Businesses are always looking for ways to cut costs and improve customer engagement, and chatbots have become the newest shiny object on the block that have filled the hole as an alternative way to engage conversationally with customers. More importantly, chatbots are available to companies of all sizes, so it allows the small guys to compete with the larger, more established brands.
Chatbots have been proven to increase traffic flow, build email lists, provide a more personalized customer experience, and nurture leads. These are all things that every business wants. They also allow you to get creative with offers and promotions, and they’re available 24/7, unlike traditional customer service for many businesses, so you never miss out on an opportunity to engage with your audience no matter what time it is.
Rich: He’s the founder of Opesta, a Facebook Messenger marketing automation software. Prior to founding Opesta, he built a reputation for himself as a leading Facebook ads expert, running ads for clients like John Lee Dumas, sumo.com, Andrew Warner, Athletic Greens, Vivint, and many more. He has generated tens of millions in sales through Facebook and founded multiple SaaS companies. Now he’s laser focused on helping businesses and entrepreneurs leverage the Facebook Messenger platform to generate leads, sales, and manage customer support by providing the software to do it. I’m very happy to welcome Ethan Sigmon.
Ethan: Hey Rich, good to be here with you.
Rich: This is going to be fun. This is the first time we’ve ever really talked about chatbots on the show. So before we jump into the how’s and why’s, just give us a brief explanation, what is a chatbot?
Ethan: A little over a year and a half ago Facebook opened up their API to let businesses essentially build chatbots. The way they structured it is they gave some possibilities that are very similar to things that people do with email right now, where you can almost build a list of subscribers and send them messages and things like that. So essentially a chatbot is just a marketing channel into Facebook Messenger where you can build subscribers and set up automated interactions for them, or one-off messages, whatever is best for you.
Rich: So is this link just inside Facebook or is this just for chatbots?
Ethan: So in the broad sense of the word “chatbot”, there’s chatbots for tons of different platforms. So if you’re talking to somebody specifically just about chatbots, it may be good to ask them what platform they’re building on. Some people build bots for Slack, or other apps like Discord, or even Skype is opening up an API soon. So there can be other platforms, I primarily deal with just Facebook Messenger.
Rich: Ok. So this is a fairly new technology. How did you find yourself here?
Ethan: I found myself here because as you mentioned in my bio, I kind of started out running ads for others as another agency. I built up this Facebook ads agency and eventually I did that out of necessity in my first SaaS company originally because I needed some cash flow to fund my development and things like that and I was pretty good at ads. So that kind of just grew and grew into this big agency and something that we started to see about a year ago was that people were doing a lot more with Messenger and these chatbots.
And primarily on our end since we ran specifically Facebook ad campaigns, Facebook introduced new ad campaigns called, “Send a Messenger” campaigns. And you may have seen these in your newsfeed or whatnot. When you see an ad, instead of having a button that takes you to a different website, when you click the button it opens up a Messenger chat window and sends you just a basic introduction message.
So whenever Facebook releases a new ad tie for things like that, we like to try and get on it as soon as we can because it’s really, really cheap for those ads and that translates to being able to get really good returns. So we jumped on that for some of our clients and for ourselves. At that point my other SaaS company was running and we were running a lot of ad spend to it to get new clients. And that’s where we really first got started with chatbots and we were doing all custom development around them. I kind of had to know API, and know how to code, and build your own kind of stuff.
Rich: And now it sounds like the tools have become a lot simpler to use? Or have there just been companies like Opesta that have jumped up and basically created an interface? How does that work?
Ethan: So there’s been SaaS companies that have come with product ties, and like you said, basically created an interface that allow you not to know how to code to build out these interactions. Almost similar to like drag and drop builders. All those drag and drop website builders are doing on the backend is inserting predefined snippets of HTML and things like that. We and others have built software that dies the coding on the backend for you, and it does all these things on the backend, so that you as a business owner or somebody who wants to try out chatbots, doesn’t have to be a developer to know exactly what you want to say and then draw that out visually.
Rich: Ok, so you mentioned the word, “interaction” a couple times. So if I hear you correctly, if I’m building a chatbot, what I’m really doing is setting up some pre-recorded messages – perhaps in a decision tree, perhaps in a just a sequential line – to engage a prospect. Is that accurate?
Ethan: Yeah, that’s the most common way of use right now and the easiest way to get started.
Rich: So how do we break into somebody’s Messenger with a bot? Like, how exactly does that process start?
Ethan: So the easiest thing to compare it to for a frame of reference, since most of your listeners and people in general understand it, is email marketing. So now as a business owner I’m usually trying to get people on my email list and I do that by providing them with opportunities to opt in. Maybe sometimes I offer them lead magnets or ethical bribes – whatever you want to call them – to say, “Hey, get 5% off your order if you opt into our email list.” And when you opt in there’s usually a form where you add your name and email address and click ‘submit’ button, we’re all pretty familiar with that.
