Bot or Not? Don’t Confuse Automation With Engagement

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By Erin Pittman

If you’re a business owner, you might have heard about the pluses of using AI, or artificial intelligence, to help save money and expedite customer service. It’s true. Bots like chat bots can provide fast, accurate responses to your customers. But just as bots have been invented to help make business better, nefarious folks out there have created a number of other ways to use bots for their own personal benefit.

What Is a Bot?

Simply put, bots are computer programs created to speak like humans. They can be used in both good and bad ways. Bots are created to automate tasks, which can save businesses and individuals money and time. Think about Siri and Alexa retrieving the daily weather or latest sports stats for you. You no longer have to pick up a newspaper or tune in to the 6:00 a.m. news to find that information, unless you want to.

Bots can also be used for ugly purposes. Fresh on everyone’s minds are the Russian bots used to spread misinformation in our last presidential election. You may also encounter spamming bots designed to draw traffic to specific accounts or websites to increase sales or to spread viruses. And there are vanity bots that can flood certain social media users or brands to make them appear more popular than they actually are.

How Do You Spot a Bot?

Bots created to help businesses speed services to customers are easy to spot. If a virtual assistant of sorts pops up the moment you visit a company’s website or immediately after you send a message on Facebook Messenger, you can assume you’re interacting with a bot. These bots can simply acknowledge receipt of your message and share when you can expect to hear back from someone, or more advanced ones can even answer questions and help you find the information you need.

So, those are good bots. How do you spot the bad ones? Take a look at social media. If you believe an account that’s followed you or is interacting with you is a bot, examine the account to see if any of these situations are present:

  • Does the account have unusual spikes in activity? For example, does it appear to usually like only about 10 posts per day, and all of a sudden, it’s liked or retweeted 444 in an hour? It’s likely a bot.
  • Does the account engage via comments? It’s simpler to program bots to only like accounts and posts and retweet or share them. It’s much more difficult to create bots that can comment, so a lack of comments can indicate you’ve uncovered a bot.
  • Does the account have a huge following but engages very little? This can indicate that people have purchased vanity bots to make themselves look more popular than they are.
  • Is the account sharing the same message over and over again? Like in the elections, this type of bot could have been created to push a certain agenda.

Spotting a bot doesn’t mean that you’re in danger or a slew of viruses are coming your way. It simply means you should realize the bot was created for a particular reason, and it’s important to be aware of what that reason is. Be an informed consumer and don’t get lured in by false claims or the potentially fake, over-inflated popularity of a product on social media. Bot or not, knowledge is always power.

“Your Words Mean Business” provides insights and tips to business owners, organizations and professionals seeking to better their performance and increase their bottom line through sharpening written and marketing communication skills.


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