How Conversational Interfaces Can be Brilliant for Content

March 16th, 2017

One of the most talked about apps last year in the publishing world came from US media company Quartz. The company tasked its development team to come up with an app that would get millennials accessing news in an innovative and interactive way. What they eventually delivered to the company, which debuted on the appstore in early 2016, was a news app like no other.

When a person downloads the app – it is available on both iPhone and Android platforms – they are presented with a news story accompanied by a pair of emojis. The person taps on the emojis to either move on to the next story, or find out more about the one they have been presented with.

The app also make the use of a concept that is becoming known as ‘Conversational Interfaces.’ Essentially it asks the reader questions, presents them with Gifs, makes silly jokes and generally mimics the behaviour of a human being. It is not really a conversation, as the app only has a limited number of responses, but maybe, given a shot of Artificial Intelligence that might be the plan for the future.

Try it, almost everyone I know who has downloaded it loves it.


Conversational interfaces

What though if brands and publishers were to start integrating similar style chatbots within the content they produce online? The bots would make pages more interactive, increase engagement and dwell times as well as potentially provide them with a lot more information about their readers.

One company who is already thinking along these lines is Typeform. The startup, which made its name creating interactive online forms recently published this article in its own blog. At face value Technology Imitates Art – The Rise Of The Conversational Interface is an interesting story about the future of the media.

Yet when you click onto the article you are greed by Paul, apparently ‘a brain kept in a jar in Spain,’ who looks human and acts as your guide. As the reader moves through the article so Paul continually interjects. So, for example, after a mention of Facebook he laments not buying Facebook shares. Later on he pontificates on Oscar Wilde’s theory about life imitating art. Paul offers the reader videos, GIFs, banter and more and even has a conversation with a second chatbot Chris halfway through.

Humanising interactions

It all sounds very surreal but clearly Typeform has hit on something. Firstly the personalisation of the bot is crucial. You really do feel as if you are having a conversation of sorts. Throughout the article Paul and the reader become partners on a journey through the paragraphs. The twists and turns Paul offers, plus his manner and the use of humour really is quite compelling. He is obviously a bot, but feels a lot more human than most chatbots because of the environment he lives in and the way he interacts.

Secondly, and this is where the notion of content obviously scores, I feel I am being informed more than sold to. It is a subtle difference, but the way the reader is drawn in and the levels of engagement makes this feel educational rather than salesy. I guess this is because of the environment Paul is operating in – namely a smart, long-form piece of thought leadership. I think if Paul were to ask me halfway through if I wanted more information about a product I would be way more likely to request it than if I was just having a conversation with a chabot on a company’s help page.

Incidentally it is possible to read the article straight without the interaction but the diversions that Paul provides really heightened my enjoyment of it.

It is not hard to see how brands might use this type of article in the future. It gives them all kinds of options to bring the brand alive by making the chatbot seem more than just a sales or customer tool. It could also be deployed on soft promotional articles, where the brand gently uses the chatbot to offer further information through an interactive tutorial.

The technology that powers this type of interactive article is still nascent and rather bespoke too. But it has the potential to significantly increase reader interaction, and provide all kinds of gentle awareness building and sales opportunities for brands.

I think we will be seeing a lot of articles like this the future.

Commissioned by The CMA

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