Please take this title at face value. I’m not looking to have an honest conversation about the Facebook Messenger situation. I’m simply looking to break down the different ways that a user might start a conversation with a Messenger bot, and provide some commentary.
For background, a Messenger Bot is an automated conversation that takes place between a Facebook user and a Facebook Page, generally created by a company or organization. Facebook requires that the user starts the conversation — so we don’t get into a situation where companies are able to just blast out unwanted messages to Facebook users.
In order to start the interaction, the user needs to arrive at the organization’s Facebook Messenger Page. There are a number of ways to arrive here. Arriving means that the Messenger app is open and the organization’s Page is the recipient. Let’s break down the different ways a user get’s to a specific Facebook Messenger Page.
Link: Every Facebook Page automatically has a short Messenger Page link. It’s simply http://m.me/PAGE_USERNAME The same username that links to a Page, now links to a Messenger Page. Obviously, everyone knows how to use links, but it’s notable that a brand can link to a Messenger Page from a post or Facebook ad.
Scannable code: Here’s the Messenger Code for @Mssg. Every Facebook Page has a Messenger Code.
Here’s how it works. A user can open the Messenger app, click People and then Scan Code from the menu. This opens a camera view, and if they scan the Messenger Code, it will link to the code owner’s Messenger Page. Essentially the Messenger Code acts like the link except the Code is scanned instead of being clicked.
These codes were created so that brands can use offline media to drive users to the Messenger Page. This use case is essential and it’s a valuable solution if the codes work.
The obvious comparison is the QR code, which did not work at all in consumer applications in the US. I’m fairly worried about these Messenger Codes being used by US Messenger users, but not sure that Facebook cares. The rumor is that this stuff works outside of the US and that might be the reason they launched with the Messenger API launch.
Search: It’s quite simple for a user to open Messenger and click the search box or compose icon at the top. As the user types, potential/probable recipients are listed and the user can click to the Messenger Page from the list. Easy enough, right?
The right call to action for the right channel: As brands build bots, there are hundreds of developers to develop these bots, but not many people to help drive usage. Believe it or not, getting the user to start the conversation is more important than building a bot that amazes the user (as long as the bot works). Brands need to drive users to the bot, not just build it and hope people come.
In promoting the bot, there will be different calls to action driving initial usage through different avenues. From Facebook Ads or webpages, the brand can simply use a short link to the bot. From print, and possibly video, a Scannable Code can be displayed so the user can scan in to the bot. Finally for audio like podcasts, radio and even events (from the stage) it makes sense to say, “To join, open Messenger and search for Coca-Cola”.
What works best? It’s too early to tell, but firms like Topbot are starting to explore different ways to drive usage. As a rule I would advocate to promote the bot wherever there’s media or other points of engagement. Are you already printing flyers for this event? Print the scannable code with directions on the back. Do you have a podcast? Mention the Messenger Bot at the end when you are giving the website. The key is that you’re not doing offline promotions strictly for the bot. The bot call to action is a with a call to action to a webform, email address or phone number.
OK, so a user has arrived at the Facebook Messenger Page. Now they need to start the conversation. Here are the options.
User types a message: This is great in theory, but it makes calls to action a little more complex. In the promotion, the user would need to be told where to go, and what to do when they get there.
With @Mssg, we’ve created a #hashtag system which works to identify intent and track the user source. If you send the hashtag #vote in the the recipient @calorganize, you get the English bot that helped you register to vote. If you send the hashtag #registrar, you get the Spanish bot. The advantages are pretty profound. An organization can run multiple bots from a single Facebook Page. When the user shows up they have a clear reason to be there, and specific action they are to perform. We can sidestep the problem of the user arriving and just sending in, “Hello”.
Once users are more used to interacting with bots, starting a conversation with a hashtag will work better. For now, it’s a little too much to handle for the user. I’d expect that the options below will be more effective getting users to take that first step.
Get Started button: When a user arrives on a Messenger Page, instead of a field to type a message they might send in, there is a button that reads Get Started. Once they click, the bot can respond and the conversation is off and running. The advantage is it’s a simple and singular call to action and works better than forcing an incoming message to drive the start of the conversation. Without the Get Started button, users may arrive at the Messenger Page, not know what to do and just bounce.
The downside is that it’s an extra step before the user tells you what they want to do. For the example above (English and Spanish bot) when the user clicks Get Started, the English bot replies, but we include a sentence that says “Reply #registrar for Spanish”. The obvious comparison is calling an 800 number and hearing that you can press 4 for Spanish. I don’t love this quirky interaction, but it’s a good tradeoff if it gets more people to start the interaction in the first place.
It’s a simple implementation, but the Get Started button must be added through the API. If you’re a developer, it’s also a little tricky to test the Get Started button because it only appears while a user hasn’t yet messaged the bot.
Send to Messenger plugin: Now things are getting interesting. Facebook gives access to a button that can be installed on any site. When a user clicks the Send to Messenger button, they’ll validate (login) to Facebook. Once that happens the user is redirected to the brand’s Messenger Page and a payload is passed to the bot. Passing in the payload can identify where the user is coming from and the intent on the user. In our voter registration example, the buttons/payloads would be different on the English and Spanish Pages. When a user clicks from the Spanish page, the Spanish bot responds and the English bot will be activated from a click on the English page.
This plugin acts as a link+incoming message which is quite powerful. I’m excited to see how this functionality is used. I can imagine a few ideas, but I’ve never seen this in the wild. This might be interesting for information that needs to go mobile, like a local business address. It can also be a great way to bridge from a web chat to a mobile chat, although I can’t see the web chat platforms connecting this functionality.
The most interesting use case might be marketing/affiliate marketing. Imagine being on a webpage that lists sponsors — like a podcast or event page. Next to the sponsor logo there could be a Send to Messenger button. When the user clicks, they get a Message from the sponsor’s bot. This conversation could act like a landing page, just asking for email and phone number. The added benefit is the content provider (podcast or event) can keep the visitor on their site, while driving interactions and email acquisition for their sponsors (over the Messenger channel).
Facebook Messenger Ads: These are still in beta, but expected to be widely available soon. The Messenger Ads are a type of add that appears on a user’s timeline. They are not ads inside Messenger. These ads behave like the Send to Messenger button, with the advantage that the user is already logged in and won’t need to validate after the click. For the money (and there is a cost) these ads seem the best option to start driving growth of a bot. Most likely this is by design.
The big bet is that driving users to Messenger will be valuable to businesses in a way that sending users to a web page is not. My belief is that it will be more effective to collect user data over Messenger conversations, than it is to collect this data on a webform — especially on a phone. In any case, combining Facebook ads with Messenger conversations is something that every bot should be experimenting with.
What’s missing: The most obvious missing functionality is the ability to link in to a Messenger Page and pass a parameter when the user clicks. *(update: ref links have been added. https://developers.facebook.com/docs/messenger-platform/referral-params) It’s possible to link directly to the Messenger Page and it’s possible to include the payload in the Send to Messenger button, but it’s not possible to link with the payload (params).
There may be technical reasons to not include params, there are likely business reasons as well.
The other thing that’s been missing is great examples. We’ve yet to see use cases that make sense and just work well. There is an army of builders creating bots. The first 6 months after release seem to be focused on people building novelty bots. I’m urging that marketers need to focus just as hard at getting users to message in and use what’s built.