There's an Instagram video going around of a quarantined guy having enthusiastic (albeit one-way) conversations with each of the plants in his house. Morning coffee in hand, he jabbers away with an indoor palm, then laughs companionably at a shared joke with a potted succulent.

It’s funny because we can all relate to it right now. Quarantining and social distancing have reminded us that conversation is a fundamental human need. The stats confirm that people are seeking conversations however they can while physically apart.

➡️ Facebook says that total messaging on their apps has increased by 50% in some countries in the past month. Voice and video calling have more than doubled on Messenger and WhatsApp in the last few weeks, too.

Conversations are the glue that’s binding us together and allowing us to support each other during these trying times—even from a distance. They’re our source of comfort, information, entertainment, and connection.

It’s true for individuals, and it’s true for businesses too. The brands that survive the coronavirus pandemic will do so by the power of conversations. We’re talking about authentic, transparent, one-on-one conversations with your audience. (And by “audience,” we mean your loyal customer base, plus any prospects who have shown an affinity to your brand, like followers and fans). Authentic conversations with these people are your opportunity to show leadership and humanity. They’re what will keep your community together, and help you build key supportive relationships for now and for the future.

But how can your brand possibly hold meaningful conversations with your entire audience? How could you ever find enough time to have impactful interactions with each person?

This is where a Messenger bot comes in. 🤖

Why Messenger bots?

Allow us to answer the first question that has bubbled up in your mind. How can an automated bot help me have meaningful conversations with my audience?

Here’s the thing: You have total control over the content of your chatbot. You decide exactly what you want it to say, and the exact manner in which you want it said. Once you’ve built out this content, your bot becomes a reliable, highly trained ambassador for your brand. You can then send it out to start personalized conversations and share your message with users on your behalf.

Why is this an ideal system? Here are three reasons:

1. How something is said can impact on how it’s received. 🗣️Imagine that you have to get information from a dense, dull textbook. Would you rather read blocks of text quietly to yourself? Or would you rather have your most animated friend read it first, then sit down and chat with you to convey the information? Most of us (and most consumers) would choose option two. A good conversation can make any topic more engaging, personal, and approachable. Because chatbots share information in a conversational style, that’s exactly what they can do for your brand’s content, too.

2.You save time. ⏳To personally have one-on-one conversations with every member of your brand’s audience, you’d have to devote your entire life to it. There’d be no time for anything else. But with a chatbot, you can set the stage for these conversations once, then have the bot do the actual legwork. Messenger bots are constantly available, which translates to two key benefits. The first is that they can engage in thousands of conversations at once if needed, without your help. The second is that your audience can participate in these conversations whenever it suits them, because a bot is accessible 24/7.

3. It’s still personal. 💙 Conversations are personalized, by definition. The meaningful ones are, anyway. (That’s why superficial small talk wears on people sometimes, because it can feel inauthentic and trivial.) A Messenger bot can personalize the conversation in a few different ways. First, it can use information from the user’s Facebook profile, like their name and time zone (Good morning, Chelsea!). Or, it can incorporate data from past conversations using attributes (Welcome back Eric! Need another recommendation? etc.). This kind of personalization keeps users engaged and shows that you acknowledge their individuality.

Messenger chatbots in the age of the coronavirus

It’s April 2020: No brand is experiencing “business as usual.” The pandemic has changed aspects of daily life for everyone. We’ve all had to shift the way we do certain things, and the way we market is no exception. If you already have a chatbot, you’ll likely want to make some tweaks to adapt it for the times. If you’re going to build one now, you’ll likely do things differently than if you were launching a few months ago.

There are a few things to consider if you’re adjusting or building a bot in the age of the coronavirus:

1️⃣Be transparent and authentic. There’s no sense in companies pretending to have all the answers right now. No one does; everyone on the planet is weathering this uncertain storm together. Our shared humanity is on the forefront of everyone’s minds. So when writing or editing your bot’s content, don’t think of it as your brand talking at customers. Think of it as the humans of your company communicating with other humans in the world. Be honest about how your brand is handling the crisis, and how your audience will be affected (closures, delays, low stock, long waits, etc.). We’re all in the same boat; acting otherwise is inauthentic, and your subscribers will feel it.

2️⃣Be mindful of your tone. People’s lives have been turned upside down by COVID-19. They’re falling ill and losing jobs and dealing with the constant stress of uncertainty. Be mindful of this, and create or edit the tone of your bot’s content accordingly. Remember that there’s a line between a bit of uplifting humor or positivity, and being insensitive. Exercise empathy, and don’t include anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying out loud in conversation during these times.

3️⃣To sell or not to sell? Every business represents the livelihood of one or more people. Your audience understands that you need to make sales to keep your doors open. (In fact, if you’ve already built relationships with them, they’ll likely want to help support you if they can.) That said, you’ll need to go about this with tact. Focus on your customers and their needs in any sales or marketing situation. Build a bot that shows you genuinely want to help them find products they need or that will bring them joy right now. In most cases, hard-selling with regard only for your bottom line won’t be well-received at this time.

Resources to help you get your best bot up and running

Here at Chatfuel, we’ve pledged to support businesses like yours in building or improving their bots:

🆓We offer the broadest free plan in the market. That means you can still build an excellent bot with our platform, whether you have marketing budget to spare right now or not.

💎We’ve got a wealth of free resources to help you build effective bots: our blog, YouTube channel, and detailed help documentation.

🙋‍♀️We’ve got one of the most knowledgable and highly rated support teams out there to answer all your questions.

👇 And we’ve got more advice for using Messenger bots in a sensitive, effective way in the age of coronavirus. Keep reading!

