Chatbots are replacing mobile apps as the key growth area for developers.
If you want to target your skills squarely on the next exciting growth area, now is the time to go all in on learning how to develop great chatbots.
This page provides the core areas to consider before building your next chatbot. This field is evolving rapidly, and this page will evolve with it. Stay tuned for updates!
Let’s get started!
1. Outreach (From day 1!)
2. Focus the Concept
3. Plan it Out
4. Build, Test, Repeat
5. Submit to Messaging Platform
6. Outreach (again;)
Step 1: Outreach
You may be asking, “What do you mean by outreach, and what does that have to do with building a chatbot?”
Read carefully because this is important, which is why I have it as the #1 step.
Outreach refers to connecting with the communities where your users congregate. As a chatbot owner, this means participating in conversations, adding real value, and seeking feedback.
Because chatbots are really about conversations, it’s critical that you are familiar with how your users talk about the topic. What questions do they ask? What words do they use? You’ll want to incorporate all of this into your chatbot.
If there were a secret sauce to successful launches of any kind, this would be it.
In his book “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us”, Seth Godin calls this building your tribe:
A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.
When those people hear from you directly, when they understand your message, and when they know that you’re listening to them, they will listen back. They will want to help you. And they will be the first to download your chatbot.
They will also be the first to tell you why your first version sucks. This is good, because you’ll know what to fix next. And they will love you for it.
You don’t need an army of initial users. Just a few will do.
tell show their friends how they helped shape your chatbot, and why they should use it too.
Most of us are not Seth Godin, so how do we do this when we have a ‘tribe’ of 5 or 10?
Look for Facebook groups, Google Hangouts, Quora questions, and other resources around your topic. Do not simply join the group and tell them to use your chatbot. Do create a complete profile and include your picture. Do introduce yourself and seek to solve their problems first. Do show your personality.
Only after you are being transparent and adding value to those communities, should you tell them your story and why you are building the chatbot. Ask them what they would like to get out of it. Really listen to them and thank them for any feedback. Then, show them progress so that it’s more like a group project that they feel invested in.
Set aside at least 30 minutes each week to do this, to really interact and add value, and it will pay dividends for years to come.
Do your research!
Be a student of the messaging platforms. What types of users are you targeting, and how does that align with the platform? What context are your users in when using that platform?
For example, Facebook Messenger is by far the largest and of course includes a wide range of people. It’s great for volume. The context is almost always personal and social in nature.
Slack, however, is used primarily by people in work mode. They are replying to colleagues and reporting on tasks.
Finally, make sure you establish a platform for your message. This can be a Facebook page, a very simple website, or both. The reason a platform is important is that it will help you build your following, even prior to your chatbot launch.
I recommend establishing your own platform on your own site, and using other outlets as a way to get your message out and drive people to your own site.
And once your chatbot is live, you will use this website to highlight the bot in your own way, well beyond what is shown on the messaging platform.
Don’t worry about making the website perfect and spending a bunch of money on it when getting started. There’s absolutely no need. Just follow these steps, all of which are simple and inexpensive:
- Purchase a domain. GoDaddy is very popular and works just fine, but I am now really liking Namecheap. They came in at #2 in a recent Lifehacker survey of domain name registrars, primarily because they are one of the most affordable, yet have good customer service.
If the name of your chatbot is not available as a .com domain name, try different variations of it. FOr example, many domain extensions are becoming more widely accepted now, including the .ai domain for artificial intelligence related companies. You get the idea.
- Sign up for a hosting plan. I always recommend people use a hosting provider that is separate from where you purchased your domain. If you use the same company for both, they can really hold you over the barrel if you have an issue on either end. Just avoid it.
I highly recommend Bluehost, as I’ve always had good experiences with them, and their reputation in the industry is excellent.
What I really like about Bluehost is they have low-cost plans that are ideal when you’re just starting out or on a budget.
Update: They recently lowered the price for their Starter plan to $3.95 per month (was $7.99) as the intro price, then goes to $5.95 for a 36-month term. Go here to get the $3.95/month intro price now.
- Install WordPress. You can either do that yourself here, or your hosting provider should provide a push-button install. There are loads of great resources out there for WordPress, but you need to focus on your bot right now, so don’t get bogged down with all the options.
- Create one page. Just one page is all you need to start. Tell the story of your bot, include an image of yourself, and give people a way to contact you. (e.g. Twitter handle, Facebook, etc.) Oh, and one more thing. Start building your email list as early as possible using AWeber or MailChimp. Later, you will add more to this site, but this is all you need to start.
That’s it. Again, don’t worry about making the site perfect. Just get your platform in place and focus on your chatbot.
Step 2: Refine Idea
So you have an idea for your chatbot! You may have given a lot of thought to your target audience, how the bot conversation should flow, and even how you could attract more users. This can be an exciting time!
Before you move forward, however, there are 2 key questions you must ask yourself:
1. What is YOUR goal for your chatbot?
2. What do you want your USERS to experience?
Many people focus on only one of these questions, but answering both up front will help you be decisive as you continue through to your chatbot launch.
Your answer to question #1 could be something similar to the following:
- My goal is to strike it rich with my chatbot, quit my day job, and work for myself.
- I want to help build our brand and reach our customers wherever they are.
- I was assigned to build a chatbot for our company and I don’t want to mess up.
- I want to develop bots for a living.
- I want to help tackle childhood obesity.
You get the idea. It’s all about what the result will be for you as the builder of the bot.
DO NOT CONTINUE READING UNTIL YOU’VE WRITTEN DOWN YOUR ANSWER.
Your answer to question #2 above might sound like this:
- Decrease our company’s customer support costs by providing an FAQ bot
- Saves users time by eliminating the need to drive somewhere or wait in line
- Provides fun, mindless entertainment (e.g. games)
- Teach user how to master the art of negotiation, resulting in more confidence and a better lifestyle
- Allows user to purchase bitcoins from wherever they are
- Gives users real-time statistics on their websites, allowing them to notice issues or trends, and act on them immediately
Many of the most successful bots focus on doing one thing very well.
Narrow in on your one thing.
Again, there is no right or wrong answer here. The important thing is to give these some serious thought, and write down your answers. Be as specific as possible.
Productivity Tip: I recommend posting your answers to #1 and #2 near your workspace so that you see them whenever you are working on your chatbot. This will help you remain focused on your own goals and the user experience you are trying to achieve.
Step 3: Plan it Out
A sure fire way to lose money, and possibly your mind, is to ignore the planning step.
Why is planning important? Just think about these questions:
- How much money will I need to build my chatbot? When will I need it?
- Will I hire a freelancer developer to build it? Or a development company?
- What other people will I need to help me in this process? When should I first contact them?
- Will I generate revenue from the bot? How can I do that, and when is the right time?
- How long does it take to get a chabot developed and working on FB Messenger or Slack?
These are just a few of the questions that you will want to answer BEFORE you take next step. Don’t worry, it’s really not hard.
OK, more to come soon — stay tuned!