So what Facebook has done is a little bit different because it is their platform want to make sure that people are actually opting in for interaction. So they created a handful of ways that people can opt in, and they call these ‘triggers’. What they do is they allow you to say, “Yes, I want to receive messages from this spot/this page”. It’s the easiest and most common way if you just message somebody’s Facebook page and if they have a bot software setup you will become a subscriber. And it’s up to them if they maybe set up keyword triggers or things like that based off of things in your message, they may be able to trigger automated messages back out to you.
Some of the other most common ways are Facebook has created this little “send to Messenger” buttons that you can embed on any webpage, on any popup, and things like that. When somebody clicks on a ‘send to Messenger” button it will pop up asking if you want to confirm that you want to communicate with this bot, you say “yes” and it will.
Another small one is a thing called a “check box” plugin. It’s basically a checkbox that you can add to any forms – that email form that you have – and if somebody clicks the checkbox they’ll also be prompted and subscribed to Messenger. So there’s a handful of ways that have picture codes, almost similar to a Snapchat code, that if you have your phone and you open up Messenger you can take a picture of it and it will subscribe you to the bot.
And then they also have what they call “reference URLs”. That will bring you into a bot, and then if you click a button that says ‘get started’, you’ll be subscribed. So those are the main ways right now that allow you to subscribe to a Facebook bot or interact with it.
Rich: Ok, and we can put those out there. How about targeting people through advertisements? I have a lot of experience with Facebook ads, is this one of the new outcomes, or is this how you got into it, instead of sending people to an opt-in page or to a lead magnet, instead we’re sending them to a chatbot and asking them to subscribe to this chatbot?
Ethan: Yeah, exactly. When I really first saw the power that these chatbots had, it was when we tested them for the first time in a campaign with John Lee Dumas. So just promoting a book of his and we decided to see if we can use this in an ad and see if it’s cheaper on the cost per acquisition that we’re getting from pushing them to the sales page. So what we did is we created an ad, and on the ad we said, “Comment below and we’ll send you a message with a $15 off coupon.”
So when somebody commented on the ad we had set up a bot that was a trigger to send somebody a message, if they replied to that message, that was kind of the double opt-in confirmation. If they did, we were able to send them that coupon and we saw that that outperformed all the other ads as far as cost per acquisition that we had ran before by about 20%. And we just pumped as much budget in it as we could and it really crushed it for us.
So that was when my eyes got open to the possibility of chatbots and really what brought me into using them.
Rich: So you mentioned John Lee Dumas, and obviously that’s a very particular type of business, what are some of the things that other small businesses and marketers – maybe “real world business” – do with chatbots?
Ethan: Another really good one is kind of a giveaway style campaign. So if there is a carwash business – and it’s not a brick and mortar location but a come to you auto detailer – where it’s a family business and for $100 they come and wash and detail your car. That’s about as small business as you can get. A real word example is they create a post on Facebook that says they’re giving away a free detailing, here are the rules to enter, all you have to do is comment on this post and share it with a friend and reply to the message that we sent you so that we can notify you if you win.
So they put that up and they just simply boosted that post, they we’re Facebook ad experts or anything like that, they just boosted the post for a few hundred bucks. Then they had built a chatbot on the backend into that so that when someone clicked on the post it sent them a message that confirmed they were entering this giveaway, reply and you’ll be fully entered. Once they replied they became a subscriber.
What happened was after a week they picked a winner and they messaged everyone who entered – they got 400-500 entries – and the winner got the free car wash, and then their chatbot went ahead and messaged everyone later and said, “We wish everybody could have won, we could only pick one winner, but here’s a second place reward of $20 off a wash good for the next 30 days.” And that generated 25 set car wash appointments for people that just got that coupon to generate a good source of revenue from that. They never used chatbots before and just kind of did a giveaway discount.
Rich: Now Ethan, you’ve commented that a few times there’s a similarity between chatbots and email marketing, and I’m a huge email marketing fan. Are there limits in terms of your ability to communicate with people through chatbots on Facebook? Like with email marketing, once they’re on my email list, until they unsubscribe, I can email them as many times as I want. Are they any types of limitations on my ability to communicate with people through my chatbots once they’ve subscribed?
Ethan: Yeah, absolutely. So there are some limitations around how you should be messaging people. They can unsubscribe, just like they can from your email list, so you want to make sure you’re honoring those unsubscribes. And software, if you’re using it, will take care of that automatically.
Facebook doesn’t want chatbots to turn into this spammy, direct marketing tool where you’re blasting out every new sale that happens. Some rules that they set up and limitations they want you to follow for best practices and the whole goal behind them is to simply try to make Messenger more conversational. Because it is similar to email in the sense that you can build an email list and send messages to these people. But it is different in the sense that it’s not unusual to send a 300-word email, but if I sent you a 300-word message on Facebook, you’d look at that and never read that, it’s way too long. So they want to make it more conversational like you’re talking to your friends.
