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Advice on Facebook Messenger bots from The Wall Street Journal

When Facebook unveiled a bot platform for Messenger at its F8 developers’ conference, The Wall Street Journal was one of the first news outlets to jump on board.

Launched in April, to coincide with F8, the Journal’s Messenger bot sends news stories in response to prompts such as “politics”, and are generated by What’s News, a free-to-subscribers WSJ app that offers stories specifically optimised for mobile.

Messenger offers an enormous opportunity for publishers to reach new audiences. With 900 million users globally, it is the second most popular app on iOS, after the Facebook app, and was the fastest-growing app in the US in 2015, according to Nielsen.

“On Facebook, we have this really robust, loyal community,” explained Carla Zanoni, global head of emerging media at the WSJ.

“And I think they want a connection with us that’s more real-time and more intimate.”

Zanoni is confident the WSJ Messenger app is as sturdy as it can be, since it is rooted in the “curated experience” behind What’s News, rather than in artificial intelligence.

For news outlets interested in building their own bots, Patel advised keeping things simple – at least to start with.

“In terms of just creating it, I think we all started off as ‘let’s make this as simple as possible, let’s learn, and then we can build on it’,” he said.

Patel also underlined the importance of publishers not being afraid to experiment or to fail when developing a new product such as a news bot.

“You’re never going to get it right the first time, because there’s always going to be technical issues or whatever else,” he said.

“But that’s just part of the journey of launching something and playing in this field. So I advise: go ahead and try, but keep it simple and learn, then make it bigger and better.”

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Link: WSJ’s Facebook Bot

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