London football club Arsenal is aiming to get closer to its global fanbase with the release of a quirky chatbot named after one of its most revered legends, Robert Pires.
The Gunners’ editorial team and US-based bot specialists GameOn have created a new, personalised comms channel thoughtfully titled Robot Pires across Facebook Messenger, Skype, Slack, Kik, and Telegram.
Chris Harris, managing editor of digital at Arsenal, outlined how the club's comms team has rejigged its tactics after a new robotic addition to the team.
He said: “When you publish content you broadcast one to many, this moves it to one-to-one at scale with fans. From the fans' point of view, it is a smarter form of engagement, we are so used to pushing content out to fans with a good idea of what they may like. This is a case of fans selecting content and we can understand them a lot better when they do.”
The club has experienced a 400% increase in its social following over the last five years, however it is keen to remain at the cutting edge and embrace new ways to further endear itself to the biggest fans.
Robot Pires will be able to deliver specific news, scores, stats, videos and more on-demand, or via push notifications. In particular, some fans may well opt in for moment-by-moment match updates from it.
There are long-term incentives to get fans operating through this channel, said Harris: “In terms of business objectives, you reach a new audience, reach them in a smarter way. It will increase traffic to our website and further down the line there will be commercial benefits.”
But he is not expecting it to be a painless process either. Harris acknowledged that the team will remain vigilant as to what content does – and doesn’t – work through Mr Pires’ robotic peer.
“We can learn about what brings fans back to the bot, what they consider to be spam and what they find useful. We need to strike a balance between not being too intrusive, so this will be a learning process for us. We can add more features to it as we go down the path.”
He is of the belief that Arsenal superfans will embrace Robot as a means of consuming their club updates, rather than passively consuming news as it is drip fed by the social presence. But it is not a one-size-fits-all solution; tone management plays a vital part of this process.
Harris explained: “We've cultivated a friendly, empathetic tone. It made us think more like our fans. When you start a chatbot, there is an understanding that it won't be a human so we had to insert an element of editorial control and empathy. Also when you open our Twitter feed the morning after a win or defeat you would expect the messaging of the content to reflect whether the fans are celebrating or commiserating – it would seem odd for the bot not to follow that logic.”
To this end, it is 'Invincible' Pires that adds an extra layer to the bot. “It was important to inject editorial into the bot and understand how the fans are feeling, also to inject a personality. It was lucky Robert’s first name sounds like robot. Robert Pires is a club legend and an ambassador. He is widely appreciated inside and outside the club.” In pursuit of authenticity, the team studied Pires’ speech, achievements, interviews and personality.
As per Arsenal’s over-arching digital strategy, which includes a kids' app, it will try to deliver a unique tone and exclusive content in the bot. GameOn, on the other hand, will help manage the platform, as it has already delivered Sky Sports’ Jeff Bot in addition to projects for Sports Illustrated’s Olympics and The NFL.
Alex Beckman, founder and chief executive of GameOn, said: "As the way fans engage with teams evolves, there are more exciting and dynamic ways we can craft chatbots. Football clubs like Arsenal face a tough challenge in that a lot of funding usually goes into the teams – as it should – however that often doesn’t leave big budgets for content.
“Chatbots are a great way for clubs to evolve their platforms for speaking to fans, and we're excited to work with Arsenal to help bring shape to the category."