Quartz on getting chatbots to fight its battles for reader loyalty

Zach Seward Quartz

Quartz is primed to launch a new Facebook Messenger bot that it thinks will win the loyalty of readers and ensure many returning visits and engagements with the brand.

Zach Seward, vice president of product and executive editor at Quartz, announced that the feature will come to market on the Facebook platform 8 March. During a talk at Mobile World Congress (MWC), he unveiled some of the strategies driving the brand's ubiquitous newsletter and chatbot efforts.

When designing the bot in-house, Seward asked himself how to make best use of the interactive platform: "What experiences are more native to Messenger?"

The Drum got access to an early build of the bot. While not demonstrative of its functions, the following screenshot does capture the bot's tone of voice, written by humans, that will be consistent throughout the service.

Seward's attitude towards platform experiences is best summarised with how the Quartz app came about: "We didn't need a native app that was a copy of our website. We challenged ourselves to do something that is native to iOS and Android."

He noted that while one day artificial intelligence may one day compose fluid copy in these bots, at the moment, the technology is currently far away. "This is good news for humans in creative industries," he added.

For publishers or brands looking to get into the space, he said the Facebook Messenger platform is by far the easiest to build upon but he invited companies to ask why they are coming into the space.

"What unique value do you have to bring?" he asked.

Earlier in the panel, an attendee mocked the notion that consumers want to have a relationship with every brand; she used a cheese brand in her example. Seward agreed, but added that the company could create a fantastic cheese chatbot or experience that features minimal branding.

One of the main barriers to creating a chatbot at the moment is discovery, although Facebook has promised it is working on ways to help connect apps in its ecosystem with users.

Seward pointed out why a well-used bot may pay off more long term than repeated article engagements on Facebook. "Publishers are paying to advertise on Facebook to get readers to engage on their websites, but pointing to website is a battle you have to keep winning over and over, again. Pointing to a messenger experience solves that problem and keeps the users engaged."

The bot renaissance may be over before it gets started if brands don't exercise control with regular push notifications. He warned, "getting smart about push notifications is such a big opportunity for brands and publishers. It has been abused, once you access someone’s lock screen there is nothing to stop you sending them."

He called for experiences tailored to each individual user. "The more you understand about the user like when they are on Messenger, you can use that data to send a push then."

Seward concluded: "The user does not really need to know how much it is personalised, they are not thinking about it that way. It just works. They don't care how similar it is to someone else's experience."

This month’s issue of The Drum magazine focuses on the mobile sector with insights on the democratisation of photography and interview with US recording artist Ryan Leslie who shared his personal mobile number with the world to help his fan engagement and a look at the longevity of the low-cost smartphone market in China and India. Buy your copy of this issue and other copies through The Drum website.

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