How chatbots can transform human and corporate communications

Keith Strier

Keith Strier,

Global Technology Sector Digital Leader at EY

www.linkedin.com

In the digital age, the role of corporate communications is shifting from conveying information, to fostering dialogue. Enter the TruthBot, the new conversational user experience

Robot sitting at a desk using a laptop

The most under-appreciated corporate function today is corporate communications. The corporate comms team’s continued reliance on a pre-digital, centrally-governed model that delivers tightly-edited messages through pre-approved channels does not help. This approach is colliding with the new digital ways in which people search, find, consume and share news (including corporate information, real or fake). It’s time for Chief Communications Officers to update their standard operating model to calibrate for the proliferation of decentralized digital networks as well as conversational user interfaces that are reshaping public and private modes of communication.

The role of corporate communications

The purpose of corporate communications is to be the primary source of truth for stakeholders, a role crucial for executives and society alike. Corporate communications teams have historically fulfilled this role by operating as the executive suite’s “official broadcast arm.” Now that we live and work in an always-on, hyper-connected world in which one-way broadcasting is less effective, it may be time for a strategy refresh.

Today’s digital persona

Today, we all have a digital persona that prefers “skimming” rich media experiences and is influenced as much by comments from colleagues on internal messaging platforms as by reviews from strangers on a public shopping site. At any given moment, our perceptions are probably shaped more by what’s trending on social media then what we perceived as important the moment before we unlocked our device. And headlines seem to gain more credibility the more they are shared, like the proverbial snowball growing larger as it rolls downhill.

Conversational user experiences

One of the most significant advances impacting consumption today, though, is a convergence of innovation across networking, computing and design to make a truly natural language conversation between humans and machines possible, and at scale. The rise of conversational user interfaces will change branding, sales, marketing, commerce, internet search, customer service and perhaps even the internet itself. It’s not uncommon to see bold headlines such as “Chat is the new app,” or “Chat is the new browser.” While few predict the immediate demise of email, web portals and mobile apps, their efficacy as tools of communication, amidst many new forms of digital engagement, are declining.

Fostering and governing dialogue

Given all of that context, Chief Communications Officers should pivot their teams to operate more as curators of conversations, rather than stewards of approved content. Operationally, this translates into more time listening and moderating, rather than editing and controlling, and across both internal and external networks. Most companies have social media command centers monitoring external social media posts and trends, but few in fact have visibility into the array of internal collaboration, messaging and social networks that have become new “dark spaces” for consumption.

Chief Communications Officers should pivot their teams to operate more as curators of conversations, rather than stewards of approved content.

It turns out that employees are convening more on internal messaging channels than corporate email and intranets, yet most companies have limited governance over these networks. Corporate Communications teams often dismiss, or narrowly scope their responsibility around the management of internal conversations, taking the position that “IT has that covered.” Respectfully, they don’t. So, as companies push for more enterprise collaboration and social selling, the lines between internal and external conversations will blur. The result will be a growing risk to data security, compliance, labor relations and the overall employee experience.

For most corporate communications teams, last year’s primary concern, however, was probably reacting to an angry tweet; as a new slate of threats and opportunities surface, amplified by Chatbots and messaging platforms inside and outside the firewall, there is an opportunity to turn these new digital models into a tactical advantage. For example, what if you design a new “source of truth,” the TruthBot?

TruthBots

The TruthBot could be a conversational user experience designed to engage the public 24/7, open to anyone from employee to journalist, manager to customer with an explicit purpose — to provide immediate, convenient access to an intelligent agent that could verify or dispute the veracity of a story or rumor circulating on social media. By delivering truth through a conversational user interface versus a press release, the game changes.

A TruthBot can be omnichannel, accessed by thousands at once through many channels from social media to SMS to a personal virtual assistant device. It can deliver accurate information, but also collect it. It can ask questions, as well as answer them. It can store user logs to support data mining and identify patterns and signals to support future communications decision-making. A TruthBot is more than just another way to inform, it is also a new source of insight. In fact, through its personality and conversational pathways, a TruthBot can also shape opinion directly, becoming a new weapon for crisis management.

An AI-powered conversational user experience designed to engage the public on the veracity of content is one example of how corporate communications can benefit from digital innovation. Imagine this conversation:

TruthBot: Thank you for checking with me. I can confirm that, as of 2PM today, we did not have an incident in our Toronto office. This story is false. It is true, however, that severe weather is coming to the area. I would be more concerned about local traffic than this story. I am always available, so please check back anytime, or click on this link to our corporate site for further updates.

Now imagine a version of this conversation occurring 500,000 times across five social and messaging networks within 24 hours, crushing a snowball before it rolls downhill.

Next steps for Chief Communications Officers

In summary, chatting with Bots can be more than just a cool new way to order pizza, or check a bank balance. Cognitive automation offers limitless possibilities from improving internal search for employees to improving access to public services for citizens. The same techniques can be applied to provide more convenient and efficient ways to communicate and engage stakeholders matters ranging from regulatory to investor relations. As a next step, I recommend a three-point plan for a visionary Chief Communications Officer:

  1. Understand the new topography of public and private networks impacted by cognitive automation, and challenge whether your team and their methods are tracking with the changes in consumption attitudes, preferences and behaviors.
  2. Start the journey of prototyping, testing and exploring use-cases for improving your team’s effectiveness through cognitive automation, and be prepared to keep at it, since continuous experimentation will be the new normal. Try different conversational UX approaches, and vendor platforms, given this is a very new space. Chatbots can start small and be narrowly scoped, but expect the need to continuously optimize the architecture and syntax of that conversation post-launch, much more than has been required for websites or apps.
  3. Help your executive suite think about corporate communications in a different light given the new ways in which people create, consume and share, and then align expectations around the investments, technology, skills and services needed to enable the required new blend of control and curation, dissemination and conversation, to manage corporate communications in a digital world.

This article was originally published on Chatbots Magazine.