But first, one more thing: If you’re completely new to bots, you’re in luck! There’s no special skills or experience required to build a bot with Chatfuel. We’re a no-code platform, which means you can get started right away.

Here’s what we recommend for first steps:

  1. Sign up for a free Chatfuel account.
  2. If you’ve got a few hours, take our free online course to deep-dive into how the platform works. If not, check out a few quick videos on the basics:

Connecting your page to Chatfuel

Mapping out the conversation

Building a bot to answer questions

Building a bot to recommend products

Making sure your bot complies with Messenger policies

3. To create your bot even more quickly, try one of our free, plug-and-play templates.

4. Join our Facebook community, where you can ask questions and get inspiration from other bot-builders around the world.

How to use a Messenger bot in times of crisis

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, let’s dive into some specifics around how to use a Messenger bot sensitively and effectively during the pandemic.

Give crucial information first 1️⃣
The first benefit of having a bot during the coronavirus pandemic: It lets people know your business is still open! Your loyal customers want to hear from you. They want to know if you’re still providing the products or services they need or enjoy, and what’s changed. Do your part to quell one small bit of uncertainty in their lives right now using your bot. Providing this basic information is reason enough to have a chatbot, even if you only use it for this.

So that’s the crux of our first tip: Put the key information that people will be looking for front and center in your bot. Make it easy to find, and keep it updated as things change. (This advice is especially important if you already had a chatbot, before the virus. You’ll likely need to rearrange things a bit.) For example:

  • If you’re a restaurant that’s now delivery-only, your bot’s main menu should have a link to a block or URL with up-to-date details on how users can order.
  • If you’re an ecommerce business whose stock or shipping times are affected, your bot should offer information for shoppers on that before anything else.
  • If you’re a gym that’s been closed because of COVID-19, have your bot tell people right away about the alternatives you’re offering. If you have live workouts or links to exercises etc., make sure your bot shares those first.
welcome message chatbot
Make the most crucial information easy for users to find immediately.

Introduce people to your bot 🙋
Make sure people know that your Messenger chatbot will be their go-to source to get information, or to browse products, or whatever you’ll be using it for. Spread the word via email and social pages that you’ve got a bot up and running, and share how it can help users. You could even record a screencast of your bot in action to show your audience how it works.

If it fits your budget, you could also use click-to-Messenger ads to bring new users to your bot. Ads may be cheaper now because many companies have halted their spend altogether. Run some small tests and see what it’s like for your target audience at the moment.

Now’s also the perfect time to take advantage of our Acquire Users from Comments feature. In just a few clicks, you can set your chatbot to automatically message those who comment on a specific post (or all posts) on your page. It can message everyone, or just those whose comment includes a keyword. So if you run a restaurant, for example, you could have your bot send details on ordering delivery to those whose comments include the words delivery or order.

Keep your audience in the loop 💬
When it comes to the COVID-19 situation, things are changing fast. If there’s an important update from your business that your audience needs to know, make sure they get it! Sponsored messages are an effective way to do this. They are a paid, Facebook ad type, but they’re actually quite affordable. (We ran our own campaign and it cost less than one cent per message.) Use them to reach out to bot subscribers who are outside the 24-hour standard messaging window, whenever you have an important announcement or update to share.

Sponsored messages are one way to keep bot subscribers in the loop.

Now is also a great time to utilize Facebook’s One-Time Notification, if the right use case arises. For example, let’s say one of your ecommerce store’s popular products is out of stock due to pandemic-related delays. You can offer users the option to be notified automatically via bot when it’s back.

Make it relevant 📍
As we mentioned earlier, impersonal conversations don’t add much value. That’s why you’ll want to take advantage of the various ways your bot can personalize its chat with a user. Use system attributes like their name or time zone to make the experience feel warm and welcoming. You can also use custom attributes based on their past responses or actions in the bot.

For instance, an ecommerce brand that sells vitamins could set their bot to save an attribute based on the type of vitamin the user shows interest in. If a person is interested in vitamins for clear skin, the bot can “remember” that and show them related, relevant products next time.

Test and see 🧪
Users will keep coming back to your bot if it adds value for them. There are several easy ways to find out if it does:

  • Just ask. Create a question at the end of your bot’s flow that asks the user to rate their experience from one to five stars via quick replies—simple as that. You could even add the Save User Input plugin to let the bot gather custom feedback from them. If you notice any trends in the feedback, you can adjust accordingly.
  • Use inline stats. They’ll show you at a glance how many users have viewed and clicked in each block in your bot. If there’s significant drop-off somewhere, you’ll be able to pinpoint it easily. (Or, to visualize your chatbot funnel in a more advanced, detailed way, try using the Send Analytics Event to Facebook plugin.)
Inline stats will help you identify any drop-off points in your bot’s flow.
  • A/B test. Once you uncover an issue that’s causing a drop in engagement, you can use the A/B Test plugin to fix it. This plugin lets you create two or more different versions of a single bot element and send a portion of users to one, and the rest to another. The results of the test will show you what works best so you can optimize.

The power of conversation in trying times 💙

Meaningful conversations form the foundation for strong customer relationships. Use a bot to keep the lines of communication open with your audience in these difficult times. Continue building loyalty and trust now, when your business needs it most. Focus on customer needs, practice transparency and sensitivity, and let’s keep taking it one day at a time.

We’re offering our Pro plan for free to qualifying organizations that are using Messenger bots to share crucial COVID-19 information. We’re also holding free, live office hours every Wednesday to help you with all your bot-building questions. Learn more about the programs we have in place during the pandemic.

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