Launched way back in 2008, Facebook Chat is a powerful and popular feature that allows users to have direct contact with one another. It’s fun and convenient for everyday people, but for businesses, it’s an essential tool for keeping customers engaged, informed, and feeling valued. The problem is that for businesses, Chat is also time consuming: customers want answers now, and it takes a lot of human resources to keep that line of engagement open around the clock. Sure, you can pay an employee to be your chat monitor, but then you’re expending resources that could probably be better used elsewhere. And while you technically can treat your Chat window like an email inbox, the lag between question and answer can be frustrating to impatient customers.


Recently, though, Facebook unveiled a solution that utilizes artificial intelligence, or AI, to help businesses stay in contact with customers in a way that has the potential to be satisfactory to both parties. Midway through last year, Facebook announced that developers could now make improvements to its Chat feature on the new Messenger Platform. Specifically, Messenger Platform supports Chatbots, or Chat AI that will have a conversation with customers. They’ll get the answers they’re after, and you won’t have to monitor your Chat nonstop. Sounds like a win-win, right?


It is — mostly. What should you know about Facebook Chatbots? Here’s a quick primer.


Practical Applications

Think of the automated customer service prompts and menus you hear when you call most businesses numbers these days — Chatbots are the Facebook Chat equivalent. They’re automated responders on Facebook, which is where more and more customers are going to interact with businesses. These Chatbots respond in plain language to simulate a real conversation; if they’re programmed properly, customers shouldn’t be too distracted by the fact that they’re not chatting with a real person.


What can Chatbots actually do? It all depends on what they’re programmed to do, but in general, they can handle anything a person can handle via Chat. They can answer questions based on keywords, they can book appointments, and depending on the business, they can even provide basic services like ordering some take-out or booking a hotel room. While the technology is still fairly new, and the kinks are still being worked out, it’s easy to see how Chatbots have the potential to be useful for all sorts of business applications.


A DIY Proposition?

As for how you can get started with a Chatbot, well, that’s a bit trickier. Messenger Platform is designed to be straightforward and easy to use, so if you’re confident in your coding skills, you should be able to build one yourself. In fact, if you want to give it a shot, here’s a good step-by-step tutorial written by a professional developer. ( However, if coding isn’t your thing, you have a few options.


You can, of course, hire the job out to a developer and have him or her build a Chatbot for you. Or, you can use one of the bot-building tools available to make your own. Check out tools like Chatfuel, Botsify, and Sequel, all of which allow users to get started with a bot for free; it will have a limited number of users and limited features, but it should give you a good idea of whether a Chatbot is for you. If you use it and like it, all of these tools have a price structure to keep and expand the Chatbot you create.


Is a Chatbot Right For Your Business?

There are a few pros and cons to using a Facebook Chatbot. As far as advantages go, Chatbots give your followers almost instantaneous responses without cutting into your time. It can also possibly consolidate the channels through which you communicate with customers, since if it’s known that your Facebook Chat is active, customers will go there to find you. And obviously it’s great for Facebook, since it helps to make them the default social network.


However, there are some concerns. AI is still a new technology, and Chatbots aren’t perfect just yet. Their simulation of a real live conversation may be awkward and unsatisfactory, and followers can become frustrated if they’re not getting the answers they’re looking for. Plus, some Facebook users may be totally put off by the idea of talking to a bot, much like they’re put off by the automated telephone answering systems. Sometimes, whether it’s on the internet or on the phone, you just want to talk to a real live person.


Build a Bot? Give it a Shot

Despite the early concerns surrounding Facebook Chatbots, we still think it’s a technology worth trying. When done properly, a Chatbot can save you time and help you engage with customers. Best of all, you can try one out for a minimal investment. The tools available to build one are free to start, or if you’ve got the coding skills, you can make your own on Messenger Platform. A Chatbot may not be right for every type of business right now, but it just might be right for yours.


Are you a business owner who’s already using a Chatbot? If so, how is it working for you? We’d love it if you could leave us a comment and tell us about it!