As expected, at the Facebook F8 developer conference, the world’s largest social network announced that bots have come to Facebook Messenger. And the launch of a bot-enabled Messenger platform may help Facebook steal micro-moments from Google.
As we’ve seen, bots are a hot item, and they could even shape the future of how brands and consumers interact, according to some observers.
In essence, a bot is an application that runs an automated task based on a command. Bots are significant to businesses because brands can use them as an easy way to manage order-fulfillment functions quickly and easily. For instance, at F8, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed a bot from 1-800-Flowers that people can use to order flowers without having to talk to a human being. “You never have to call 1-800-Flowers again,” Zuckerberg told the crowd.
You don’t need Facebook to use a bot; but Facebook is making itself the go-to source for their commercial application. And those applications could easily make Facebook more of a destination for location marketing, especially during micro-moments—a term Google coined to describe those times when consumers use their mobile devices to decide what to do, where to go and what to buy.
Micro-moments are increasingly defining the way consumers and brands interact. The key is for businesses to be present when micro-moments occur. Facebook wants those micro-moments to occur on its own platform. Consider, for instance, this scenario:
- Using Facebook’s ever-improving local search functionality, you find the best local business on Facebook to order a pizza, buy movie tickets or make a restaurant reservation.
- After you find the location you want, you use Facebook Messenger to go beyond a micro-moment and make a “next moment” happen—or the action that occurs after you conduct a search. A bot enables the next moment, whether you’re placing the order for the pizza or buying tickets for The Jungle Book.
This scenario isn’t hypothetical. Facebook has already launched bots for Messenger with businesses ranging from Bank of America to Fandango. For instance, Fandango is making it possible for users to complete functions such as finding movie times.
Facebook is not the first company to release a bot for its messaging app—bots are popular already on WeChat. But Facebook means scale, with more than 900 million people using Messenger every month. Successful incorporation of bots could cause the same kind of surge in software development that Apple triggered with app-based iPhones.
On the other hand, Julie Ask of Forrester Research strikes a cautionary tone. She points out that although bots “provide an amazing opportunity for brands to deliver contextual experiences on borrowed mobile moments,” they face some potential stumbling blocks, such as unsophisticated enabling technology.
“Great bot services will depend on artificial intelligence and insights,” she writes. “Consumers don’t want to chat with machines that ask them dumb questions. Only one in four enterprises surveyed by Forrester even use location data to make mobile services more relevant, let alone insights built on the immense context available.”
Perhaps anticipating the need to provide a more intelligent bot interface, Facebook acquired technology startup Wit.ai in 2015. Developers using the Wit.ai Bot Engine can use machine learning and natural language to offer better responses.
The news from F8 underscores the need for multi-location businesses to strengthen their presence on Facebook. So far, having a Facebook presence has meant managing Facebook pages that combine accurate location data, content and an experience to attract and retain customers—in other words, being available with the right information when consumers experience micro-moments of local search on Facebook. Now businesses that want to succeed at the local level will need to embrace the next moment on Facebook.
Jay Hawkinson is a digital marketing professional with 20 years of sales, marketing and merchandising experience including organic search optimization, paid search advertising, local search, mobile and social media. Jay joined SIM Partners in 2006 as an equity partner and currently oversees mobile, social media and emerging technology as senior vice president of client success.