PR professionals vs. chatbots: Who will win?

The summer before I started the master’s program at Annenberg, my father, CEO of a tech startup, asked me, “Are you aware that technology will soon replace PR and marketing workers like yourself and other interns?”

I replied, “You mean those customer service robots that are not so helpful will replace my job? There’s so much strategic thinking behind PR and marketing that I’m not easily replaceable!”

The chatting robot is a computer program designed to simulate a conversation with human users online. The use of chatbots exploded in 2016 when Facebook launched a platform for developers to create bots, enabling organizations to more easily respond to questions from the public. Many companies have already installed chatbots on Facebook to greet page visitors; apps like Line and WeChat have also bots installed that automatically push announcements.

Gartner estimates that chatbots will power 85% of all customer service interactions by the year 2020. With the help of chatbots, airlines allow customers to purchase plane tickets and check flight status via Facebook Messenger. Sephora and eBay have integrated chatbots into their sites to help customers find products via chat and place their orders right after chatting.

Robots don’t require sleep time, they work 24/7 and will never have “bad days.” Bots require minimal maintenance once set up. One bot can greet an unlimited number of customers simultaneously and will not lose track of the logic. With these benefits alone, chatbots are best deployed at the frontline to help organizations solve basic customer problems such as answering what are business’ hours, how to make a reservation and where to find the nearest location.

Bots are easy to build. There are several platforms and integrated apps available for non-technical users to build chatbots. One of my summer internship tasks was to build a chatbot using existing templates. I wrote the scripts and the technology on the platform created the bot. It was just like building using LEGO blocks.

For marketing, chatbots can be used as part of creative campaigns to maximize consumer engagement. Disney created a Judy Hopps chatbot for the movie Zootopia where users interacted with Officer Hopps (a chatbot) to solve a problem and promote the movie.

American Eagle offers a jeans quiz that suggests styles that fit the taste, the chatbot helps to direct shoppers back to the website to facilitate orders.

Chatbots are getting smarter and handling complex functions thanks to advanced artificial intelligence. Fitness chatbots help users calculate and record daily calories intake, and push out fitness tips daily. The Wall Street Journal and CNN both incorporate a chatbot to send customized daily briefings. We used to call restaurants for deliveries, but chains like Domino’s and WingStop let you place an order via chatbot; the best part is you can save your favorite order, so next time just press order again — boom, dinner is served!

These are just a few examples of chatbots influencing ways businesses connect with their audiences. And, yes, artificial intelligence can replace some clerical parts of PR and marketing jobs. Juniper Research estimates that chatbots could reduce business costs by $8 billion annually by 2022.

The good news for graduates is that while chatbots can help with some tasks, they can’t quite imitate a PR professional’s relationship building, idea creating and storytelling functions. Not yet anyway!

To download a full copy of the 2019 Relevance Report, click here.