Machine learning


Back in November 2017 we launched our first ever bot, with The Children’s Society. We wanted to do things a bit differently – AI was the name of the game for us. Since then, we’ve worked on a variety of interesting concepts and challenges, each time building on the idea that AI power is the way forward.

That’s because AI puts more control in the user’s hands. But this broad remit means plenty of challenges! Now we have the glory of hindsight, too. Check out some practical ways to apply our learnings.

Top tips:

1. Choose your audience wisely

The only time heavy traffic is appreciated is online, so make sure you’re going to get a jam. You’ve decided what the right usage is and it absolutely makes sense (for example, we went with eventers, as at a base level, this group has a high level of repeat questions). But will the people that make up this group use a bot? Will they know they’re talking to one? Especially if, as in our case, it switches in an existing group, so people who previously used messenger to speak to an individual are now speaking to a bot. Humans learn through interactions and AI is no different – another reason you’re going to need to get the volume of contacts up to make a go of it.

2. Design your button vs free-text flows carefully

This bot was having bells and whistles – we wanted people to actually be able to talk to it, not simply follow a digital flow-chart by selecting buttons. Want to update your opt-in preferences in the middle of asking for fundraising advice? Sure, no problem!  That said, boy was it difficult to make it work this way. There’s also greater margin for error, particularly until some serious volume has trodden the query-response paths. We stand by AI being the best way forward, but more buttons upfront would’ve helped guide chats in the required initial direction, to keep people from falling into any loops or holes! Your ambitions need to be at least somewhat compatible with commercially available tech too – though our desire was always to push those boundaries!

3. Promotion

You already know you’ve got to do something to get your desired audience aware of and then using the bot, and how you do that might be different if you’re sitting on a Facebook audience of hundreds of thousands or millions (which we weren’t!) than if you aren’t. But you also need to get your internal stakeholders aware of and bought into your bot, and then manage their expectations. Open communication and ambassadors are, as always, the key.

Above all, keep at it! As with anything you’re creating in the digital space, set it free. Then monitor it and iterate based on how people are using it. This could mean big or small changes – be prepared to go with the (free-text, non-button led) flow.

If you want to discuss how AI or a bot might meet your charity’s challenges, get in touch with

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