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A couple of weeks ago, Sophia – the beautiful and expressive robot created by Hanson Robotics - became the first robot to be granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia. She uses artificial intelligence to connect with people and is designed around human values like kindness, wisdom and compassion.
Able to answer questions, make jokes and mimic human facial expressions, Sophia is just one example of how much the field of artificial intelligence has evolved. And although it might take several years to see robots like Sophia interacting with humans in banks or supermarkets, AI can already be used for automating tasks, analyzing data and enhancing customer experience and customer service.
For business owners and marketers, the use of artificial intelligence can mean more flexibility, faster data retrieval, improved interactions with customers and fewer human interventions. And it doesn’t even have to cost a fortune!
Small businesses can take advantage and benefit from the advancement in this field by using accessible tools like social media bots, which are virtual robots powered by AI.
What are social media bots and how do they work?
Although they don’t have a body or a face like Sophia, social bots are able to interact with humans and to answer their queries without getting tired. They can sound very human, but are nothing but accounts that are automated and controlled by code.
Social media bots are algorithms, pieces of software that use artificial intelligence to automate tasks and carry conversations with humans, with the purpose of assisting them. They can help in building stronger relationships with customers by delivering targeted content and anticipating user reactions.
Depending on the niche and platform they are used on, social bots can be programmed to perform tasks like answering and sending direct messages, helping human users find information online, liking posts or following other users and so on.
Although apps can also perform such tasks, they usually do it via a menu with several answer options, while social media bots try to carry a “conversation” for helping the human users.
How can bots power social media growth?
In the field of online marketing, the purpose of artificial intelligence and social media bots is not to entirely replace the interactions between humans, but to support business owners and marketers in connecting with customers more efficiently.
Sectors like retail, travel, entertainment and even health and finance can use social bots as assistants. Bots can help you grow your social media page by providing real-time customer support and simplifying buying procedures.
For example, if you have a brand that sells shoes, you can use a bot for allowing customers to order within seconds by simply guiding them through the available options, or offering recommendations. If the user is searching for a specific type of shoe but in a different size, the bot can easily find that product and facilitate the sale.
The same bot can answer questions regarding an order and can suggest blog articles that explain how to take care of leather shoes and so on. If you own a hotel, a social media bot can assist users with bookings and can offer them information regarding the city they’re planning to visit, or the weather conditions during their planned holiday.
For a company that sells flight tickets, a bot can send customers their purchase confirmations, reminders for checking in, alternative options in case of cancelled flights and so on.
Social media bots can therefore power the growth of social media pages by:
- acting as customer service agents
- answering simple user questions
- delivering relevant content based on context
- sending personalized messages
- facilitating sales
- sending account or order notifications
- providing real-time reports for analytics
- collecting valuable information about customers
Bots can be integrated with email marketing services for nurturing campaigns, and can send traffic to your website by delivering personalized content to users. They can be used for upselling and cross-selling products, and can assist in improving conversions.
Can anything go wrong when using bots for business?
As amazing as this all sounds, the use of social media bots is not risk-free. Poorly developed and programmed bots can do more harm than good, as they can annoy users and waste their time instead of assisting them and helping humans solve their problems.
If you use bots for following new users who interact with your social pages, or for retweeting messages tagged with a certain #, keep in mind that bots don’t understand context like humans do. They might like or retweet messages that do not reflect your brand’s positioning and voice, and this might alter your credibility and reputation.
Bots can also alter analytics data by artificially inflating your follower count, or sending bot traffic to your website. To some business owners, it may seem smart to artificially increase the numbers of followers and likes, but these bots are not as helpful as chatbots, which are used just for helping customers.
Finally, bots can participate in spreading fake news and their activity can be so intense that it can influence the general perception of a social or political event. Bots that are created to deceive can participate in spreading malware and can steal data from other accounts. Of course, the purpose and behavior of a social bot will depend on the way it is programmed.
Companies that are using social media bots for good
Vodafone uses TOBi, an artificial intelligence system that assists users by providing real-time answers to simple questions. When needed, the bot can transfer calls to human operators.
SnapTravel uses a chatbot that helps you find hotel deals based on your date, budget and preferred destination. Once you give this information to the bot, it can message you some deals that can be booked directly on the SnapTravel website.
The bot of 1-800 Flowers, one of the first used in Facebook Messenger, allows you to order flowers online and to send them to a desired address. The bot gives you more options, and you can easily click through and pick the bouquet that you like the most.
Using the Lyft chatbot in Facebook Messenger or Slack, you can quickly request a ride. All you have to do is tell the bot your location, and the virtual robot will show you the location of the driver, the car model and even the license plate.
The branded Tommy Hilfiger chatbot helps users find outfits based on their preferred style. By asking a series of questions, the bot guides the user and displays outfits that fit the customer’s options. The products can be added to the shopping cart directly in the messenger window, and when users are ready to check out, the bot just sends them the link to the checkout page.
Another helpful chatbot available in Facebook Messenger is the HealthTap chatbot, which allows users to ask questions regarding health issues. You can also get test results assessed and if you’re not happy with the answers provided by the bot, you can choose to receive premium advice in less than 24 hours by paying a small fee.
The Transport for London chatbot allows users to check bus arrivals, route statuses and service updates, to check maps or get in touch with a customer service agent. Domino’s Pizza uses a bot that makes ordering pizza fast and easy.
Fandango’s Facebook chatbot enables users to find local theatres, see what movies are trending, watch trailers and buy tickets. With Mastercard’s social bot you can check account transactions, and Staples’ chatbot can answer questions regarding products and orders and can check stock availability for you.
Tools for creating your own social bots
If you’re looking for a safe and tested service for creating your first social media bot, you can start with Facebook’s Messenger platform itself. Although the process is a little more complicated than with other services, there’s a lot of documentation and resources online.
Other services for creating social bots include:
- Chatfuel - allows you to build Facebook messenger bots without having to code. It is used by companies like Adidas, MTV, BuzzFeed or British Airways.
- Botsify - doesn’t require coding knowledge and is pretty straightforward to set up.
- FlowX O - is useful for creating chatbots that will also analyze data from orders and customize the replies based on that data.
- Wit.ai - this bot tool is more suitable for developers, and provides more functionality and features.
- Conversable - also a powerful tool, is suitable for enterprises as it includes analytics, conversation flow modelling and training. It’s used by brands like Marvel, Whole Foods or Pizza Hut.
Are you already using social media bots to assist your customers and grow your pages?