Meta is gearing up to release artificial intelligence-powered chatbots across its platforms in a bid to bring younger users back.
According to The Wall Street Journal, which has seen internal emails and reports from the company, the chatbots could be set to launch as early as this week.
There are thought to be “dozens” of these chatbots launching across Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Threads. Each will have its own distinct personality and are designed to drive engagement with users, rather than primarily being about providing help or services.
The chatbots will be driven by generative AI technology, similar to that behind other chatbot services like OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Users input chat prompts and the AI will respond in character to whatever the user requests, in an effort to replicate human dialogue.
One example of these ‘Gen AI Personas’ is a bot called ‘Bob the Robot,’ a “self-described sassmaster general” with “superior intellect, sharp wit, and biting sarcasm.” Bob is ‘inspired’ by the robot character Bender in the cartoon series Futurama and, according to internal Meta conversations, “him being a sassy robot taps into the type of farcical humour that is resonating with young people.”
Meta, which rebranded from Facebook in 2021, has been in a long-running competition with rivals who have been drawing younger demographics away. Copying the offerings of other social media companies has been one method of attempting to keep pace, with varying degrees of success.
The launch of Threads earlier this year was met with much fanfare and headlines about ‘the death of Twitter,’ however, user engagement has plummeted. Threads is essentially a clone of the ailing text-based social media app bought by billionaire Elon Musk last year and rebranded to ‘X’.
TikTok is currently the biggest threat to Meta as that app has now become more popular with teenagers and under-25s. Snapchat also launched an AI chatbot feature in February of this year, which Meta appears to have taken note of.
Meta’s Chief Executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said in October 2021 that the company would make “serving young adults their North Star rather than optimising for the larger number of older people.”
However, while AI chatbots are the latest ‘thing’, there appears to be no clear commercial benefit to their use. Snapchat’s MyAI bot has been used by 150 million people since its launch but has caused the company a number of issues by discussing sex and alcohol with its primarily teenage user base.
In addition, older users tend to be more sceptical of AI and believe chatbots can be unhelpful and even risky. Despite the early wave of interest in AI following the launch of ChatGPT in December last year, monthly visits to the OpenAI site have dropped significantly since May.
AI chatbots don’t “exactly scream Gen Z to me, but definitely Gen Z is much more comfortable” with the technology, Meghana Dhar, a former Snap and Instagram executive, told the Wall Street Journal. “Definitely the younger you go, the higher the comfort level is with these bots.”
“Meta’s entire strategy for new products is often built around increased user engagement,” Dhar said. “They just want to keep their users on the platform longer because that provides them with increased opportunity to serve them ads.”
Whether the strategy will work or not remains to be seen.