To slow the rapid spread of COVID-19, we’re all encouraged to socially distance ourselves.
When we’re physically apart, what holds us together? What allows us to keep in touch with loved ones, and to exchange encouragement, aid, information, and connection with each other—all while we’re quarantining or self-isolating?
The answer: technology.
In many ways, this pandemic is unprecedented. But in many ways, we’re better equipped to withstand and overcome it than in any other time in history. It won’t be easy. But just think of how much harder it would be without the technology for:
📦 Ecommerce, so we can get necessities shipped to our doorsteps when supermarket shelves are bare, or it’s too risky for some to go out and shop.
📱 Video chat, to maintain relationships with vulnerable loved ones or quarantined friends, and to remotely collaborate with coworkers.
🤳🏻 Social media, as a place for us to connect with and be inspired by hope and optimism seen around the world.
🏥 Medical technology, because although COVID-19 is heavily burdening healthcare systems, we have better technology than ever to study the virus and work towards vaccines and cures.
And of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight how chatbot technology is helping the world navigate this pandemic too. Since the virus started spreading months ago, thousands of chatbots have been built to share emergency information about it.
We’re partnering with Facebook and also running our own program to help healthcare organizations launch coronavirus-information bots quickly and easily. That means we’ve had front-row seats to see the amazing things that different groups worldwide are doing with chatbots during this time of crisis.
We’ve gathered a few examples of these chatbots here—a few of many that are helping people stay healthy, informed, and connected, as we maneuver this public-health crisis one day at a time. They were built by different types of organizations in different languages in countries around the world. Some have general information that applies globally, and others share details only relevant to specific communities.
But they all have a common goal: informing and supporting people in these uncertain times, and aiming to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Many of these chatbots share similar features. But we decided to highlight one key function that each one does especially well, so you can get a better sense of the impact bots are making during this situation. We’ll cover chatbots that:
- Answer FAQs about the virus ❓
- Quiz users on their symptoms and advise whether they should seek care 🤧
- Give location-specific information about the pandemic 📍
- Offer personalized, hyper-local assistance 😷
- Assist with mental healthcare 🧠
- Let people know how they can help out 💪
Answer FAQs about the virus ❓
Why? Because when lives and livelihoods are at risk, it’s crucial that people have 24/7 access to information that’s clear, correct, and helpful. Unfortunately, widespread misinformation is a problem in situations like this. Chatbots can share details from official, reputable sources to help combat this problem. They can dispel rumors, share facts, and let people know exactly how to protect themselves and help stop the spread.
Example: The World Health Organization (WHO) is, of course, one of the most authoritative and trusted sources for information on the pandemic. WHO built a WhatsApp bot to share this information. One of our favorite features is the bot’s ability to answer FAQs and bust common myths about the virus. The questions and answers are written in clear, simple language, and they get straight to the facts.
Quiz users on symptoms 🤧
Why? This coronavirus has spread fast, meaning lots of people are getting sick all at once. Hospitals worldwide are struggling to provide enough staff, space, and resources to treat all their patients. Bots are one way to help ease the burden on healthcare systems. They can quiz users on their symptoms to tell if they’re likely to be infected with the virus. If not, users can continue to self-isolate at home, and avoid overcrowding medical facilities for common conditions that don’t require hospitalization. If the bot finds the person may have the virus, it can connect them with local clinics for instructions on what to do next.
Example: The German government held a hackathon in mid-March to encourage people to create solutions for various pandemic-related problems. One of the projects that came out of it is the FightCovid Messenger bot. It’s a robust chat experience with lots of functions, but its symptom checker is one that stands out.
The chatbot takes users through a series of short, simple questions to gauge the likelihood of them being infected with the virus. It has the same feel of being questioned about symptoms by a human doctor, which can help users feel more comfortable. At the end of the quiz, the bot gives advice on next steps if necessary.
Give location-specific updates on the pandemic 📍
Why? Each country has to handle these unprecedented events in the way that’s best for their own citizens. People can get general health information that applies globally from sources like the WHO chatbot. But bots run by national or regional authorities tell people how the pandemic is affecting life in their country specifically. They can let users know about closures of local schools and businesses, lockdown orders and their rules, and other area-specific details.
Example: Argentina’s National Health Ministry built a bot like this, full of information that pertains specifically to their citizens. Like others, it gives general advice on prevention and tips for self-isolation. But it also offers up-to-date details about school closures. It tells people the latest news about local travel restrictions, and lets them check whether certain flights into or out of the country have been canceled. It also gives links to reputable local news sources where people can learn more about what’s happening in their area.
Offer personalized, hyper-local assistance 😷
Why? You can easily set up a chatbot to provided a personalized experience to each user. It’s one of the reasons bots are so effective. And in times like these, the personalization factor is crucial in getting users the right information for their specific situation.
Example: Our Taiwan-based partner agency GoSky AI built a Messenger chatbot as a resource for local residents during the pandemic. It shares data and stats from the WHO and other reputable sources. It can connect users to the local CDC in one tap, if needed. It also has personalized feature that’s uniquely useful to Taiwanese citizens: a pharmacy-search function. The government in Taiwan has an ID-based system that lets citizens buy two surgical masks a week. The bot lets users search their specific area for pharmacies that have masks in stock, and then instructs them on proper mask usage.
