You’ve heard the buzz. Chatbots will replace mobile apps. Chatbots will replace email marketing. Chatbots will replace customer care agents. Chatbots will cut your costs and increase your revenue. And they’re gonna do it all while you sleep. There’s a lot of hype floating around right now about chatbots in general, and Facebook Messenger bots in particular. It’s no surprise that, according to a survey by Oracle, 80 percent of businesses want a chatbot in place by 2020.

Can bots really do everything they promise?

It’s still early days. In the meantime, here are some real-world examples and best practices to give you a firm footing in this new landscape.

What are Facebook Messenger bots (a.k.a Facebook chatbots)?
Basically, a chatbot is a piece of automated messaging software that uses AI to converse with people. Bots are programmed to understand questions, provide answers, and execute tasks. From a customer’s perspective, they’re a friendly and accessible time-saver. Rather than opening an app (let alone downloading one), making a phone call (ew), running a search, or loading a webpage, your customer can just type a message, as they would to a friend. Chatbots have been around in some form for decades, and currently, they exist on web pages, in apps, on social media—you name it. A Facebook Messenger bot is a chatbot that lives in Facebook Messenger, meaning it converses with some of the 1.3 billion people who use Facebook Messenger every month. If you’re on Facebook, you probably already have a Facebook Messenger strategy. A Facebook Messenger bot is how you scale that strategy. As of the 2018 F8 conference, Facebook has 300,000 active Messenger bots. That’s three times as many as the year prior.

Why use Facebook Messenger bots for business?
There are two major advantages to using a Facebook Messenger bot. First, there’s a low barrier to entry for both you and your target audience. Facebook Messenger is the third most-used app in the world, used by 68 percent of app users. And it’s not just for group chats among friends and family. A recent Nielsen survey found that people think messaging is the second-best way to talk to a business. People exchange 2 billion messages with businesses over Facebook Messenger every month. Compare this to the rest of the mobile app market, where 71 percent of users delete an app within 90 days. If you want to communicate with your customers, building a Facebook Messenger bot is a lot cheaper than building a mobile app. The second advantage is that the field is still wide open. While Facebook has 6 million advertisers, there are only 300,000 chatbots. That’s a lot less competition. Meanwhile, marketing email click-through rates (3.1 percent, on average) haven’t improved in years, and only 30 percent of marketing emails are even opened. Chatbots can help you bypass inbox competition too. So that’s the context. Let’s break down exactly what a Messenger chatbot can help you do:

  1. Reach your audience directly
  2. Save time and money on customer care
  3. Identify leads
  4. Handle e-commerce transactions
  5. Re-engage customers

How are businesses using Facebook Messenger bots?
Each bot is as unique as the business it serves. They can help with common customer service questions, like delivery tracking and appointment booking. But they can also drive discovery—suggesting the perfect pair of jeans, booking a direct flight to London, or ordering dinner. They can upsell by suggesting a t-shirt to go with those jeans, or a bottle of kombucha with that dragon bowl. They can remind you that you forgot to click purchase on those sneakers. They can track your delivery, and then check in to see how those jeans fit once they’ve arrived. They can notify you about an offer they think you’d like, and they’ll remember your size or time zone or nut allergy. They might even tell you a joke while you’re at it.