Chatbots had a bit of a moment in 2016, ushering in a new era of conversational commerce between advertisers and their audiences, but according to brandtech group You & Mr Jones the next frontier for brands will be humanising automation.
In December last year two tech firms from the group, marketing platform The Amplify and chatbot developer Automat, came together to work on the “first ever” influencer chatbot for US makeup brand Covergirl.
Modelled on the personality of Dance Moms star turned online influencer Kalani Hilliker, the AI bot was hosted on messaging app Kik and simulated the celebrity’s personality to drive Covergirl coupon downloads. The invention was a hit, clocking up 91% positive sentiment among users and generated 14-times more conversation then Kalani’s average social media update.
Far from being a one off, however, the founder of You & Mr Jones and ex-Havas chief David Jones believes that KalaniBot is just the beginning when it comes to merging influencer marketing with advancements in the tech space.
“We’re at the start of something. Fast-forward 12 months and we’ll be seeing thousands of examples like this because it’s just a great way for technology to add value and let brands close the gap between content and commerce,” he says.
16-year-old Hilliker has over three million followers on Instagram, and while KalaniBot was clear with users from the outset that it was a robot they were speaking to rather than the star herself, the language and style used was carefully pulled from Hilliker’s own social media presence to add a layer of authenticity.
Last year a study from Influencer network Takumi revealed that brands were more interested in working with influencers over traditional celebrities, while separate research indicated that women in particular are reluctant to engage with an influencer’s post if it doesn’t feel genuine.
As such, marrying machine learning with big social media personalities without losing the personal touch is tricky business, but Justin Rezvani, founder and chief executive at The Amplify argues that the trend for influencer chatbots will continue if brands develop bots around influential human beings, and not the other way around.
“Humanising a brand is a very challenging thing,” he observes. “As a brand the question of how to create a chatbot to talk to individual customers can be a bit challenging, but if you can create the derivative of a specific human sponsored by a brand, that’s how you can start communicating with those customers a little more fluidly through this influencer’s own channels.”
For influencers, lending their likeness to chatbots will open further revenue streams away from pre-roll ads or paid-for endorsements. YouTube is one such platform looking to muscle in on the trend of monetizing engagement having just last week unveiled a feature designed to let creators make money from fan comments within their live-streams.
Rezvani likens the use of chatbots to the use of internet browsers “in 1996,” pointing out that the medium is likely to overtake apps in the same way apps overtook websites.
“We’re very active in the market on the investment side,” chips in Jones, “and adding that the speed of change over the past six months leads him to believe that the use of bots within messenger apps like Kik, Facebook Messenger and Line in APAC will be a “huge space” in the future. In particular he says the growth of bots for commerce purposes is “going to be massive.”
Over the next 12 months, The Amplify plans to build out new features which will allow customers to pay through messaging apps, leaving little need for users to leave the environment. For Rezvani, bots represent an opportunity beyond social for the industry to close the conversation loop by tracking clicks to purchases.
With bots still firmly in the test and learn arena for brands, be believes the use of influencer chatbots and conversational commerce could help pave the way for "greater transparency and accountability" around how well strategies and content perform on social; something brands are likely to be keeping a keen eye on over the next 12 months.