The experts view — How to optimize Facebook Messenger conversations

The Facebook Messenger offers a lot of features. How to choose the best one to engage users in every single interaction?

As a chatbot creator, you have to choose the right feature for each interaction so that users will not get lost in too many options displayed. This article takes a closer look at some features by comparing their genuine qualities and technical limitations. If you are able to make best use of the qualities and see boundaries as a challenge you are ready to take up, you will be able to choose the best feature for every single interaction.

Content Display and Interaction

Before going into detail, let’s take a look at what we are dealing with. You will have to make some preliminary conceptual decisions before deciding on specific features, too.
Horizontal-scroll and list template are elements for content display. To chose correctly you need to define the main purpose of your bot. There are two possible goals: you either aim at a great display of content, followed by a nice interaction that converts to your website. Or the entertaining and meaningful interactions and conversation you created leave a happy and engaged user who you hope will return. Clarity on your intent helps your decisions on how to display your content best. It also influences your choice of interactions, be it due to technical reasons.
Don’t just think of where a conversation leads. Consider who starts the conversation and with what intent. Do you want to engage a user by sending the first message, displaying content and providing actionable buttons? Do users write the first message, turning to your chatbot for entertainment or in the urgent need of assistance?
These opposite directions and different intentions influence your choice of features, both for content display and interactions.

This article provides insights on bot-user-interactions such as buttons and quick replies. Interactions like these always define the link between single messages. For every new message and next link, you will have to choose, again. The right choice leads to happy users. They will engage in every new interaction you offer, thus use your chatbot a lot and/or follow links to external websites.

Two ways of visual content display: horizontal scroll or list template

The horizontal scroll or ‘h-scroll’

If chosen wrong or edited poorly, an h-scroll bares an overload of information that discourages users. Used in the right context and designed according to its benefits as well as the user’s needs, it is a great feature for storytelling.
An h-scroll consists of several structured messages in a row. Structured messages are message bubbles containing text and up to three buttons for interactions below. Image, title and subtitle can be added. Up to ten bubbles with up to three buttons per bubble let you display a lot of information in media and text. The buttons provide a number of choices: further interactions within the chatbot or a conversion to the website.
Because there is no overview at first glance, the user has to interact to see all bubbles.

Its benefits can also be a downside: h-scrolls can be too packed with content and options if poorly concepted. This can easily happen when the h-scroll is used in a conservative way: giving an overview on five similar news-articles or several products to buy, using interchangeable buttons in every bubble. It imitates a menu by giving choices that in a web-interface would be displayed as a menu bar. This is obviously a bad user experience, not making any use of the chatbots qualities as a channel.
So should you simply cut down on the number of bubbles and buttons? No. Instead take advantage of the h-scroll’s unique benefits. Doing so, more bubbles are not only okay, but desired and enjoyed by your user. The unique quality the h-scroll provides is its horizontal line of storytelling. It resembles the way people read in western countries, from left to right. Use this habit: put cartoons into the bubbles as a narrative, split one image into three or more to create a panorama view, tell a story!

The h-scroll is also perfect for step-by-step tutorials and advertising. Users attracted by the first bubble are very likely to scroll to the others. They will then choose from the several options the different bubbles and buttons provide to either leave the chatbot and visit your website or continue the experience in the next conversation.
You have already seen examples for this creative use in facebook carousel ads.

Use the h-scroll when starting a conversation if you intend to present something in wider scope and if you want to provide several directions to continue the conversation.

The List Template

If you want quick overviews and easy selections, the list template is your weapon of choice. You will have to meet its limitations in content display compared to the h-scroll, though: The list template lets you display up to four items vertically. Each item contains 160 characters of text an image and one button. You can display one item prominently with a cover image and up to three smaller items below. You may even add a different kind of interaction to the cover item’s button than to those of the others. If you do not intend to highlight one of your items, just display up to four items in the same size. These item’s buttons are likely to cause similar interactions, for example allowing a choice between the items.
Additional to those buttons you can provide another one for the whole list template, below the items. It can lead to a different conversation or action.
The list template displays all information at a glance. No further interaction is needed for a complete overview.

Its limited characters can sometimes be a hindrance. You can not display or explain as much as with an h-scroll. So take up the challenge to create concise text combined with significant pictures that add up to and enhance each other in meaning.

The choices users have in the list template are limited, compared to the several buttons provided in an h-scroll. This makes the list template a fit for quick decisions. Think of selecting the colour of an item to buy or the decision between the top news and three further topics in a news channel. The button below could link to other conversations, e.g. other products or different news topics.

