When Mark Zuckerberg speaks, digital entrepreneurs and marketers listen very carefully. It’s no surprise, then, that when he announced a major change in the Facebook News Feed algorithm during the company’s January earnings presentation, the world of social media immediately reacted with extreme attention, some raised eyebrows, and a bit of anxiety.
Zuckerberg explained that Facebook would be making changes in the way the site prioritizes stories and articles in the main feed in an effort to “make sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent.” He said this change will reduce the amount of marketing and promotional materials users see in their feeds so they see more content posted by their friends.
While it’s amazing how Facebook is able to present its changes as audience benefits when they’re in perfect alignment with the corporation’s business objectives, we want to focus here on the effects that this changed attitude toward promotional and marketing content will have on Messenger and chatbots. Their growth is exponential and “more than 2 billion messages are sent between businesses and customers every month,” according to Zuckerberg.
Understanding how Facebook sees these tools and how it wants companies and businesses to use them could determine whether a marketer creates a successful and rewarding chatbot marketing strategy or drives their page toward a ban.
Facebook is no longer the Wild West
In the early days of Facebook, companies like Zynga were able to capitalize on the platform’s explosive growth and lax approach to catching marketing and spam. They acquired extremely large user bases on the cheap. This symbiotic relationship between a young and ambitious social network and companies that produced addicting games, content, and apps was beneficial for both. Now things have changed.
Facebook’s focus is no longer on expansion and growth at all costs. Rather, the company is focused on keeping existing users engaged, active, and happy with what they see in their feeds and elsewhere on the platform. This means that its approach toward “aggressive” marketing tactics is now much more strict, including on relatively new and still untested (marketing-wise) systems and tools like Messenger and chatbots. In other words, while in the good old days Facebook most likely erred on the side of permissiveness, now it will definitely shoot first and ask questions later, often with very little warning.
Chatbots are not ’email on steroids’
This shatters the thinking that many marketers had when they first started using the Messenger APIs: “This is email on steroids.” One might assume that as soon as a user interacts with a bot, they are immediately captured and all their conversations can be recorded, making it very easy to segment, track, and target them with laser-focused marketing messages deeply linked to their behavior and choices. But that’s not the way things work.
There is a very specific time window (24 hours, plus another 24 for a “reminder” message) during which a bot can send one (and only one) unsolicited promotional message to somebody who engaged in a chat, and that is all.
Every other communication started by the bot must not be related to a promotion but rather contain news, updates, or helpful messages. What counts is that just a couple of spam reports are enough to get a page or account suspended — remember that.
You are on rented land
The whole point is that chatbots, like Facebook pages, Twitter followers, Linkedin profiles, and Pinterest boards, are all built on “rented land” where the strategic objectives of the “landlord” very rarely align perfectly with the goals and desires of the business owner or marketer. Dismissing all social media for marketing purposes as a waste of time would be foolish, yet this thought must always be present in the back of a marketer’s mind. It should push them to use these platforms and tools as different components of well-balanced marketing campaigns where leads acquired or impressions generated must be “owned” and never “rented.”
Follow rules, use the tools
What all this boils down to is that the best and most effective approach for successfully using chatbots in a sound social media strategy is to follow the rules and use the tools that the platform makes available for marketers.
Facebook has a particular understanding of how chatbots can be an invaluable resource for businesses on its platform. For this reason, the company consistently releases new features to boost the benefits of Messenger bots. For example, one of the most exciting new releases is the Customer Chat Plugin, a tool that allows website owners to integrate Messenger bots directly into their web pages. This is just like a traditional live chat widget, making it easy to engage users and respond automatically to their questions. When a company designs the bot well, it can also lead users through the customer journey to conversion. This is exactly what bots for Messenger were created for, and this is what Facebook ultimately wants businesses to experience.
So, in the end, will Facebook’s algorithmic changes and general attitude toward “free marketing” make chatbots useless for businesses? Absolutely not. Are bots then the Holy Grail of direct marketing and the easy road to riches for smart agencies? Also no.
Messenger bots are a precious piece of the overall digital marketing puzzle. They are an extremely effective tool for leveraging the largest digital community in existence, and marketers must use them wisely in order to achieve success.
Silvio Porcellana is an entrepreneur, marketer, and coder working on the Interweb since 1999. He created The Maven System to help fellow entrepreneurs build successful online businesses.