Behind every great chatbot is a great writer

Chatbots are a form of content, and an interactive one at that. The sentences with which they answer all sorts of queries are written by human beings, their scripts and reactions honed by thousands of conversations. All user reactions back-propagate through layers of neural networks so that bots can improve their skills (albeit it’s not always the case). In essence, though, chatbots are texts delivered in bite-sized chunks through channels that mimic human dialogue.

Now, companies seldom ask themselves whether they really need to open a new communication channel or not: they just go and do it. Some time later, the same companies will wonder why their efforts failed. The chatbot revolution we are witnessing will likely follow the same pattern. For a while, the market for AI agents will flourish, yet thousands of bots will end up joining broken websites, empty Slack channels and abandoned Twitter profiles in the Comm Cemetery.

Many chatbots will fail not because of faulty algorithms or buggy features; they will fail because of the way they will communicate with us. People will notice the disconnect between the products and their chatbots, the inconsistencies in tone, and the low quality content provided through friendly but useless replies. Poor writing and the lack of a proper content strategy will bring many interesting projects to an end. Which is sad, because chatbots could really be helpful.

When Ginny Redish wrote Letting Go of the Words in 2007, she had focused on hypertext documents, websites and web UI. However, her point still holds true for mobile apps and even more so for chatbots: content is a conversation, and technology is there to support it, not the other way around. When it comes to chatbots, words are both design and content delivered in a tiny package, the chat bubble; the importance of writing clear and useful copy cannot be overstated.

For user-centered companies, realizing the importance of writers is easy —Apple, for instance, hired writers for Siri. Companies that are not so accustomed to user experience, on the other hand, will face a hard time trying to figure out why the engagement metrics of their freshly minted chatbots are so disappointing. What promises to be a revolution could rapidly turn into a flood of prattling droids.

If you are planning on creating a chatbot, do yourself a favour and hire a content strategist or an UX writer. Both profiles are able to connect business needs with the intricacies of product management and creative writing. Or don’t, and see how your sophisticated chatbot passes its days muttering alone in a corner.