This content is part of the Essential Guide: Guide to AI in customer service using chatbots and NLP

When selling on social media, marketers weigh chatbots vs. humans

Marketers interested in social selling need to weigh whether to use chatbots or deploy actual customer service agents. The decision depends on a number of variables.

SAN DIEGO -- Companies find success in selling on social media, but there are different strategies on how to engage with new customers.

Deciding whether to have chatbots interact with potential customers or to have an actual human behind the keyboard is the big question in social media selling. Both have advantages, and the decision depends on what type of business you have, the size of the business and what kind of products you're selling on social media platforms.

Human interactions with customers have been a staple of commerce for generations, but interacting with a constant flow of potential customers on social media can be an exhausting and laborious task.

Though they lack that personal touch, social media chatbots can be effective because, typically, only customers who have some level of interest in a brand can be contacted. For example, Facebook's bot requirements say the customer being contacted has to have either initiated contact with the company or the business needs to use a specific API to match an existing customer's phone number and name to a person on Messenger. In addition, the Facebook bot must have permission to begin a Messenger conversation in that way.

Similarly, Twitter prohibits companies from sending automated, unsolicited Direct Messages in bulk and states that automated Direct Messages to users are allowed only if the recipient has requested a message or sent one first. Companies must also provide a clear way for users to opt out of receiving automated Direct Messages.

"The problem with email is the inbox is crowded," said Andrew Warner, founder of Bot Academy, a chatbot development company. "Anyone can message you in email. But, in chat, no one can message you without your permission first."

'Would you follow you?'

The use of chatbots is on the rise for companies, and consumers have become more accustomed to interacting with an automated bot. According to research done by Social Media Examiner, which hosted the Social Media Marketing World conference, roughly 15% of 5,000 marketers surveyed said they are actively using chatbots, while nearly 40% plan to increase their chatbot use within the next year.

People buy from people. Your customers are at your fingertips.
Samantha KellySocial media strategist

Leading tech companies, like Facebook and Apple, are investing more in chatbot infrastructure due to increased demand from businesses and consumers to interact that way. In addition, there are a plethora of chatbot vendors that claim they can create company chatbots in a couple clicks and with little or no coding required.

With this movement toward automated conversation, it could be debated that human-to-human interaction is becoming less important in sales.

Don't tell that to social media strategist Samantha Kelly. She prefers human interaction for selling on social media, and her reasoning is grounded in simplicity.

Samantha Kelly, Social Media Marketing World
Social media strategist Samantha Kelly addresses an audience at Social Media Marketing World in San Diego on the importance of conversing with Twitter followers with the intent of turning those conversations into customers.

"People buy from people," Kelly told a small audience at a session about turning Twitter conversations into conversions. "Your customers are at your fingertips."

By interacting with Twitter users directly -- and often on subjects outside of commerce -- Kelly believes potential customers are more likely to remember the interaction and become a customer.

"It's important to start putting out useful content for customers you want to reach," Kelly said. "It's about bringing your customers on a journey. Start following them and talking with the people you want as customers."

And while industry professionals like Warner and others see automation as a useful tool, Kelly scoffs at it.

"If you have an auto [direct message], get rid of it," Kelly said, adding that links to Facebook in a tweet should be considered "lazy marketing."

"Provide value," Kelly continued. "Would you follow you?"

Still, many marketers do lean on automation, and Kelly's advice runs counter to the suggestions on Twitter's automation rules page, which tells developers to "run creative campaigns that auto-reply to users who engage with your content" and "build solutions that automatically respond to users in Direct Messages" -- as long as those bots aren't spamming Twitter users.

Despite the fundamental differences between human and chatbot interaction, both appear to have a place when selling on social media. Deciding which one to lean on more depends solely on the digital marketing plan and the business infrastructure you have in place.

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