MODERN MARKETING Evanne Schmarder Facebook Bots are Becoming an Important Marketing Tool 8 - November 2017 Woodall’s Campground Management In 1962 (and again in ’85 and ’87) an animatedscience-fictionseries,TheJet- sons, hit the airwaves. The characters represented a space-age family living their lives with imaginatively conceived modernconveniences.Theygotaround in flying cars that looked like space- ships, wife and homemaker Jane had Rosie the Robot to handle most of the housework and the main character, George Jetson, had a best friend, R.U.D.I., his work computer that sported a humanlike personality. At the office, Cosmo Spacely, George’s boss, got through a busy day with the help of SpacelySpaceSprockets’robotassistant Uniblab. Fast-forward 55 years — and while we aren’t passing one another in aero- cars, we are in a bit of a R.U.D.I. renais- sance.Today,wecallthesehumanesque piecesofsoftware“bots”—andtheyare everywhere. In fact, according to Imperva’s BotTraffic Report 2016, 52% of web traffic comes from bots. At their most basic, you can catego- rize bots as good or bad. For example, good bots crawl through your website helping rank it for Google search place- ment, aid in customer service and offer virtual assistance with a number of business tasks. Bad bots attempt to install malware on your computer, clog your social media feeds with unsavory trolling and click on your pay-per-click ads, driving up your cost without deliv- ering results. Are Bots our Near-Future? Therewasatimewhenwebsiteswere unheard of. Now, according to the 2016/17 Digital Marketing Benchmark Study for Outdoor Hospitality, nearly 100% of respondents have a website. Email was a nice-to-have, now it’s a must.Mobileapps,asaturatedindustry, have been the rage over the last few years, slowly growing from an interest- ing business tool to something nearly everyone uses on a daily basis. Could bots be the next big thing in modern marketing? That depends on whom you read and to where you see the big money flocking. Facebook, Google, Skype (Microsoft) and others are betting heavily that yes, this is the next near-future in digital marketing. This may be in light of the fact that messaging is booming and consumers are always online. Texting never really caught on as a marketing tool among park owners and operators, with practically no Digital Marketing Benchmark Study respon- dents reporting it as a tool they use. Facebook, however, was utilized by 91% of survey respondents. During the past 12 months, usage of Facebook’sMessengerproducthassky- rocketed, making it the No. 1 mobile messaging app in the U.S., followed by Snapchat,GoogleHangoutsandWhat- sApp. Messaging is not considered social networking, instead it is built around social network platforms. For our industry’s purposes, combine the mind-boggling 102 million unique monthlyU.S.FacebookMessengerusers withtheemergenceofMillennials’grow- ing interest in outdoor hospitality and you have a very compelling case for maximizing Facebook Messenger. Marriage of Messaging and Bots Just like there are good and bad bots, there are a number of different types of bots. Some run behind the scenes, refreshing your mobile Face- book feed or analyzing your online statistics, for example. Others perform a plethora of customer-facing tasks. These are chatbots and some of their tasks include answering questions, helping onboard new subscribers and offering an entertaining back-and- forth between your business and your customers. They are conversational software interfaces that utilize various levels of artificial intelligence. According to Facebook, to date there are approximately 100,000 active chatbots on the Messenger platform, with more being developed daily. The company’s unquenchable thirst to be the top digital advertising platform points to increasing innovation in regardtoadvertisers’reachand,inturn, Facebook’s monetization. Chatbots for Your Business If you have a Facebook page you already have access to Messenger. Acti- vating it allows current and potential customers to interact with your page. Thisisnotautomatedandrequiresyour attention and timely replies. Develop- ing chatbots can alleviate much of the live work that is required in conversa- tional back-and-forth, freeing up resources and offering your public a responsive 24/7 tool to build brand awareness, answer general inquiries, push messages, advertise and enable booking and purchases. Messengerhasadiscovertooltohelp usersfindyourpage,awebsitepluginso web visitors can access your chatbot from your site and an interesting track- able, parametric messenger code, similar to a QR code. Consider building a chatbot for your business if you have a presence on Facebook. To do so, begin by brain- storming frequently asked questions: directions, site levels and sections, ac- tivities,specialevents,themeweekends, pet policy, store hours and stock, local attractions, dining information and more. In a nutshell, how can you make the customer experience more pleas- ant, more efficient and more valuable? Keepitsimpleandclear.Developstrate- gicallyandtotheedgeoftechnology,re- maining aware of the tool’s limitations. Talk to your web developer or try your hand at creating a free or low-cost bot using Chatfuel (exceptionally easy to Modern Marketing– continued on page 29