Over the past few years Facebook has been doing everything it can to isolate and enlarge their messenger service. What started as a simple messaging app has grown leaps and bounds as Facebook continues their aim to be the one stop shop for social interaction.

This year has seen the introduction and emphasis moved onto chatbots. Chatbots offer a variety of different uses ranging from casual conversations to direct sales from e-commerce sites. These tools allow businesses to maximize the efficiency of their customer engagement. Significantly closing the response time of a customer enquiry without the need of a real person being on call 24/7.

In April Facebook released a blog post announcing the first public release of their chatbots and the complete breakdown of their functionality. During their launch, they highlighted three main capabilities:

Send/Receive API. This new capability includes the ability to send and receive text, images, and rich bubbles with CTAs.

Generic Message Templates. We think people prefer to tap buttons and see beautiful images, rather than learn a new programming language to interact with your bot. That’s why we’ve built structured messages with call to actions, horizontal scroll, urls, and postbacks.

Welcome screen + Null state CTAs. Our first principle was giving developers space to own the experience. Think of the message thread as your app. We’re giving you the real estate and the tools to customize your experience. This starts with the welcome screen. People discover our featured bots and enter the conversation. Then, they see your brand, your Messenger greeting, and a call to action to “Get Started”.”

In layman’s terms these essentially mean that you can send a multitude of different messages that are consistent, hyper segmented, and (most of all) easy to interact with. Which is pretty cool if you ask me.

NBA Facebook Chat Bot

NBA Chat Bot for Live Updates

Building a Basic Chatbot

On the most basic level, the creator of the bot identifies key phrases that people will say and creates scripted responses that are generally the same every time. The easiest way to imagine this is the “choose your own story” books that you might’ve read as a kid. When you receive a message from the bot you’re prompted with a choice of responses and anything outside of those specific responses will give you a generic, scripted message from the creator.

This may seem rather basic and not very useful, but it can still be quite powerful. Many businesses have used it to great success, and if integrated properly, you can use this scripted conversation to literally sell products through messenger, schedule meetings, or display basic information about something of your choosing.

While even building the most basic chatbots can be a bit of a difficult task, some companies have already created methods that streamline the process and make it simple. In particular, Chatfuel and Botsify have created streamlined systems that allow you to easily set up and script your bots in no time at all.

Chatfuel Dashboard, setting up a Facebook chatbot

The Chatfuel Dashboard

Adding AI to Your Chatbot

For those of you who understand a level of coding and have experience developing APIs you can take Facebook chatbots to the next level. Facebook has partnered with Wit.ai to allow you to give your bot artificial intelligence outside of the scripted responses you specify. Along with the Wit.AI partnership you could also choose to use Google’s open source AI or let api.ai supply the brain to your tin man.

The part where this gets a little more difficult comes after choosing which artificial intelligence to use with your bot. Once you’ve chosen your AI you’ll need to create an API that connects your chat bot to your artificial intelligence. For someone who knows how to write the code, it doesn’t seem too complicated, but for someone who has very little knowledge of it, like myself, it’s literally a foreign language. See an example API here.

Facebook’s Chat Bots in Action

Since its creation the Facebook bots have seen some major usage already from sports, video game, and movie companies to deliver their product to their customers in a natural and native way. Facebook outlined their usage in another blog post but we’ll give you some highlights and let you know where you can find them here!

Disney – For the launch of the movie Zootopia Disney put together a chat bot that acted as if it were a character in the movie to bring it to life. Chat with it here!

The NBA – During the 2016 draft the NBA needed an easy way to deliver highlights to their followers quickly and effectively, why not use a bot? Chat with it here!

Trim – Managing your subscription base can be a time consuming task so Trim decided to stop doing it and let the bots do it for them. Chat with it here!

Activision – Video game companies have always tried to find ways to extend their virtual worlds past the screen and Activision did just that with Call of Duty through a Facebook chat bot. Chat with it here!

We’ve seen tons of other great examples like e-commerce websites automating the entire purchasing process through their bot or people creating digital resumes that are communicated through conversation. Facebook chat bots are still relatively new to the playing field but they offer a wide array of functionality. Companies are just scratching the surface of what’s capable with these bots and you should expect to see many more popping up in the future!

Let us know what you think about Facebook chat bots in the comments below.