Some of the limitations they’ve set up is they say once somebody subscribes or interacts with you, you have a 24 hour window where you can send them any promotional messages you want – a sale, an awesome product – you can be as straightforward and direct as you want. After that 24 hour window you have to send a value-based message, you cannot send a straight marketing message. But as soon as they interact with you, you can send marketing materials.
Some people will think that stinks because they wanted was to build this list to market their product, but that’s not true, all you have to do is make sure that you’re engaging with people first. This could be as simple as asking somebody a question and getting them to respond, and then once they respond they’ve opened that 24 hour window back up, offering them something free and when they click on a quick reply they engage with you and you can follow all that up with marketing. The goal behind it is to make it more conversational and make you think about how to build better relationships with your subscribers and not just trying to push product.
Rich: Who’s deciding whether or not a chat message is value-based or promotional? Because I’m just thinking about that car wash company and I thought it was a good idea what they did, but if they waited 24 hours and then they send out something that said you didn’t win but here’s a discount, that seems pretty promotional. I mean, somebody might argue that there’s value there, but it feels more promotional than valuable. How do they get around that or am I missing something?
Ethan: No, you’re absolutely right. It’s all at discretion to be honest. So Facebook has documents where they list out how they define a non-promotional message, a value-based message, and here are examples that work. And then here are things that we deem promotional-based messages, and similar to the way they review ads they’ll occasionally review messages that are being sent out by your page and if they get high complaints that puts the review under a little bit more scrutiny, but it’s kind of at their discretion.
Rich: So give me some examples then of something…of course I hear the story about the carwash and I’m thinking about my own conference coming up. Maybe I want to build my chatbot subscriber list by offering a free virtual pass. So the same model that they just used. So let’s say that I do all that, what kind of valuable content can I share with people on a regular basis to engage with them, what seems to work? Feel free to give me anything. Should my language be more casual than on email because this is chat, could I be using funny gifs, what have you seen?
Ethan: Yeah, absolutely, a few things. So with the conference and with your messaging, something nice is you can send transactional style messages at any point. So what I mean by that is if someone requested they wanted receipts or shipping information in Messenger, that’s fine. Or if somebody registers for your conference and they requested they want reminders through Messenger, that’s fine too.
One of the things in the most basic form that you can do through Messenger for the conference is essentially say, “If you get a digital pass and you want me to remind you inside of Messenger as well when these are going live, let me know.” And you can send those reminder messages at any point. So, “A digital pass is available now”, or “We’re live streaming and this speaker is on right now”.
So that’s one kind of basic point that I would do. And then to speak to your other questions, you want to keep them a lot shorter. One of the cool things with Facebook Messenger or Messenger bots is you can use “quick replies”, is what Facebook calls them. What they do is essentially you can enter almost predefined responses. So if you ask a yes/no question you can enter in a yes/no “quick reply” and then all the user has to do is click yes or no and it sends them on that branch.
So you can kind of think about almost the destination you want to lead someone to and what type of information or questions would I ask a normal person that you’re talking to in an interaction get there or to gauge how interested they are. And then how can I break that down inside my Messenger sequence and keep it conversational, keep it short, use gifs, probably a little less professional than you normally are in emails, but every business is different. I think the big thing is think about who you’re communicating with and how would they want you to speak to them in a face to face interaction, and then keep that language very similar to that.
Rich: So when I was at Social Media Marketing World this past February/March, I saw a few different presentations about chatbots. And one of the presentations I saw was kind of kind of extolling the power of chatbots over email saying that chatbots were a better communication tool. Just wondering if you agree with that or what your thoughts are on that.
Ethan: Yeah, absolutely. Funny that you bring that up because one of the reasons that we created a lot of our own chatbots and didn’t use some of the pre-built software out there that had come out to create our experiences, because all the previous platforms out there that we could find took that approach that you just mentioned, that Messenger is way better than email.
That’s not what we wanted to do in our marketing. I’m a direct marketing guy and we run a lot of Facebook ads and we run a lot of email, and there’s one thing that I know for certain and that’s the more channels that you can target your prospects on and the channels they see you on, the more likely they are to convert into customers. So I want to be able to email somebody and send them a message on Messenger so that I knew for sure that they were going to see one or the other, or at least increase my chances of that.
So my whole approach is don’t replace your email marketing with Messaging, don’t only to Messenger marketing. But what we try and teach everybody that we talk to about Messenger Marketing is, you can set these up in conjunction and make it so they complement each other. And so your Messenger list builds your email list, and your email list builds your Messenger list. Then that gives you a lot more interaction with the same people which then just allows you to be in front of them constantly. Which is going to lead to a lot more sales and actual revenue, which is what most businesses care about.
