Nowhere is the balance between human and digital being tested more rigorously than through the medium of messaging apps.
Whether it be WhatsApp, Snapchat, WeChat or QQ, we’ve all fallen head over heels for a select group of private network, smartphone messaging services. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger both topped 1 billion users early last year, whilst WeChat and QQ are close behind.
By 2019, eMarketer forecasts that 25.2% of the world’s population will be using messaging apps. In South Korea, this figure is already over 50%.
Yet despite the phenomenal growth rate, for brands, messaging apps can be something of a twilight zone. Dare to venture through the looking glass and you’ll find a world of shares, likes and emoticons not dissimilar to the social networks we all know and love.
The difference is, in the messaging app world you’ll find a different breed of communicator, and you’ll get no gratification in the form of measurement and results to apply to any of the work you undertake within.
“Brand marketers are eager to follow consumers to these apps, but injecting themselves into users’ conversations is not easy, and it’s often unwelcome,” says Cathy Boyle, principal analyst, mobile at eMarketer. “However, the expansion of messaging apps into platforms that include chatbots and editorial content is providing marketers with more natural places to engage messaging app users.”
Even chatbots have been met with indifference during their short lifespan. Following Facebook Messenger’s open API access last year, a plethora of branded chatbots have been trialled and tested on the platform, but positive response has been scant. It was recently discovered that chatbots had hit a 70% failure rate on the app, with Silicon Valley blog The Information reporting that the technology "could fulfill only about 30% of requests without human agents".
Rather than spelling the end for chatbots, this last statistic merely highlights the need for brands to readdress exactly how they match automation with a more ‘human’ element, when venturing into marketing or customer service communications on messaging apps.
“Automation can play a very important part of the process, but it can't be the whole solution,” says Katy Keim, CMO for Lithium Technologies. “Artificial intelligence and chatbots are a great way of getting quick responses to customer questions that have known answers, but I think what brands are still trying to sort out is the fine line when a bot cannot get to the heart of customers' needs, where there's a nuance to the request that requires problem solving.
“Also, messaging apps are conversational, and people expect a conversational tone, especially among the younger generation. So the human element is necessary because bots just aren’t sophisticated enough to meet this requirement all the time. There needs to be a conversation, and a dialogue and an experience for consumers; brands can’t simply broadcast like they can on other channels. They have to have a mechanism to serve; to satisfy and to grow those relationships through engagement and a level of response that goes beyond just marketing.”