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A clue about where chatbots are heading

When Facebook unveiled a chatbot platform for its messaging app Messenger this past April, marketers understandably lost their minds.

In a world where marketers are hyper-focused on targeting and then re-targeting specific audiences, chatbots are the ultimate opportunity to create personalized experiences with consumers on a one-to-one basis. Chatbots use increasingly powerful artificial intelligence to simulate real conversations with you, and that’s given marketers an easy, automated and low-cost tool to communicate with users individually.  For the user, it’s like speaking to a brand directly like you would a friend.

But three months later, the buzz around Facebook’s bots has dwindled away. So far, the universal feedback on bots has been that the platform is still in its early stages, as brands and publishers struggle with the purpose of their bots and the best way to use them. Analytics for Facebook’s platforms aren’t very robust yet, and the social giant hasn’t released any official numbers about usage.

But new figures released this week by Canadian chat app Kik may shed some light on where bots are heading and whether they work.

According to Kik, 1.8 billion messages have been sent with the platform’s 20,000 chatbots since launching four months ago.  An even more noteworthy statistic: 60 per cent of bot users were aged 13-19.

Statistic: Distribution of Kik Messenger users in the United States as of 2nd quarter 2015, by age | StatistaYounger users already make up the bulk of Kik’s user base, But the stats are a pretty strong indicator that it will be Generation Z (those born after 2000) that will lead the way to bot adoption. The thought of course, is that Gen Z sees smartphones as extensions of their arm and talking to robots is the natural way to meet their needs.

Facebook, by contrast, has an older demographic.

Statistic: Distribution of Facebook users in the United States as of January 2016, by age group | Statista

Which is not to say that Facebook won’t see success with its bots, but results may not come as quickly if the hurdle is to nudge millennials , boomers and Gen X-ers  over the hump of speaking to a robot in the same environment that they’d speak to a friend.

For those who are thinking of building chatbots however, the best advice probably comes from Facebook’s guidelines, which tells developers to “focus on doing a couple things really well; doing too much creates confusion and dilutes your experience.”


Stephanie Chan is a digital producer for Globe Edge, The Globe and Mail’s content studio. She can be reached@stephanieytc.

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