Are Facebook Messenger Bots Still Relevant?

Illustrator: Xelon Xlf
facebook chatbots

A while ago, as I was doing research for another chatbot article, I came across a recipe development chatbot on Facebook pitching a simple yet practical idea. You, the user, just had to send the chatbot an emoji corresponding to the ingredient you wanted to use, and it would reply with recipes showcasing that ingredient. You send a strawberry emoji, get strawberry pie, strawberry smoothie, and strawberry compote recipes in return. 

I sent the bot a coconut out of curiosity about which recipes it would suggest, and… Nothing happened. I waited a couple of minutes, then tried again, and again nothing. I closed the tab, went on the Messenger app, sent another coconut, but I never got my coconut-based recipe in return. 

Not to name any names, but this was on a pretty reputable chef’s Facebook page. Shouldn’t someone be looking out for it to make sure all features are up and running? Did no one notice? Or does no one care about Facebook chatbots anymore?

Sure, theirs has been a bumpy ride so far. But businesses are still using them, and users, too, right?

A Brief History of Facebook Bots

Back in 2016, chatbots were the focal point of Facebook’s F8 developer conference. At the time, Facebook was focused on “facilitating messages from businesses,” which led it to launch a new platform that allowed developers to build inside the social platform’s chat tool

Despite initial excitement around the opportunities chatbots brought both to businesses and developers, the hype quickly fell through. The main problem was that users weren’t ready for chatbots back then, since the technology was still green. Overall, the user interface was confusing, and the AI-based bots weren’t sounding human at all. And when they hit a bump in the conversation, a human had to step in and take over. In the end, users found the chatbots were taking too long to perform the tasks they were supposed to, which deemed them worthless. 

Just a little under two years after the chatbot-dedicated conference, Facebook shut down M, its AI-based, chatbot-styled personal assistant, after it was revealed that, in fact, humans were responsible for 70% of the bot’s responses

The final blow came in 2020 when chatbots were hidden from view in the Facebook app, and Messenger removed its “Discover” tab, further making chatbots hidden from users’ view. 

However, the same way as I came across the (failed) recipe bot, you might have come across a Facebook chatbot yourself. You might even have had a successful interaction with one. Facebook chatbots are still alive and out there. 

The question is, how much attention are they getting from developers and users alike? And should businesses still invest in them?

The Relationship Between Facebook Chatbots and Businesses

There’s no denying that implementing a chatbot strategy is good for business

Just to mention a few of the benefits, chatbots can improve lead generation, qualification and nurture; boost sales by providing a smoother customer journey; save operational costs; and increase interactions with customers, which in turn allow you to get to know them better and make your brand seem more human. 

From a customer perspective, the biggest point in favor of chatbots is being available 24/7 and, if everything is working well, providing accurate answers faster than other channels such as email or phone. 

When it comes to Facebook chatbots specifically, the latest available information tells us that there are around 40 million businesses using Facebook Messenger worldwide, but only about 300.000 active Messenger bots. 

With 1.96 billion reported daily users, and customers expecting to be able to interact with businesses on all the channels they already use, including Messenger, the question remains as to why Facebook chatbots are being pushed towards irrelevancy. 

What the Chatbot Demotion Means for Businesses

As mentioned above, when it first launched, Facebook’s chatbot technology wasn’t at its finest, requiring a lot of human intervention to be able to properly respond to what customers were asking. Not just that, but to build a bot directly on Facebook, you needed a developer on board. 

For businesses, the technology part isn’t the biggest roadblock. Since the emergence of Facebook chatbots in 2016, a lot of other tools have popped up that allow you to easily create your own chatbot that you can then integrate with your Facebook page. 

However, the most recent changes in the visibility inside the Facebook and Messenger apps have been shown to have an impact. 

As reported by TechCrunch, these changes might push users away from using Facebook chatbots to explore shopping opportunities and connect with businesses since they are not immediately in sight when they use either Facebook app. For users to access them, they now need to actively search for them on the Facebook or Messenger apps.

“But they still exist,” you might say, and wonder what, then, the problem with Facebook chatbots is. You’re correct — those bots are still available to businesses and users alike. Yet, without the promotion offered by the Discover feature, businesses have to rely solely on their own paid marketing channels to drive traffic to their bots, which can possibly drive them away from building chatbots on the Messenger platform. 

Should you Keep Using Facebook Chatbots?

So, where do you stand? 

With chatbots hidden away from people and the need for more financial investment to attract customers to them, should you still bet on Facebook bots and incorporate them into your business strategy?

The honest answer is, it depends. 

First, it will depend on your marketing budget and how much of it you can allocate to gain traction for your Facebook chatbots. 

Second, you need to assess if it makes sense from an industry perspective. The top three industries where Facebook advertising works best are fashion, automobile, and e-commerce. These business areas have the highest number of followers as well as users interacting with brands on Facebook. Not just that, but the nature of the industries makes users more likely to resort to chatbots not just for after-sales customer service, but also to make purchases via chatbots. 

So, if you operate in one of these industries, it makes total sense to invest in Facebook chatbots. If not, you might be better off connecting with your customers via other channels like WhatsApp, for example. 

But there are still other aspects you can evaluate, which leads us to the third point — your audience. Whether or not you should keep an active Facebook presence with chatbots and all will depend if that’s where your customers are hanging out

When it comes to age, people between the ages of 35 and 44 are Facebook’s biggest fans. If these older Millennials, who were likely some of Facebook’s first adopters, constitute most of your customer base, then you should consider keeping an active Facebook presence. On the other hand, Facebook is only the fourth most popular network among Gen-Zers, lagging behind Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram. This means that, if your business caters to a younger audience, Facebook chatbots might not be an essential part of your strategy. 

But age is not all. Geography also comes into play in relation to social media usage. The leading country as far as a Facebook audience goes is India, with 329.65 million Facebook users, followed by the United States with 179.65 million and Indonesia with 129.85 million. If you compare it to TikTok, for example, the United States and Indonesia make it to the top 3, but India isn’t even in the top 20 countries with the biggest TikTok audience. 

That’s not to say that your business needs to operate in one of these countries for it to make sense for you to keep investing on Facebook. It does mean that, if most of your customers come from countries where Facebook is still the most popular social network, then maybe the investment in Facebook chatbots will be beneficial for your business.

So, to answer the title question of this article, how relevant Facebook chatbots are is entirely dependent on your business, your audience, and how you put chatbots to good use.