Elaine Armbruster

Elaine Armbruster

Director of Email Marketing & Marketing Automation

Automating one on one interactions with chatbots

Elaine Armbruster

Jan 19, 2018

If you've read about marketing trends or predictions for 2018, then you've likely seen the idea of chatbots popping up. Forbes predicts chatbots are one of the ways digital marketing will change in 2018: "Conversation is the original user interface. It's extremely natural and will allow for brands to naturally interact with consumers that want information, or to transact, or just to be entertained." According to SocialMediaToday, customizable chatbots will take over in 2018, specifically to address customer issues.

Within University Marketing, we began experimenting with an Ohio State chatbot in July 2017. While we're just starting to scratch the surface of its potential, what we've learned so far is shaping our chatbot - and overall - marketing strategy.

Back up…what exactly is a chatbot?

Chatbots are interfaces that exist in many channels, such as Short Message Service (SMS), the web and social media, and are meant to simulate one-on-one human conversation. They fall into the realm of marketing automation and artificial intelligence, leveraging automated processes to carry on a conversation without needing an actual human, all while getting smarter - adjusting future responses - with each interaction. The rise of chatbots means we have an opportunity to  not only engage with people on a personal level, but to do it efficiently and effectively.

Chatbot inspiration

GrowthBot is a Facebook Messenger chatbot that's especially fun (and useful!) in our work as marketers. It was made to help with sales and marketing questions. We especially like how it provides sample questions to show off what it can do - a good place to start when you're interacting with a chatbot for the first time.

In the higher education space, AdmitHub shares that Georgia State University (GSU) created an SMS chatbot to address their issues with summer melt (when high school graduates who intended to enroll in universities fail to do so). Their chatbot, Pounce, "was designed to help students by sending timely reminders and relevant information about enrollment tasks, collecting key survey data, and instantly answering students' many questions around the clock." And the results? GSU saw a 3.9% life in enrollment and a 21.4% decline in summer melt among those that interacted with the chatbot.

Getting started

Our objectives in getting started with a chatbot at Ohio State were to begin to answer these three questions:

  • How can we operationalize a new form of marketing automation?
  • Will using an unconventional method to acquire audiences and disseminate content prove successful?
  • What are the implications for student recruitment, customer service, event support? (to name a few)

In October 2017, we launched our chatbot pilot using Insights, our content marketing program for external audiences, as a starting point. From the Insights website, users were prompted with a call to action to start a conversation to learn more about Insights, tell us about their interests and sign up to receive it via email or Messenger. 

Insights chatbot

More to come on the results of our chatbot pilot to-date, but in the meantime, we're looking as the next steps in our chatbot journey. How can we:

  • improve customer service with automated answers to common questions?
  • reduce message response time by using our chatbot’s Messenger management tool?
  • strategically incorporate the chatbot into other social posts (similar to bingo) as well as bigger initiatives (commencement, welcome week, etc.)?
  • integrate the chatbot with email and other channels?
  • develop push messaging to subscribers?
  • use a chatbot to help us collect data on our audience to improve personalization?

What ideas do you have? Email us at universitymarketing@osu.edu.

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