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Companies test the waters with Facebook chatbots

Sharon Gaudin | April 19, 2016
The Muppets and theScore are in first wave of Messenger chatbots

doc brown too many gigawatts
The chatbot for Doc Brown, from the Back to the Future movies, in action. Credit: The Muppets Studio

When The Muppets Studio wanted Miss Piggy to be able to chat with her fans, executives there decided to connect her with a new Facebook Messenger chatbot.

"We were very interested in creating an opportunity for Miss Piggy to connect with her fans in a very personal way," said Debbie McClellan, vice president of The Muppets Studio. "Messaging is a natural way for people (and internationally famous pigs) to communicate. Chatbots made it possible for Miss Piggy to engage in one-on-one conversations and to develop a deeper relationship with her fans."

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The Muppets Studio The Muppets Studio's Miss Piggy chatbot avatar

Facebook announced last week at its annual F8 developers conference that businesses will be able to use chatbots in its popular Messenger app.

Chatbots are programs that use artificial intelligence to simulate human conversations.

The idea is that companies won't have to depend on telephone calls, or even apps, to communicate with customers who want to do such things as order flowers, complain about a product they just purchased, or, even talk with their favorite Disney character.

Disney, which owns The Muppets Studio, sees chatbots as another avenue of communication with fans, and and one its wants to take advantage of right away.

The Miss Piggy chatbot, which is aimed at engaging with fans and promoting The Muppets television show that airs on ABC, was first launched in December, well before Facebook took the wraps off its Messenger chatbots.

"The Messenger [chatbot] made it possible to go beyond what happens in the TV episodes and deliver a new kind of Muppet experience," McClellan said. "During this campaign, we've seen that people will speak with Miss Piggy for approximately eight minutes on average… This initial chat experience was a great breakthrough for us, and we're hoping to build on it in the future."

For Riaz Lalani, vice president of product at theScore Inc., a Toronto-based media company, chatbots may be the next big thing, possibly eclipsing mobile apps.

"Chatbots provide another opportunity for us to have a relationship with sports fans," said Lalani, who noted that the company's theScore app is the second-most popular sports app in North America – right behind the ESPN app. "Sports are already bringing people together. Conversations already exist around sports. It's a natural extension of our core mission to deliver sports news and content to sports fans where they are."

The Canadian company isn't looking to replace its popular theScore app but rather to complement it with a Messenger chatbot that could be out as soon as this week, though this month may be a safer target.

 

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