Facebook Messenger Bots' Struggles Are Good for Facebook... and for Business
April 18, 2016
Though the first gen of Facebook Messenger bots have been (in my experience) clunky, the Messenger platform holds incredible power. Even The Wall Street Journal's implementation - which was called out in the press as a great example of the platform - offers as inconsistent and buggy experience.
As a marketer and a product manager, I'm totally ok with this. Here's why.
The holy grail of social marketing is to build meaningful relationships with your customers and constituents. In "the early days" of marketing on Facebook, one of our biggest challenges was managing one-on-one conversations. Everything written on Facebook was public, and customers didn't appreciate just how challenging this made support and personal answers. With the introduction of Messenger for Pages, we were able to address individual fans and provide critical functions - such as support - right from Facebook. This enhanced the marketing power of the channel.
Over time, the same will prove true for Messenger for Business.
We just haven't figured out what this Messenger for Business is... yet.
Users don't yet know what to expect from Messenger for Business. When I had three friends test the platform, they were all unsure of what to write. Is this a natural language search engine? Is this a "NanoRep" style interaction, where I ask questions and the business serves up pre-fab answers? Should this feel like I am speaking with a human? And honestly, even innovative brands like the WSJ who have an "onboarding" message, struggled to deliver on basic interactions.
As for what Messenger for Business is... the answer seems to be that it's something very new. And if Facebook can get this right, everyone - the user, the business, and Facebook - will win. It's a win-win-in. Users get better brand communications and support, businesses have stronger communications channels, and Facebook becomes even more central to the brand-customer interaction, opening new revenue opportunities.
In addition to the technical and platform challenges, let's remember the social challenges. Most brands and customers don't know how to talk to one another. It naturally follows that we should start from the lowest form of conversation - with transactional exchanges such as support, news research and the ability to purchase items. Over time, as our expectations and technologies evolve, we will develop the ability to deliver both branded experiences and anticipatory experiences (think Google Now alerts).
If this is indeed Facebook's roadmap, this early implementation makes sense. Facebook just has to find a way to both (a) ensure the quality of the user experience and (b) better communicate this to users.
And best of all, this exposes marketers, product managers and the general public to the challenges and dynamics of developing in today's unique marketplace. Not everything needs to be finished, polished or perfectly defined. Sometimes, you are better off going big and learning fast, and even if it's in public.
At its core, Messenger for Business makes sense. Scaling human relationships requires a new approach, one that will mix AI with human interactions as appropriate. Though the AI or its implementation aren't fostering meaningful interactions in Phase 1, Messenger is an incredibly powerful platform and the promise of AI is as strong as ever. David Marcus is remarkably brilliant, and this will platform will evolve into something remarkable.
*These are entirely my own views and do not reflect those of my employer, family, friends or favorite sports teams.