Authors: Don’t Jump On the Messenger Bots Bandwagon Too Soon

We’ve seen the hype on Messenger bots. Here are just a few nuggets from a recent blog post on Marketo:

  • According to Twilio, 66% of consumers now prefer to reach brands (or be reached) via messaging apps
  • Connect with everyone. 31% of US app time is spent on Facebook and messaging apps.—Sprout
  • Seek support. Customers demand that brands be on Messenger.—Conversocial
  • It’s the ultimate active channel with unheard-of open rates of up to 90%.
  • And unlike static Facebook brand pages, which resemble the bulletin-boards of yore, Facebook Messenger is a truly 21st-century channel: it’s a never-ending personal conversation.
Break Down the Hype

Let’s take a closer look at these claims and filter them through the lens of what they mean to authors. First things first. If you are an author, in marketing terms, you are a personal brand. That is in contrast to being a company like Nordstrom or Taco Bell. In marketing, there are different best practices for personal brands and companies, and I believe using Messenger bots in a prime example.

Even though Twillo claims that 66% of consumers prefer to be reached by message, my guess is that has to do with customer service contacts, not sales or engagement contacts. Most people would prefer a direct approach to problem-solving and not a long email waiting list or waiting on the phone. However, I think those numbers would be vastly different if the question asked specifically about sales and discovery conversations.

Sprout’s data piece is equally nebulous. I believe people may spend 31% of their time on messaging apps but I want to know what they are doing there. The culture of a channel makes a big difference.

Prioritized Messaging

Messenger’s “unheard-of” open rates are the most enticing deception of all. We all have priority levels of conversation.

  • Unsolicited ads – lowest priority – We see them in the Facebook newsfeed and they are innocuous. We can skip them easily.
  • Messages from brands we follow – low priority – We subscribe to their emails and get notifications. Easy to delete or ignore if their message isn’t valuable to us at the time.
  • Messages from fans- priority – We check our email regularly and answer ASAP. We don’t maintain messaging relationships with the majority of our readers and fans.
  • Messages from family and friends – higher priority – these we have notifications set for on Facebook and other social channels and they have access to our private email.
  • Messages from immediate family and best friends – highest priority – they have access to text messages and our phones. They get our immediate attention.

How many “never-ending personal conversations” do you think people want to have with brands—even authors?

What’s An Author To Do?

When I think of authors jumping on the Messenger bandwagon just because it’s the newest thing, it reminds me of a Seinfeld episode. In this episode, Jerry had just met one of his personal heroes, New York Yankee Keith Hernandez. Immediately, Hernandez asked Jerry to help him move large pieces of furniture out of his apartment–down a staircase. Jerry was livid about what he called “level-jumping”—asking a new friend to do something that required a deeper, longer friendship. After all, it wasn’t like he just asked to be picked up at the airport.

I also think of the automation factor involved in being successful with Messenger. Do we really think people don’t know they’re being talked to by bots? At least on my Facebook page, they know they are getting the real me. Automated customer service is one thing–automated engagement is another.

Before I go too far down the skeptic’s path, I want to point out an exception to all my whining. Nonfiction authors who need to run a customer service operation for their businesses should definitely consider bot-initiated messages. They are like an FAQ page on your website, only faster and better. Your customers will probably thank you.

But I honestly cannot think of a scenario where fiction writers can justify the time spent on the learning curve against the return. But these are early days. I am not writing off Messenger bots yet. I want to see some innovative author or marketer come up with a non-invasive way of using Messenger bots that will sell more books and build raving fans. If that is you—good luck and let me know what you’re doing. I’d love to share your success story on our podcast. Just give me a shout. But for now, I remain skeptical; waiting to be converted.


Kirsten Oliphant wrote a very articulate version of her take on bots on Medium here.

Link to the above mentioned post from Marketo