Writing For A Chatbot

I started moonlighting for Skilla a few months ago. For the uninitiated, Skilla is a chatbot (currently in closed beta on Facebook Messenger) that allows people to create a professional page to showcase their skills and eventually find people with complementary skills for their project / startup. Users can message Skilla and answer some quick questions about their job, skills and behaviour patterns to get a simple yet very sleek page which can work as their visiting card on the Web.

One of my first tasks on the Skilla team was to script the conversation the Skilla bot would have with the users. Now, I’ve written for websites and blogs, both corporate and personal. I’ve written my Masters thesis and also written some white papers. The tone, the style and the content has been a mix between the casual and the professional. But I’ve never written for a chatbot and hadn’t the faintest idea what a chatbot should say.

What’s the best tone? How much should the bot say?

Clueless, I looked for tips on Google. Here’s what my first attempt yielded:

As you can see, the query “writing for a chatbot” brings up much more technical results. Nothing to do with the conversation the bots will have with the users. So I tried changing the query to “tips on writing for chatbots.” “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, My mother told me to pick the very best one, and that is Y-O-U.” Just one relevant result. Not much to go on with…

A similar search for social media or corporate blog brings up some really good articles and great tips. (I personally recommend the article by Grammarly – it’s got excellent advice, especially for beginners.)

Apart from the guidelines on the Facebook Developer’s page, there were very few guidelines and best practices available for chatbot conversations. A little frustrated, I realised that I’d have to roll up my sleeves and figure this one out myself. So I took to trying out different bots and comparing their styles. (Read about my experience with one of the most popular chatbots here.)

It’s obviously not rocket science. But it helps to have some basic guidelines when you start writing a dialogue for a chatbot:

How long should your messages be? Is it a good idea to use images & GIFs? What are “quick replies” in Messenger Bots? Should you use buttons or quick replies? 

Find out what I learnt during this experience on the Skilla Blog.

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