Making the complex world of AI simple: Why PRs should be embracing tech and working/ experimenting with chat bots

Kerry Sheehan Chart.PR, argues for a better understanding of chat bots amongst the PR profession.


If you’re not sure whether having a chat bot on say Messenger, other chat apps, online or via a voice assistant adds value to your organisation/client or whether you should recommend one, there are clear advantages for PRs to working with and experimenting with chat bots.

Chat bots use is growing at pace and as time goes on are becoming more sophisticated, and at some point will become part of the integrated business/PR strategy toolkit.

We all are familiar with Siri, a simple natural language processing app – a chat bot.

2016 was the start of the rise of the chat bots and throughout 2018 and into next year the upward trend will continue with more users having conversations via applications/ voice assistants to find information and complete tasks instead of clicking around in search engines and on websites.

And, although chat bots might never become the preferred medium for everyone, PRs should know how they work, what kinds of things they should be aware of when recommending one (or being asked for one) to ensure brand/organisational identity and tone of voice, and particularly as we move more towards working in the realms of conversational commerce as voice search increases.

To design a chat bot, or at least advise your organisation/clients on having one – I’m a keen advocate of PRs now playing a role in helping organisations and brands come up with the solutions ie. products and services – there are constraints to work within.

You can’t choose the typeface, you can’t rely on colours or design details such as borders, graphics and logos, which identify your brand/organisation. Instead, your UI – user interface – and all the personality of the bot comes through in the way it can have a conversation.

There are decisions to be made but because there are no visuals to work with, the decisions you make as a PR are even more crucial to the expression of your bot’s personality and the brand/organisation you want it to reflect.

They can’t all sound the same any more than say the big brands would want to visually look the same!

Experimenting in this space still offers an advantage for most organisations, brands and services.

With technology like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home becoming more accessible, we are all starting to ask the various gadgets and appliances in our connected homes to tell us the news on a daily basis, find out facts and it will not be long before we see brands and organisations interacting with people in their own homes.

There are already many corporations in the private sector operating with chat bots and working on them. In the public sector, a couple of local authorities’ tech specialists have worked with Amazon in America, becoming Amazon Alexa-accredited, so they can lead the way in their organisation and also train other organisations on chat bots and home voice assistants.

Working on chat bots can help organisations and brands better understand how to interact with their audience in an automated but conversational manner.

Even if you really don’t see a future where people are desperate to use chat bots as a way of receiving organisational/brand news, reminders and or offers, with the growth and continued growth in voice assistants in your home – and voice control in your PlayStation – as PRs, we really do need to know how all this stuff works and what our role in it is. It is no longer just a techy responsibility.

We need to understand how a conversational automated experience would work, where it sits in the PR toolbox and, importantly, the questions we should be asking to ensure brand/organisational identity and tone of voice and potentially the demographics, taking into account the accents and cultures of the people we want to engage with, when we won’t have any of the visuals or written narrative to rely on.

We need to build chat bots in a way that you have some kind of view of how people are interacting with it and it has to be flexible enough that it can respond quickly, or in as near to real-time as possible to different behaviours.

We also need to be mindful of people’s tendency – or at least in these earlier days – to interact with a chat bot as they would a person, which raises big questions regarding ethics and transparency. Some people may think the conversation with the bot is private, without realising their conversation may get sent to a team of humans.

Experimenting and getting to know the chat bot space as early as possible for PRs is really important because we need to understand how the conversational interface is going to develop and as we move more towards utilising conversational commerce as voice gets bigger.

So, what is the role of a PR/communications professional in chat bots? Come along to our AIinPR Working with Chat Bots event, Wednesday 3 October. Top industry thought leaders on AIinPR will discuss all of the above, giving you a practical chat bot building session with one of the leading bot builders out there to learn how and what PRs need to be thinking about and the questions they need to ask when working with our new ‘robo friends’.


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