F8 and the Future of How We Interact

Tuesday night Mark Zuckerberg took the stage at the annual F8 conference to discuss the future of Facebook and some of the exciting things that are on the horizon. And while we can’t wait to see how live video and Facebook’s new VR tech will change how people interact and attend events we’re even more excited for the functionality and possibilities that come with the introduction of chatbots. For small businesses this may be a big step in increasing customer engagement, driving sales and growing their brand.

While specific details aren’t yet out, the functionality will work much in the way you would think. A user interested in ordering some takeout will go to his Messenger app, find his local pizza shop and send a quick message to ask about some specials. Facebooks AI will then take over, deciding which structured message to send to the user. Structured messages can include things like links, images, call to action buttons, that will allow you to better engage with the user without having to actively monitor the Facebook account to see if any new messages came in.

"I don’t know anyone who likes calling businesses. It's not fast or convenient and it definitely doesn't feel like the future," Zuckerberg said.

Companies can develop their own bots to interface with Facebook or work with one of Facebook’s bot building partners to get started. There’s also the option of taking advantage of Facebook’s Bot Engine, based on the natural language interface they acquired from their purchase of Wit.ai. You can train the bot how to handle conversations on it’s own based on some sample conversations you provide it, the system will only get smarter the more you use it. Facebook isn’t the only one that thinks chatbots are the way of the future. At the annual Build developer’s conference in March Microsoft unveiled the Microsoft Bot Framework, a new tool to help developers build their own chatbots and integrate them into apps and websites. Team communication and messaging app Slack has Slackbot available for use now and they’ve been encouraging the development of more bots with the Botkit open source framework. And of course who could forget the original chatbot we all know and love, AOL Instant Messenger’s SmarterChild.

“We think you should message a business just the way you would message a friend,” Mark Zuckerberg said on stage. 

The possibilities of chatbots on Facebook Messenger and other platforms can change how companies interact with consumer and how they they sell products and services. Instead of navigating a website a user can send a quick message to a chatbot asking about recommendations for a new book based on an old favorite, find out if their size shirt will soon be restocked or order some pizza. The technology behind chat bots can be used to learn more about users and deliver personalized recommendations in a fast and easy way.

The idea of using chatbots to interact with customers is not a new one but we’re excited to see how Facebook’s community size and engineering team will build this out to bring together businesses and consumers. 

Sasha SurmanIn the news