Scene at the Facebook Developer Conference F8. Sign that says "1.2 billion users" and another sign that says "Facebook Messenger"
Sprout Social believes more customers and prospects will be paying companies a visit through Facebook Messenger. PHOTO: Anthony Quintano

Sprout Social has introduced a new capability into its social media management platform that allows brands to build a customized chatbot for Facebook Messenger.

That bot's duty? Serve as a front-line assistant to marketers and customer service professionals, providing information to customers and prospects.

Sprout Social, a 7-year-old company based in Chicago with about 400 employees, debuted a bot for Twitter in June. 

"A lot of businesses are thinking about incorporating bots into their business, but they're not always sure how to do it," Andrew Caravella, vice president of strategy and brand engagement for Sprout Social, told CMSWire in an interview ahead of the news. "We are able to provide through our customizable bot quick and easy responses in real time."

Facebook's Messenger Play

Facebook has been open for months now to the idea of leveraging its Messenger app for businesses.

The social media giant launched its Messenger Platform (Beta) with bots at its Facebook Developers Conference in April 2016,

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in a conference call with investors last month over its quarterly earnings report, said, "Messenger and WhatsApp both have large communities and are growing quickly. It's still early on the monetization side here, although we have started showing ads to a small number of people on Messenger. I want to see us move a little faster here, but I’m confident we’ll get this right over the long term."

Screenshot of Sprout Social's new chatbot for Facebook Messenger app.

'Self-Configurable' Bot

Sprout believes so, too. Using Sprout’s Bot Builder, Sprout officials said they envision brands streamlining customer support on Messenger. The rules-based logic companies will use to build their Facebook Messenger bots will help support customers and automate the delivery of personalized marketing experiences, Sprout officials promised.

Sprout’s Bot Builder for Facebook setup wizard takes "only a few short steps to customize and set up their bots," according to company officials. Companies can create the bots within Sprout Social "based on certain rule sets," according to Caravella.

"This is pretty self configurable and self service," he added. "You can create a bot in a matter of minutes, test it, preview what it will look like on the customer side and seamlessly integrate it into our platform. It's not some add-on. You can build it directly within Sprout."

Where Are Your Customers? 

Headshot of Sprout Social employee Andrew Caravella
Andrew Caravella

Caravella said the Twitter bot mostly yielded customer service scenarios, though marketers have been taking advantage, too. He sees marketers and customer service professionals collaborating on the bots within Sprout.

"We see people on both teams sitting within the platform and being able to have those cross-collaborative conversations," he added.

Companies want to do a better job understanding where their customers are, Caravella said. 

"Brands," he said, "are finally realizing that where people go ... for a conversation, and it's is social. It's out of necessity and opportunity."

Humans Still Count

Sprout does not see these bots as the end-all, be-all for companies. The goal is for the bots to act as a first point of contact and reduce the time it takes for customers and prospects to get answers and information.

Sprout sees humans taking over for the bots, armed with better information and context.

Evernote, a Sprout Social customer using the Twitter bot, has served 80 percent more customers on Twitter per week while decreasing the number of replies in each conversation by 18 percent.

"We don't necessarily believe bots or automation will replace the human experience entirely," Caravella said. "It's not a fully-automated solution where you never talk to a human. We don't want to set it and forget it."