Over the past six months, Twitter has rebooted Direct Messaging functionality with chatbots, making it easier for customers to talk to and engage with businesses online. The latest upgrades are Direct Message Buttons and Direct Message Cards.

New things are afoot in the world of Twitter. Unfortunately, this has nothing to do with finding the solution to idiots using the platform as a hate speech vuvuzela, or cracking the covfefe code. They have added rounded corners on display images – prompting about 30k tweet responses within hours of the announcement, many of which were of the mocking kind, and many more involving the Spongebob Squarepants/Roundpants meme.

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More impressively – and exciting for social marketers – Twitter has finally caught up to Facebook and Skype when it comes to direct messaging (DM) bots. In May and June of this year, it rolled out Direct Message Cards and Direct Message Buttons, designed to enrich customer experiences and extend business outreach.

The recent upgrades are in line with the social media platform’s general move towards bringing businesses closer to audiences through personalised exchanges. In the past six months, it has introduced Welcome Messages, Quick Replies, Location Sharing and a new ad unit to the Twitter feed, by which users can immediately get a conversation going with a brand.

“Twitter has moved into the core part of platforms that businesses are using for customer care alongside phones, email, and web chat,” said Twitter Product Manager Ian Cairns in an interview with Venturebeat. “It’s no longer about social marketing teams, but core customer care teams [that are responding on Twitter]. Companies are running a serious business here and are looking for help in scaling it.”

Direct Message Buttons

Users will be already familiar with DM buttons from Facebook, whose team have been buffing them to new shininess for more than a year. Essentially options in Messenger that enable users to quickly and easily flow towards optimal outcomes, they have proven especially popular in lead generation for major publishers such as the ABC and the Guardian.

By messaging the Guardian’s Facebook page for instance, users are immediately asked if they’d like to receive a morning briefing through an automated welcome message. By clicking through a button series of specifications (do they want their news delivered at 8am or 9am? Are they most interested in Sports or Fashion?) users can achieve a personalised daily inbox message in just one swift, friendly robo-butler exchange.

Twitter, on the other hand, has a bigger reputation as a customer service space – an arena where people go to talk to businesses to air their grievances or ask for help. Frankly, this makes it surprising the platform didn’t lead the way in direct messaging. By providing easy-to-use problem-solving options in a private channel, users are less likely to splatter malcontent or product-related stress over a brand’s walls. While the buttons update isn’t revolutionary, it does make communication easier for users, and less messy for brands.

How it works

The feature enables up to three buttons to be added to any message, with the text within these messages customisable, hyperlink-ready and emoji-friendly. Once the user’s problem or query has been narrowed down and identified, brands have the option of linking them up with a flesh-and-bone service member deemed best to resolve their particular issue. According to an Aspect Research Software study, 88% of people expect eventual human contact as an outcome of bot interaction.

Whereas Facebook and others have their own chatbot builders, Twitter has gone down a unique path by directing developers to third-party platforms instead. “There are a bunch of reasons why we don’t build bot experience ourselves,” explains Jeff Lesser, Product Marketing for Twitter Business Messaging. “There are millions of types of businesses that can use our platform, so we’re letting the ecosystem build the solutions that they need.”

Sprout Social has the highest profile of the third-party range. Its close alliance with Twitter was clinched on June 20, when Sprout launched Chatbot Builder – a handy little tool for developers to create customised conversational Twitter exchanges as part of its Enterprise paid plan. You can check it out below.

Direct Message Cards

Direct Message Cards launched one month before Buttons, but are still in beta testing mode and available only to high-spending Twitter advertisers with a rep. They’re orientated towards entertainment and outreach rather than customer service, and as such, serve up a good opportunity for brands to think creatively when it comes to social media engagement.

How it works

Businesses can add Direct Message Cards as part of a promoted campaign or an organic tweet, though if brands want to make good on ad targeting, then they’ll go with the former. Up to four customisable call-to-action buttons can be added to images or videos. Clicking on one of these will launch the user into a unique Direct Message experience.

Patrón Tequila has been held up as a good example of how to use Message Cards well. In a targeted tweet for their Simply Perfect summer cocktails campaign, users get directed to recipe recommendations from ‘mixologists Stephen and David’ (here in GIF form) according to their specific tastes. Reminiscent of Macca’s ‘design your own burger’, the ‘Bot Tender’ is fun, interactive and simple. For the brand, it’s a neat little way of driving users to quality site content and drawing them to the sales funnel rim.

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How else could advertisers create engaging interactions using Message Cards? We mixed up two ideas of our own.

Hypothetical DM Card #1

You’re a travel company running a promoted tweet for accommodation options in Queensland, Australia. Adding text and an image, using DM Cards you can add four CTAs that ask users if they prefer:

  1. Quiet coastal
  2. Urban high life
  3. Tropical paradise
  4. Island homes

Clicking on their preferred accommodation launches a DM window, which will present them with another set of options. For instance, if they click Tropical Paradise, the chat message could begin with the text “Great choice! Are you travelling solo, in a pair or in a group?”. From here, the chatbot could provide a list of links to various accommodations for the user, and perhaps recommend activities, travel options and places to eat and drink as well.

Hypothetical DM Card #2

You’re a social media training company running a course-booking app, through which customers can book a course in becoming a ‘platform expert’ based on their location. You decide to use a Direct Message Card to market a promocode. Adding the promocode SOCIAL2017 to a tweet, you list the four message options:

  1. Facebook
  2. Instagram
  3. Twitter
  4. Snapchat

When the user clicks on their preferred option, a direct message will open, allowing them to choose what they’re most interested in learning (eg copywriting, image optimisation or paid promotion). From here, the user is invited to share their location, and sent an app download link, which will open to their chosen class.

Though 56% of people say they still prefer human over bot interactions for customer relations, that figure is falling. A separate LivePerson study also found that 38% of consumers worldwide rated their chatbot experiences as positive, and 51% are a cool neutral. As AI infiltrates everyday living more and more with each passing year, customers are increasingly indifferent about who (or what) is on the other end of the communication line – they just want their issue solved.

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