Use the list template if you want the conversations to be speedy. If users turn to the chatbot with a need, it is your shortcut to serving that need. The faster users get to their goal, the happier they are. So the list template can be the suiting reaction to a question or other initiative by users that calls for multiple pieces of content. If asked or asking for specific content, determined sets of answers are helpful. Fewer, but lean options make it easy for users to choose fast. The results — next messages and interactions — follow up immediately.

Button Interactions

Why display content in the first place? You want users to take actions. Whether h-scroll, list template or a plain text-, media-, or structured-message: two ways to define the interaction between those messages are buttons and quick replies. They are your alternative to the complex use of Natural Language Processing. So after choosing the way of displaying your content, you will now learn how to find the best feature to make your user interact by comparing button-interactions.

Buttons as well as quick replies are an actionable and fast way of interacting. Well chosen, they are helpful in making quick decisions and engage the user to play back and forth in a smooth dialogue. Each feature has it’s own benefits and limitations.

Buttons

Combined with the wrong message or linking to confusing interactions, buttons will not be appreciated by your users. Learn what they can and can’t do and use them accordingly to script an interaction that feels natural.
Buttons trigger an interaction at the end of a structured message. This type of message contains up to three buttons, each linking to one interaction, e.g. the next message or a new conversation, subscribing or unsubscribing users, allowing user feedback, or containing an external URL. Each button consists of text describing its command and can be funnier with emojis, if that suits your chatbot.
Like the h-scroll, if used wrong, buttons can offer either too many different or boring repetitive choices. Several bubbles with different pictures but the same button-interactions below can be boring (how about using the list template instead?). Eight bubbles with eight times three buttons to choose from make users forget the first options while still browsing. Leaving all choices to the user is not a benefit, but a pain. A bot creator has to figure out the right preset of choices in every interaction. Better use three different interactions narrowing down the choices step by step than offering one with too many options and directions to choose from.
Also decide if you want the user to continue with the bot conversation or rather link to an external website.

Buttons and the different actions and several directions can widen the scope of a conversation. It may not always speed up, but users will enjoy their freedom of choices. With every click they make a decision towards further conversation or following a link out of your chatbot. Once made, this choice does not disappear, the button(s) can always be found in the conversation, right under the structured message they are part of. Users can return to this message and undo their choice by clicking a different button.
This distinguishes them from another class of buttons:

Quick Replies

Quick replies can put your conversation on the fast lane. Their technical limitations do not allow reconsidering, so you have to choose wisely. Here is how: Quick replies are buttons prominently displayed above the composer, containing text, and emoji if suiting. They follow messages of plain text and/or media. Quick replies are perfect when asking for choices on up to five items. Users will less likely use the keyboard but just tap one of the quick reply buttons provided. Imagine a message asking for your favourite flavour in ice cream. If you then offer a quick reply with five choices, the user can easily tap on ‘strawberry’. Typing this word into the text field takes at least ten taps.

Once tapped, the buttons are no longer displayed. Users thus can not tap on old buttons unrelated to the last message they received. But there is no way back in the decision tree. This downside in using quick replies can also be seen as their benefit. ‘Burning bridges’ will automatically speed up the conversation. There is only one direction to go: fast forward. Use cases are comparable to the list view’s: providing quick selections if users ask for content. Users will then be grateful if you present them with 2 to 5 actionable quick reply-buttons to tap instead of to much info and many buttons in a structured message. The work you do in templating these choices suiting the user’s request will be appreciated. They make a chat meaningful and fun by leading to results. Even when using buttons, the conversation feels natural, with no delays or misunderstandings.

Quick replies are also a great way to grab user data. You can only use quick replies within the chatbot, they can not contain external links. So if you aim at linking to an external website, you will at some point have to switch to a button-interaction.

Mix it!

The choice on a feature made for an interaction is only valid for this one link. The next link to the next message means yet another decision. Choosing one feature for the first content display and interaction does not mean that it suits the next: you will have to reconsider. What sounds like a lot of conceptual work is actually a blessing: mixing features, thus ways of content display and interactions is what makes a meaningful chatbot conversation, because it addresses the users needs.

Push a message, mixing h-scrolls and buttons for broader scope in the beginning and then start narrowing down choices, collect user data and speed up the conversation using more list templates as well as messages with quick replies towards the end. Users enjoy your storytelling and several choices in the beginning while still being led to a result in the end, be that an entertaining chat or the visit of your website. If offering or asked for quick results, mix list templates and messages with quick replies. If needed at the end, use buttons for their benefit of linking externally when the list template and it’s limited buttons are not suited. There is unlimited ways of recombination. Choose the ones suiting your purpose best. Keep in mind the main outcome you aim at as well as your goal in every single message.

Be creative with the choices you have!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s