. For instance, if your bot asks “Are you interested in learning more about our new vegan options? Click yes or no”. Anyone who clicks no, will be removed from that drip campaign and possibly moved into another one. Everyone who clicks yes, is tagged with being vegan and begins to get updates about new vegan menu options”

Start to finish examples of each chat bot type

  1. Customer Service (order updates, answering questions, maybe even helping with a purchase)
  2. Email marketing (reminders, content delivery, nurture campaigns, “hey, you mentioed you were interested in our new shoe…”)
  3. Brand awareness via a creative gimmick (chat with Albert Einsten, Justin Bieber, a character from a movie, or a girl from Ethiopia, translations, trivia, choose your own adventure, dad jokes, fake girlfriends, skys the limit, resumes)

Customer Service example: Dominos & 1-800-FLOWERS

You can message the Dominos chatbot and place a new order, place a reorder or track your order. As you click the various options like New Order, Delivery or Carryout, login or continue as guest, phone number, etc you’re being taken through the order process.

Another popular example of an effective customer service chatbot is 1-800-Flowers. Ironically, you can place an order for flowers within Messenger without having to dial 1-800-Flowers.

Content Delivery: Techcrunch & CNN

Techcrunch’s chatbot will delivery it’s news articles to you via chatbot. Right off the bat, they explain what the bot does and what type of content are you interested in. Depending on what you click “Breaking News”, “Most Popular stories”, etc the bot will deliver those links to you via Messenger

CNN functions the same way with even more unqiue topics that you can subscribe to. Politics, World News, tech, money, etc. You can also Manage Subscriptions. Say you’re not interested in Politics anymore, but you still want to receive Tech news. You can unsubscribe from Politics and leave Tech enabled.

Crypt TV, a new app that hosts unique short horror films, lets you know when new movies are uploaded. And while you’re waiting, they suggest some existing movies that they think you’ll like.

A chatbot for Content Delivery makes a lot of sense if you create quality content (like podcasts).

Email marketing: Lead magnets

Really, anything you’d want to send a series of emails about, you can adapt that same strategy for Messenger.

  • Send us a message if you’d like our free workout guide
  • 2 days later, “hey how did you like the guide” “would you be interested in an exclusive workout session”
  • 2 days later “don’t forget, tomorrow at 8am we’re doing the live Malibooty workout”
  • Next morning “today’s the day, see you soon”

Brand Awareness: Creative Bots

So if you’re clever enough, you can actually create bots that drive awareness to whatever you’re promoting.

For instance, if there’s a new Nightmare on Elm Street movie coming out, you can chat with Freddy Krueger. National Geographic created an Albert Einstein bot to promote their show Genius.

There was a charity that supported the youth in Ethiopia that created a bot pretended to be a young girl in Ethiopia in a town with limited access to water.

Duolingo has a chatbot that will do translations for you.

This was one of my favorite uses of a chatbot, not on Facebook, but it could’ve been easily adapted for Messenger. Ex-Machina, a movie about an intelligient female AI, created a chatbot that worked with Tinder to make attendees at SXSW think they were chatting with a real live female, only be to happily surprised at the end to see that it was an AI promoting the movie.

Hope you enjoyed listening and/or reading? What’s been your experience with Facebook chatbots? Comment below.