Should digital news publishers invest in Facebook Messenger chatbot?

Last year, Facebook opened its messenger platform for developers. Facebook messenger is just another medium similar to apple app store and google play store.

The biggest argument in favour of building a messenger bot is zero friction for new customers. On app store, users need to install an app first before you can engage with him. On the other hand, fb messenger allows a user to start engaging with a brand with a single click.

Hence it makes sense for news publishers to build a presence on facebook messenger a.k.a chatbot.

Big publishers (CNN, ABC News, NDTV, India Today etc.) with vast tech resources have started to build their presence and seeing good engagement numbers. To give you an example, only a couple of weeks after launch, TechCrunch revealed on the Messenger blog “Since launching, we’ve seen tremendous growth in active user sessions. Without sharing too much data, I can say that within a few months I expect it to rival the current monthly session numbers we’re getting from our TechCrunch app.”

However this is not straight forward for small and medium sized publishers. What if there are not enough users engaging with a chatbot? Should a publisher continue to put resources on messenger platform?

I had a discussion with a founder of a relatively young digital news platform. He told me they built messenger bot and tried for one week but the numbers were not encouraging enough. So they had to kill the project.

I had two things to say to him:

  1. Messenger platform is still in its infancy: 
    Only a small percentage of FB messenger users are interacting with chatbots. And very few brands are committing resources to building a chatbot. Classic chicken-and-egg problem. A new distribution medium will always have very few active users but the advantage is there’s very less competition.
  2. Onus is on publishers to drive users to its chatbot:
    Messenger is just another medium like app store or website. If you launch a new app today, will users automatically come to your app? No, you’ll need marketing effort to force users to install the app. Messenger is no different. Just because your FB page has a large number of subscribers doesn’t mean they’ll start engaging with your newly launched chatbot.

“What do you suggest then?” He asked.

My suggestion is to build a chatbot for your brand and stay put. You don’t need to spend much resources to maintain or continuously adding new features.

This way early adopters will still get to experience chatbot for your brand and you’ll get to ride the big gains that Facebook brings to their messenger platform in the future.