A report recently released from technology research and advisory company Gartner predicts that by 2015, ten percent of our online friends will be robots. Sadly they won’t be the clumsy 1960’s sci-fi robots we were promised growing up. Instead, we will be friends with software ‘bots’ that interact “with communities of users in a manner personalized to each individual.”
Given the desire of companies to promote to social communities, it isn’t a very surprising prediction. A quick look on eBay will find a number of offers to boost your facebook fan page, gain friends, or increase your twitter followers. The going rate for a follower is less than 4 cents each. This is possible only because teams of people trained in the fine art of social media work laboriously to gain friends. This work has received criticism as many companies set up thousands of ‘dummy’ accounts and use them to follow clients. Those with more reputable tactics only promise 95% real followers.
There is a huge incentive to automate and systematise this process. Building relationships with consumers socially in a fast, cheap, and automated way will appeal to many marketers. However there is a dark side to this pending robot invasion. Years of over advertising, direct mailing, and telemarketer abuse has left us all a bit brand sceptic. Consumers report that they are less brand-loyal and have a jaded view of company promises.
Social media can be used to start meaningful conversations with customers and used as a platform for collaboration and co-creation. It is so powerful purely because of the high levels of trust among the communities. The introduction of bots running the main point of contact for a brand introduces a danger of mistrust. Unless brands adopt a position of transparency, social channels may become as mistrusted as cold calling. Information doesn’t remain secret in the world of the interwebs.
Companies need to look to the online world not as a marketing channel, but as a new way of doing business. If that model includes bots chatting to customers, it may well work successfully. But get it wrong, and the damage to the brand will take years to recover from.
This is all just speculation at this point as these ‘social bots’ haven’t yet been created. Looks like a few more years before I get a T2000 guarding my front garden.
Author: Graham Gannon