By Dr. Rohi Shetty

When Andrew Warner, founder of Mixergy, was 24 years old, he owned a company in Manhattan. The rent for the office space was a cool $1.2 million. One day, Andrew invited a direct mail marketer (let’s call him Johny) to his office to see what he could learn from him about direct mail that could be applied to email marketing.

When Johny saw that Andrew had a whole floor as his office in midtown Manhattan, he said, “Wow! Email built all this?” Later on, he admitted, “I missed email.”

Johny was great at direct mail marketing and he made a whole lot of money at it. But he got lazy and didn’t pay attention to email. By the time he realized his mistake, it was too late. He was too far behind. After he left, Andrew’s CFO said, “That was a splash of cold water. We could be that guy one day.”

Now we have to decide if we want to be like Johny. Because here’s the thing: Email marketing is in decline. Our email inboxes are flooded with hundreds, even thousands of unread email messages. More and more, we are ignoring email. It’s just too much. Your readers are no longer opening your emails, let alone reading them.

Also, people under 30 aren’t doing email as actively as before. They’re on messaging apps like Facebook Messenger—1.2 billion monthly active users and counting. People are spending more time on their messaging apps than their social media apps like Twitter and Instagram.

And the best way to communicate with them (and to build an audience) is with chatbots.

What are chatbots?
A chatbot is a chatty computer program that conducts a conversation via text, audio or video. Like Siri, they respond to digital chats and carry on conversations with humans. They have the ability to simulate human conversation because of advances in natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI).

Chatbots are of two types:

  1. Virtual assistants such as Siri (Apple), Alexa (Amazon), Cortana (Microsoft), and Assistant (Google). They help you find information, buy things and remember dates and events. They depend on artificial intelligence figure out what you want.
  2. Messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, Slack, Kik, and WeChat. They help businesses and brands provide customer support by giving instant responses and resolving complaints. These types of chatbots interact with users by following pre-programmed rules.

A chatbot is also called bot, talkbot, chatterbot, chatterbox, messenger bot, artificial conversational entity and chatfunnel.

Why should writers bother about chatbots?
Chatbots are increasingly being used in customer service, e-commerce and as an alternative to email marketing. Though the technology is new, the main function of a chatbot is to have an effective and meaningful conversation. Therefore, as far as chatbots are concerned, writers are the new designers.

And here’s the good news: you don’t have to be a software engineer or designer to build talkbots. Facebook Messenger has more than 30,000 chatbots and many of them are built by people who don’t have any conventional program skills.

Writers can build interactive chatbots that engage consumers and encourages them to continue the conversation. You can offer to write scripts for chatbots as an extra service in addition to writing articles, blog posts and web content.

The evolution of chatbots makes them ideal to reach out to your prospective audience. For example, released the Dad Joke Bot for Father’s Day. Anyone who sent a message to this bot via Facebook Messenger, Slack or SMS received a relevant dad joke in return.

So chatbots are the next big thing, and if you ignore it and wait until the market is flooded, you might end up like Andrew’s friend, the direct marketing expert.

Don’t be that guy. Instead, be an early adopter of this new exciting technology.

Join the conversation:
Would you like to know how to build a chatbot?

Let me know in the comments below.

(7 June 2017)

Rohi Shetty is a doctor, health writer, and editor for hire. Check out his Kindle books at Amazon and connect with him on LinkedIn and Facebook. His latest passion is building chatbots. Hooyah!

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