The GoSky bot is also great example of how organizations of any type can keep subscribers in the loop, even in light of Facebook’s early-March policy changes. “When the situation is beyond control and requires spreading correct information to calm the public, we don’t mind paying for sponsored messages so that the users will get the most up-to-date and correct information,” says Dora Tseng of the GoSky team. “Therefore, we will still be sending messages to the users if they have hit the subscribe button within the chatbot.”
Another unique feature of GoSky’s coronavirus chatbot: It comes with a shortcut to make it even more accessible. Though the bot lives in Messenger, subscribers can easily add an app icon to their phone that takes them directly to that Messenger conversation. Over 80% of the bot’s subscribers have opted to do this. It encourages them to check the bot for important updates daily, as they would do with any other favorite app. Here’s a video of how it works. 👇🏻
Assist with mental healthcare 🧠
Why? The coronavirus doesn’t just put people’s physical health at risk. The uncertainty that comes with a global crisis like this can cause stress and anxiety. Mandatory self-isolation can trigger feelings of loneliness and even depression. That’s why it’s more important than ever for people to look after their mental health, and some bots are equipped to help.
Example: The Bangladesh-based SAJIDA Foundation took this kind of holistic approach to their COVID-19 information bot. Like others, it offers prevention tips and a symptoms checker. But it also shares mental-health advice with those feeling anxious due to the virus. It has tips from a psychological-health authority on how to keep calm during these stressful times, and will connect users with mental-health professionals if needed. It also recommends activities for self-care and minimizing loneliness, including:
- the link to an app to watch Netflix with friends
- links to a website where you can learn to play an instrument
- movie recommendations
- a suggestion for a meditation app
Let people know how they can help out 💪
Why? Millions of low-risk, currently healthy people worldwide are sitting on their couches in self-isolation or lockdown, wondering how they can help those most in need. Practicing social distancing IS a huge help, but many want to know how or if they can do more. That’s why some bots give details on this topic. They might share lists of local restaurants people can support by ordering delivery, or emergency funds they can donate to, for instance.
Example: The Central Committee of Sudan Doctors built a bot that does this, in addition to giving general information about prevention and symptoms. This Messenger bot reminds people that the most important things they can do to help are to practice social distancing, and to encourage friends and family to follow the proper precautions too. To this end, the bot also offers graphics about preventative measures for users to share on social media.
Why bots are highly effective tools during this time
Now that you’ve seen some COVID-19 Messenger bots in action, you can start to see why they make such excellent tools for situations like this.
- The information is all in one place and easy to update. Things change rapidly in a crisis situation like this one. But if you’re sharing information via bot, making edits and updates is easy. You don’t have to contact your website developer each time, or archive and re-post details on social media. It takes mere seconds to make a change in a Messenger bot, and that content will be saved and instantly available to subscribers.
- Bots can help reduce staff overwhelm. Hospitals and health organizations around the world are currently bombarded with calls, emails, and walk-ins from concerned citizens. A bot can act as their first line of defense. Bots can save time by answering basic FAQs and sharing information without the need for intervention or assistance from human staff.
- Messenger bots are easy to use. Facebook has billions of regular users around the globe, so your bot has a large potential audience of people who are already familiar with the Messenger interface. That means a Messenger bot is a relatively frictionless, unintimidating channel, even for new users. Plus, bots converse in a back-and-forth style, which is typically a more manageable, less stressful way to receive crisis information.
- Messenger bots are easy to build. We designed the Chatfuel platform to make building Messenger bots as easy as possible. In light of the pandemic, we’ve also put together some additional resources to help organizations get one up and running—fast. 👇🏻
Resources for building an informative bot for the coronavirus pandemic
If you’re part of a health-related nonprofit, NGO, or government entity, a Messenger bot is a great way to share crucial information about the virus with your audience. Here are the resources we’re currently offering to help groups like yours build bots:
- Free access to our Pro plan for qualifying organizations that wish to share information about COVID-19 via Messenger. (Submit your bot for approval here.)
- Continued access for all to our free plan, which is the broadest in the market.
- A free chatbot template for sharing information about the coronavirus, called COVID-19 Assistant. Just log into Chatfuel, load the template, customize, and launch.
- Weekly office hours hosted by chatbot experts from our team to help you with your bot-building questions. (Get more information in our Facebook community.)
Other tips for building a COVID-19 information bot
If you choose to create a Messenger chatbot to share information about COVID-19, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
- Use the appropriate tone. Lives are at risk, and stress levels are high. Make sure the tone of your chatbot respects that. Write your content carefully.
- Keep it updated. Of course, this tip is crucial. The situation with the coronavirus changes fast. If you build a bot to share information about it, commit to updating it regularly as needed, or using reputable API that will constantly provide up-to-date details.
- Get the word out. Your bot can’t do its job if it doesn’t have users to interact with. Share the link to your bot in emails and on social media. Embed it on your website. Automatically send Facebook post commenters a message via bot. Make sure people know about this valuable resource you’ve created, and encourage them to come back and check for updates.
- Use it responsibly. You’re responsible for the accuracy of the content in your bot. We recommend only taking information from reputable sources, like the WHO or other major, verified health authorities. Do not use your bot to spread panic or fear. Instead, make sure it delivers accurate, helpful information in a calm and reasonable manner.
#Stayhome and build bots
Technology is the bridge that connects us trying times like these. Now’s the time for health organizations to take advantage of Messenger-bot technology to help keep people safe. Let’s all #stayhome, stay safe, and focus on new ways to come together digitally till this storm has passed. 💙