When you hear the word “bot,” what goes through your head?
For me, it’s a toss-up: Election sabotage, death threats on Twitter, or the Cybermen.
Not an awesome list of associations.
But late last week, I happened to catch a session with Andrew Warner at Social Media Marketing World on how to use chatbots to connect with audiences … and I learned a lot of things that seriously challenged my assumptions.
Andrew’s an expert on how to use “chatbots” — automated tools that can communicate on platforms like Facebook Messenger — to deliver messages.
Here are a few of the surprises I took away from that session — they might surprise you, too.
Surprising Benefit #1: It’s entirely permission-based
Maybe the creators of messaging platforms learned a few things from email, because the chat environment is amazingly resistant to spam.
Chat users must explicitly agree to receive messages — which makes the chat environment look a lot less painful than the Hellmouth that is my email inbox at the moment.
Even the father of permission marketing himself, Seth Godin, is using a chatbot on his Facebook page to send interesting, relevant, and valuable stuff to people who are interested in what he’s doing on that platform.
Does that surprise you? It surprised me — because I hadn’t realized how much the chat environment supports the fundamental principles of permission marketing: to entice rather than interrupt, and ask for permission rather than spam and slam.
Surprising Benefit #2: You can deliver autoresponders with it
So, the email autoresponder is one of my favorite content marketing tools.
It lets us deliver relevant, super-useful, interesting sequences directly to folks who are interested in a topic.
Plus, I can put the work in to create the strongest content I can one time, then deliver it to an infinite number of subscribers for as long as it’s relevant. Given my intense content creation schedule, I absolutely adore this aspect.
The biggest downside: every year, autoresponder messages get a little harder for subscribers to see.
Right now in my own inbox, I have hundreds of interesting, engaging email messages about topics I care about. Messages that I haven’t seen, and might not ever look at, because I’ve got too much other cruft clogging things up.
I didn’t realize that a chatbot could deliver sequences like this, but they can — pretty much just like email does. The only real difference is the platform the message comes through on. But that can be a significant difference.
Surprising Benefit #3: No Hellmouth
I’ve come to terms with the fact that never again will I have fewer than
10,000 20,000 30,000 unread emails.
My email inbox sucks. Maybe yours does as well. It’s jammed with messages from people who have no respect for my time, who have done no homework, and who are trying to grab my attention without having earned it.
Now, when I was listening to Andrew’s presentation, I was thinking:
“Sure, this is fine for now, but what happens when chat is as horrible as email inboxes are?”
Because after all, bad marketers are Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.
And then Andrew said:
“I bet you’re wondering what happens when chat is as horrible as email inboxes are.”
So much for my illusions of originality.
But because of Surprise #1 — the much tighter permission context of chat — it’s a lot harder for crummy marketers to get in there.
Once you say no more contact from someone, that’s it; they can’t contact you again. Even better, people can’t send you unsolicited messages like they can by guessing (or buying) your email address.
We’re going back to what permission marketing is supposed to be about — earning the right to talk to people, instead of interrupting them and attempting to snatch their attention.
That means we have to get creative. We have to marshall our skill and craft as writers. We have to get serious about serving audiences instead of trying to strip-mine them.
Just my kind of thing.
Last minute: Join us for a workshop!
This Thursday, Andrew is going to join us for a free workshop with more information about how to deploy chatbots to deliver respectful, relevant value for our audiences.
I hope you can join us! This is a great opportunity for freelancers, for writers working within an organization, and for entrepreneurs and solopreneurs.
It’s not only a lot easier than you think to get started with chatbots, it’s also a lot cooler. We’ll be holding the workshop this coming Thursday, March 8 at 12:00 p.m. Pacific Time / 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Just click the link to join us for the Bot Academy workshop with Andrew Warner and Brian Clark. (We have an affiliate relationship with Andrew for his very solid Bot Academy course.)
It probably won’t surprise you that, when you sign up for the workshop and if you use Facebook, you’ll get a chance — completely dependent on your permission! — to see an example of how a messenger bot could be used.
There are a zillion different creative ways to deploy these, but it will give you one view that might well spark some creative ideas of your own.
Is this going to replace email?
I don’t believe in futurism (the present is hard enough to understand), so I won’t make a prediction.
But for me, using smart automation to deliver relevant messages via chat is functionally pretty much identical to using smart automation to deliver relevant messages via email.
You get the benefits of email — direct delivery to a personal communication platform that people rely on. And you can use thoughtful automation to make sure you’re delivering the absolute most relevant content to any particular person.
And you miss the biggest pitfall of email — the Hellmouth inbox, where your content fights for attention with spammers, scammers, and lazy salespeople. It turns out that even just-okay open rates from a chatbot tend to beat email open rates by 4 to 10 times — or more.
Hope you can join us for the Bot Academy workshop with Andrew and Brian!
Update: The workshop with Brian and Andrew has passed, but for now you can get a replay at the above link to get the goodies. π We’ll let you know more as we continue own development of ethical, audience-friendly chatbots!