Last week, Mark Zuckerberg announced the future for Facebook at the F8 developer conference. A bulk of the conference focused on new capabilities that will open up to developers, and perhaps the most exciting and buzzed about are chatbots.
For those outside the developer world, the first thoughts upon hearing the news was: what is a chatbot? Then: what does this mean?
Bots are software programs that use artificial intelligence to respond to questions and function in almost-human way – and Facebook is banking on them to increase developer and business activity within the social network in a major way. The ability to develop chatbots means businesses – including publishers – will be able to interact with Facebook Messenger’s 900 million users one-on-one.
While a big focus during the F8 conference was the implications of bots for ecommerce, it’s worth noting that publishers’ ability to develop and deploy chatbots could potentially have a significant impact on the way we receive news. Over the past year, we’ve been introduced to Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles – new, fast and convenient ways to consume the news that matters to readers who prefer to find news "in the stream", rather than going to the source’s website. Chatbots represent a new approach of delivering the news that’s most of interest to individual readers.
At the conference, Zuck demonstrated how CNN’s bot for messenger would work:
Users can rotate through stories and have options to react – “read story,” “get a summary,” or “ask CNN.” Over time, the CNN bot will learn from each user's behavior and personalize the stories they see. Other publishers that have introduced chatbots or are planning to include the Wall Street Journal, Business Insider and Mic.
So, what do chatbots mean for public relations? The impacts are two-fold.
Organizations considering developing chatbots should understand the risks that come with it. As with any new technology, most are apprehensive about trusting bots. Since Messenger bots will have the ability to interact with millions of users at scale, one mistake could negatively impact a brand’s public image. Brian Blau, an analyst with Gartner said in an interview with ComputerWorld that he believes businesses will eventually trust the technology, but there will be “measured adoption.”
“They're a powerful tool but they're also a big risk," said Blau. "A.I. can be a very powerful technology. Businesses are going to have to understand how to harness that power. There are reasons to be worried about it. Because we're giving chatbots the power to act on our behalf, they're taking on greater importance."
The introduction of chatbots further reinforces the importance of providing journalists with the news that matters most to their audiences. As we continue to move more toward getting our news in-stream, chatbots represent another opportunity for innovative PR pros to insert content into the news cycle - whether that be through the rapid response of breaking news, or sharing their own take on a trending topic through an opinion piece or byline.
Stephanie is a vice president at Inkhouse, providing strategic counsel and developing integrated PR programs for clients across the healthcare, B2B and consumer tech, education and fintech industries.