Publishers rush to get their bots on Facebook Messenger

Publishers are getting chatty with Facebook Messenger. At its developer conference today, Facebook opened its anticipated Messenger platform that lets publishers, retailers, brands and anyone build chatbots to interact with the 900 million users on the app.

Publishers including CNN and Business Insider were ready with bot launches right after Facebook made its announcement at the F8 developers conference. Other publishers such as The Washington Post are still building their bots, but it’s clear that the media world does not want to let the next platform evolution occur without them on board.

Chatbots are somewhat artificially intelligent programs that interact with people through messaging apps like Messenger or Kik. People text with the bots, which in turn perform some sort of function, like helping people find content.

“We’re seeing the next phase of communication today; it blasts away anything we’ve ever seen before away,” said Jarrod Dicker, ad product and engineering head at The Washington Post. “The opt-in from all companies to be a part of it and have a one-stop shop through Messenger will change how everyone uses the internet from commerce to publishing.”

CNN was among the launch partners on the publishing side of the Messenger announcement. It launched a bot it built using Outbrain’s new chat software service for publishers. Outbrain hopes it can expand its business of serving sponsored content on desktop to serving it on messaging apps.

“Subscribers to CNN on Messenger will receive a daily digest of top stories right within the Messenger app. The bot will also recommend personalized content based on a user’s preferences and learned interests. The experience gets more personalized with each interaction on Messenger,” according to a CNN statement on the bot release.

Facebook is clearly worried about spam bots, however, and implemented strict rules against sharing sponsored content through bots at the outset, according to Jeffrey Hammond, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

“In Messenger, they want to focus on creating an organic experience. I think they are really worried about companies creating spam bots; one reason they are giving consumers to ability to block bots or report abuse right at the top of the new Messenger beta,” Hammond said.

CNN wasn’t the only publisher rushing to get a bot out the door today. Business Insider and Mic also had chat products ready to go. “The direct-to-consumer aspect has big potential for us to connect directly with our readers. We’re really excited about the possibilities from a publishing perspective but also from a technology perspective, which has big innovation potential,” Mic said in an e-mail to Digiday.

Mic, the youth-focused publisher, developed a bot called Mic Check Yourself, which will offer a deep dive into one top story a day through Messenger. The bot will e-mail stories to people as part of a “read later” feature. It will have “choose your own adventure” tools for readers to explore stories from different angles, and let people see photo-only versions of stories.

Mic, like many of its publishing peers, is thinking about ways to turn millions of Facebook readers into Messenger subscribers. Mic will have a button, similar to a Like, that will enable readers on its site to subscribe to its Messenger bot with a click, according to Cory Haik, Mic’s chief strategy officer.

“You can’t blast everyone from your Facebook page and get them to subscribe to you on Messenger. You don’t want to spam users. You want them to opt in, which is a lot more meaningful for us,” Haik said. “We’re trying to figure out how convert them to interact with our bot on Messenger.”

Business Insider has built a bot with the help of German-based Spectrm. The bot is called Business Insider Update, and it will send alerts about top stories to Messenger users. Business Insider’s interest in messaging stems from the fact that there are now more users on the top four messaging apps than the top four social media apps — 3 billion to 2.5 billion, according to Business Insider Intelligence reports.

“We’re engaging our readership in a platform that they’re already seeming to migrate to and congregate,” said John Ore, svp of product at Business Insider. “The initial implementation is to provide readers with more conversational updates throughout the day rather than be a duplication of the News Feed.”

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