Messaging in the World of Bots

When moderator Chris Moody, VP of Data Strategy at Twitter, polled the Big Boulder audience, about 15% of the group had used Kik, a mobile messaging app. Michael Roberts, Head of Chat at Kik, says that 15% is a good show of hands in an audience like Big Boulder. That’s because Kik is used mostly by teens in the United States. In fact, of the 300 million registered Kik users, 40% are U.S. teens. Michael said that high usage is because teens are the first generation of digital- and mobile-native users and naturally know how to interact with bots.


Anonymity vs. Pseudonymity

Kik empowers users to form an identity inside the app. Rather than anonymity, which is meant to strip identity from a user, pseudonymity allows users to form any identity they choose. The average Kik user spends 87 minutes inside the app every dayan amount of time that allows users ample time to develop a persona and express themselves.

Bots are Hot

“Right now there are a lot of trends coming together at the same time, including NLP, AI, and machine learning,” Michael explained. Bots are hot because they aren’t only about those trends, but instead are about trying trends together seamlessly inside of messaging apps.

The popularity of bots makes sense also because it’s easy to reach a digital-native audience. Bots are an interface that digital natives already understand. There’s no learning curve, which allows companies to reach these users easily.

Bots are hot also because they let companies build inside of apps that are already on mobile phones, providing a huge opportunity to reach customers. Bots are another tool in a mobile developer’s toolkit. “The future isn’t putting bots in products,” said Michael. “The future is building better products.”

Beyond One-to-One Conversations

Bots aren’t just a one-to-one conversations between a user and a bot. Far from it. For example, using the “@mention” bot in an app, like the one that exists in Kik, allows a user to pull a tic-tac-toe game into a conversation between friends. It’s not about talking with bots directlyit’s about adding bots into existing conversations.

Games are another opportunity for bots to engage users in a broad way. According to Michael, 40% of all app content in the app store is a game, and 80% of revenue on mobile is through games. Games provide a tremendous platform for bots to move beyond one-to-one conversations and to be a seamless, natural part of the gaming experience.

Retailers with brick and mortar stores can bridge the gap between physical space and digital community using bots. Companies such as Sephora and H&M are using bots to connect with users, even when those users aren’t at a store.

Privacy, Control and Bots

As surfaced in other panels during Big Boulder, bots raise the question of how much messaging to a user is too much. Michael described that at Kik and in Kik’s Bot Shop, a balance of retaining a user by notifying them about activities, but not overly spamming users with too many bots is a careful balance.

Kik also thinks about users in terms of trust, intimacy, and control. The company tailors experiences for users so that users retain privacy and safety.

Measuring Bot Success

Bot messaging is unlike any other app platform, according to Michael. Common app metricslike MAU (Monthly Average Users) or quantity of app downloadsaren’t relevant to bots. Instead, Kik uses chat sessions as a better metric to measure success. Chat sessions reveal how long a user is inside a chat, how active the conversation is, and what other bots users bring into the messaging platform.

The future of bots is likely to feature bots not just as a single, siloed tool but instead as a platform-agnostic way to engage users.


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