What PR Pros Need to Know about Bots

What PR Pros Need to Know about BotsHeather Whaling, Founder/President, Geben Communication

Since Facebook publicly launched the feature to host bots within Messenger in April of 2016, 100k bots have been created and hosted on the social networking platform while users on Kik have exchanged more than 350 million messages with bots. The sheer volume of bots and potential adoption among mobile users, who are rapidly losing interest with apps, should be a wakeup call for communications professionals that this trend has the potential to disrupt how individuals and brands exchange information. A shift in communicating with the customer should mean a shift in PR; however, adoption of bots by PR pros has been slow at best and neglected at worst. So what do those in the PR industry need to know about bots right now?

There is No “One Industry” for Bots

Bots are not just happening in one industry—they are being developed for companies across the board. From Covergirl’s influencer chatbot based on the personality of an actual human16 year-old influencer with millions of fans to a sommelier bot that helps you pick out wine based on meal, price and taste, brands are finding creative ways to develop messenger bots that people want to talk to. In fact, Covergirl’s Kalanibot show 91% positive sentiment and participated in 14 times more conversations compared to the influencer’s own social posts.

But bots aren’t limited to large, consumer-facing brands. Even B2B brands and startups are experimenting with bots. Coolfront Technologies, a provider of a flat rate pricing app for HVAC, plumbing and electrical contractors opted to enable an email bot instead of hiring more sales representatives which ultimately leading to 9% lift in conversions while saving the company $20,000. Startups are using bots for other innovative purposes—securing funding. Gigster built a bot that helps startups develop and practice a VC pitch in as little as 10 minutes.

You Don’t Need to Code to Create a Bot

While understanding code will help create a more advanced bot, bot development isn’t limited to advanced team of programmers. I am a firm believer that those in the PR industry should be leading the pack and not simply following trends. That’s why I encourage my team to view themselves as technologists who do social media and media relations. Understanding the latest technological and social media advances is the only way to recommend it to clients, ensuring they stay on the cutting edge of these new tools. With no coding experience, my media relations team developed a bot for a client in a few hours using ChatFuel–one of the many bot building platforms available for free on the web. Even if you don’t have a client interested in bots right now, it’s worth investigating and building a practice bot for your own.

Opportunity or Threat for Social Media Customer Service?

Part of the concern I see in the communications field is whether bots are actually taking a step backward when it comes to integration within social media channels. Social media is a customer service channel. We don’t want technology to diminish these one-on-one interactions. We can avoid this step backwards by creating opportunities for bots to augment customer service. For example, the bot my team built helps educate customers on restaurant menu items, as well as offering food and drink pairings. The bot doesn’t replace the customer service aspect, which is still available if customers have other questions, it enhances it. Additionally, if brands receive the same types of general questions over and over, a bot can increase responsiveness, saving the one-on-one customer service for the more complicated situations that require human logic and finesse.

Why PR pros need to master this space

The rise of social media created a divergence in the PR industry between the tech-savvy and the late adopters who have spent the last few years playing catch up. New technology will continue to widen the gap between those who embrace tech and those who take a “wait and see” approach. Innovations, like bots, will happen whether our industry participates or not. As tech continues to change how business gets done, it should also change how we as communicators communicate.


About the Author: Heather Whaling is founder/president of Geben Communication. In 2016, she was named EY Entrepreneur of the Year in the Ohio Valley Region (OH, KY, IN). After launching the company from her dining room in 2009, Heather’s fresh approach to best practices has helped Geben evolve into one of the top boutique PR firms in the Midwest. With offices in Columbus and Chicago, Geben was named the national media relations agency of the year (Ragan/PR Daily) and a top 10 agency for startups (Agency Post). A board member of The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, Heather is a vocal advocate for issues impacting women and girls. Her perspective on paid family leave has been featured in national media, including Forbes, Entrepreneur.com and Refinery29. Her commitment paid leave advocacy most recently manifested with the launch of RewriteTheRules.co, a free, searchable database of paid leave policies. One of Columbus Business First’s Forty Under 40, Heather also serves on the board of The Gladden House. Heather graduated from The University of Toledo.