Businesses have long sought tools that could deliver increasingly personalized content to users. Recently, chatbots have shown that they may be one way to get the right content to readers exactly when they ask for it.

Fuelled by the rising popularity of messaging apps, many companies have jumped on the bot bandwagon. But to understand the potential of chatbots, we wanted to take a closer look at how they can be used as a content delivery platform and how to make the most of it.

What are Chatbots, Anyway?

Chatbots are computer programs that exist within messaging apps such as Kik and Facebook Messenger. These bots can be programmed to work in different ways. The simplest ones are rule-based, where a user enters a certain message and gets a pre-defined response in return.

More sophisticated bots use natural language processing (NLP) to analyze user messages and extract intent. And at the very forefront are bots that use artificial intelligence (AI) and are able to generate unique context-based responses that don’t rely on a pre-defined repository of responses.

Chatbots and Content Marketing

While a lot of companies have embraced chatbots for customer-service tasks, an increasing number are setting them up to deliver on-demand content. A few examples include:

  • Sephora: The beauty retailer has a Kik chatbot that offers a quiz to any users to message it. The bot uses the quiz results to serve up personalized product recommendations and beauty tips.
  • Tommy Hilfiger: The fashion brand launched a Facebook Messenger bot during New York’s fall Fashion week. The bot could walk users through Tommy’s x Gigi collection, display products and answer questions with over 7000 responses.
  • Whole Foods: If you’ve ever dismissed the plethora of food emojis available on your phone as useless, think again. Whole Foods created an innovative Facebook Messenger chatbot that allows users to search for recipes using emojis. Since there’s currently no emoji for “gluten-free,” users can also add text to their messages to include dietary restrictions in their searches.

Understanding the Limitations

For chatbots to be an effective content marketing tool, it’s important to understand what they can and can’t do. While bots are positioned to be an integral tool in the future, they’re still in their infancy and do have their limitations. A chatbot can’t solve complex problems the way actual humans can. They can provide some information and guidance but that can cause frustration if a user is fighting the bot to get a straight answer.

Some critics argue that most chatbots are too simplistic and “not human enough,” but more intelligent bots, like ones that use machine learning and natural language processing, come with their own set of risks. Microsoft learned this lesson in a particularly embarrassing way when they debuted their Twitter bot, Tay. It only took hours before online pranksters trained Tay’s bot-mind to say some less-than-ideal things. It got to the point where Microsoft had to take Tay offline within 24 hours of unveiling the bot.

Bots Are a Tool, Not a Substitute for People and Your Other Channels

Messaging apps are quickly accumulating more monthly active users than regular social networks. Apart from the standout Facebook, four out of the top five social networks were messaging apps (in terms of monthly active users). It’s no surprise, then, that chatbots present a terrific opportunity for content marketers, especially as the technology continues to mature. These automated bots may never replace real human interaction, but they can be a great way to deliver the right content and messages to your customers on their most used platforms.