Internet sites and newsletters are talking about chatbot technology and the role it will play in future marketing strategies. Chances are you have already encountered or even use another company's chatbot. The most common example is Apple's Echo. They are becoming commonplace on Facebook Messenger. If you are an indie publisher you might be wondering what in the world is a chatbot?
Chatbots are computer programs that answer questions human pose to it.
There are various types of chatbots and chatbot-like Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs, but until recently we dealt with these on automated phone systems, (you can still find some of the worst examples there), or on corporate sites using them for customer support. Some of these are even more frustrating than the phone system catch-22s you can encounter. Just this morning someone asked me how to get out of the U.S. Social Security Office Chatbot. The only way I found was to turn off the person's iPhone and then restart it.
How businesses use chatbots
Companies use chatbots online to allow customers to answer questions customers might have about products and then to take orders for those products. Pizza companies, like Dominoes, use chatbots in this way. Airlines use chatbots to help customers reserve seats on planes. And yes, now publishing companies have started to use chatbots.
Examples of publishing chatbots
BookBub a chatbot that has you enter the book genre you like and then notifies you when books in your genre are available at your favorite online retailers such as Amazon or Kobo. Authors agree to provide their books for free. Once you join (at no cost to your company), you can browse books being offered, follow writers, track books you want to read or share and read book reviews.
PanMacMillan has a book recommendation chatbot that can personalize book suggestions for customers. The bot technology draws on reviews from GoodReads and Supadu to rate books and when the reader wants to acquire a book, the chatbot connects to Amazon. You can explore this chatbot on Facebook Messenger. I tested it out and seemed to throw the program through a loop when I typed in I was looking for “business books for writers.” Apparently, the chatbot expects you to just go through its pre-configured choices where you list “fiction” or “non-fiction” etc.
Should you incorporate a chatbot into your writing business strategy?
A chatbot, despite the technology, is a new way to answer the questions your readers have about your books, but chatbots in isolation are not a marketing strategy. Before you build or pay someone to create a chatbot, you need to have a marketing strategy in place. The Writer's Business Plan had an entire chapter on the information that needs to go into your writer's business plan, so I won't repeat that here, but at a minimum, your marketing and communications plan should include:
- a profile of your readers – who like to read the type of books you write and where do they find out about new books
- a website
- an email address
- A presence on 1-3 social media outlets where your readers look for information on books. These include Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc.
If you have all this in place, then you might want to consider including a chatbot into your marketing mix. Before you have someone build a chatbot for you know exactly what your goals for having a chatbot (although I would expect chatbot templates and make your own chatbots to emerge in the next few years, dramatically driving down the design and production costs).
Information indie publishers and authors might include in their chatbots:
- general information on books or on the author
- answers to reader questions on various characters
- background information on books
- book tour details
- descriptions to build excitement over upcoming books
- pre-sales discounts
- videos, interviews, research info
- book information for reviewers, librarians, press and other authors
Chatbots will allow people interested in you and your writing to obtain the information they need at any time of the day, whether you are online or not. However, chatbots supplement your other marketing tools. They don't replace them. That day will come, and probably more quickly than we expect. In the meantime, depending on the cost, now may be the right time to learn all you can about this new technology.
Most indie publishers do not have a big budget to use when developing their own chatbot. However, you can get started for free with these solutions:
• Pandorabots (start for free) I'm creating a chatbot with Pandorabots. I like the fact there is an area to test your bot while you are developing it.
• Octane.Ai creates Facebook Messenger bots but lacks a hidden area to experiment with the chatbot, so visitors see it while you are developing it.
• PullString – this chatbot development tool is my favorite. It has many more options than the others, it allows you to develop without being connected first to a social media outlet like Facebook and you can add all the info you want at one time rather than generate one question at a time.
There are other chatbot creation programs, but one of these free programs will get you started. If you would like to see a chatbot program in action, check out The Writing Entrepreneur bot Business Books for Writers is developing.