Chatbots: Herald Sun’s latest user engagement tool shows promise

By Nathaniel Bane

Herald Sun

Melbourne, Australia


To thrive, newsrooms must stay abreast of technology and embrace it.

The ability to not only master new storytelling tools but also utilise cutting-edge avenues to reach new audiences will make or break news organisations.

Chatbots allow newsrooms to respond quickly and efficiently to readers.
Chatbots allow newsrooms to respond quickly and efficiently to readers.

The rise of the bots presents an exciting opportunity for newsrooms like the Herald Sun. That is because chat apps are efficient and enhance peoples lives in a very low-touch, simple way. At their heart is text, personalisation, and one-on-one conversations.

Bots feeding into chat apps’ personalised content are an enticing proposition for both users and content providers. Users have full control over what they get. And content providers have a new way of reaching people with what they want.

Chat apps have gone from a new fad to being something bigger than social media platforms in what feels like no time.

The big four messaging apps — WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, and Viber — have more monthly users than Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.

The adoption rate makes perfect sense. They have piggy-backed on the rise of mobile as the most important communication tool of our time. In the same way a ringing telephone begs to be answered, few can resist the red notification button in the chat window. Many newsrooms have found this is a fertile ground for alerts and breaking news.

At the Herald Sun, we’ve taken the plunge. Finding success with chatbots is as much about the technology of hooking up to content feeds as about nailing what chatbots are about. Our objective with the chatbot is engagement. The more helpful it is and the more it connects with our audience, the more we hope they use it for both actively seeking news and passively getting news.

We’ve found increased Facebook engagement leads to subscription increase, so a chatbot is a natural fit.

It is still the early days, and our chatbot isn’t very smart yet. But as we look at user patterns, we’re honing its capabilities. Were now testing on one of our smaller Facebook pages, seeing what engagement we get and what questions are asked. We have given it a personality and, hopefully in turn, it will deliver a great experience for our readers.

About Nathaniel Bane

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