Rich: Once you sit down – because there’s Opesta and other platforms out there to help us build these chatbots – as a small business owner I’m always concerned about how much time I’m going to have to invest in a new technology or solution, how long does it actually take you to set up a chatbot and then is it one and done or are you constantly tweaking and evolving it?
Ethan: I guess it all depends on what you’re trying to set up, it’s very hard to say, “It’ll take x minutes.” But if you’re just trying to set up something basic, for people to be able to opt in and become a Messenger subscriber, and then I’ll send them a thank you message with a free e-book or coupon or something very simple like that. You could set something like that up in 5-10 minutes.
If you’re getting a little bit more advanced just like you can with email automation – like when this happens I want that to happen – you’ve seen some of these email marketing campaigns that look like some sort of crazy polygon that has a million sides to it. You can do the same thing with Messenger, and obviously those take hours dna hours to build out, but it’s possible.
So what we’ve tried to do is kind of build out templates to get people started and give them framework so that they can at least have something to go off of and save themselves some time. And then you can modify or build things yourself. And that has been really helpful for a lot of small businesses that we know that are on the platform. But it really just depends on how advanced you want to get with it.
Rich: Now are these chatbots attached to our Facebook pages? And if they are, could we have a chatbot that’s attached to a personal profile or a group, or is it strictly pages right now?
Ethan: So they are actually attached to Facebook business pages and that’s all they can be attached to right now. So you can’t attach it to your personal profile or to groups, unfortunately. I know a lot of people will build business pages for themselves if they’re kind of a public figure or things like that, and you would be able to attach it to that, but you can’t attach it to your personal Facebook page.
Rich: Ok. So it seems to me that the way to go is you have your business page on Facebook, you create your first chatbot, and then you need to set up these triggers so that people can basically opt in. Is there anything more when you’re teaching people about chatbots that they should keep in mind with the whole process of how to get started and how to build a successful chatbot?
Ethan: Yeah, absolutely. I would say the biggest thing that I tell people right now, that I don’t think people understand because it’s a little different than other channels, is even if you don’t think you’re going to use a chatbot or build any triggers or set anything up today or even in a year but you think eventually it would be something that you want to use in your business, connect a page and get started. The reason I say that is one of the someone becomes a subscriber is if they message your page, they’ll subscribe. But that only occurs if you have a chatbot software set up already or you’ve connected your page to the API using custom code yourself.
So what can happen is, let’s say for example you Rich are thinking about doing stuff for your conference but you’re not sure. You could come into Opesta or any other software and at least connect your business page, and then never touch it. It will only take you 10 seconds, you login and create an account and connect your page and never touch it. And then what could happen is you could come back in 6 months later and realize you have 100 subscribers, because people will message your page and just ask you questions or leave comments, and you’re not sending out any automated responses or automated replies because you haven’t set that up with your chatbot. But you have been able to collect subscribers. And now if you didn’t link software you would be out those 100 subscribers because it can’t just backdate and collect people who have messaged you in the past.
So my biggest advice to people is, even if you’re in the fence, even if you don’t know if you’re going to use them but you think you might, go and connect a software and just set it up so that you’re able to at least capture subscribers.
Rich: Good advice. This has been great, I’m definitely looking forward to it. I told you before I’m planning on jumping in, possibly right after this interview, and start playing around with it. FOr people who are interested to learn more and learn more about you, your company, or chatbots in general, where can we send them?
Ethan: Absolutely. The best thing I would say is head on over to opesta.com/webinar and go ahead and opt in to that webinar there. We run one quite frequently, and basically what we do is we come in and show you examples and cases. We talked about the car wash, but beyond that we show you exactly what triggers people have set up, what messages they’re sending out, and how to do it inside this software so you have at least some knowledge and baseline. Since this is something so new, a lot of people are interested in it but just don’t know where to get started. I would say that’s the best place for you to get a lot base information and a good base understanding about Messenger marketing and chatbots.
Rich: I caught a recording of a webinar that you put on with John Lee Dumas, and you really did do a great job of going through it – in a lot more detail than we talked about today – but different case studies and how to get things set up and interactions on your website. If you do want to dig deeper I definitely would recommend going out and checking that resource out.
Ethan, this has been great, appreciate the time and your expertise today.
Ethan: Absolutely Rich, I really enjoyed being here. Thank you for having me.
Ethan Sigmon understands that chatbots are the future of digital marketing. His team has developed chatbots for businesses both big and small. Check out his informative webinar on the benefits and logistics of implementing and using chatbots for your business.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and to prove that, he puts on a yearly conference to inspire small businesses to achieve big success. You can also head on over to Twitter to check him out, and he just added “author” to his resume with his brand new book!