Building Bots for Messenger – Tips from the Experts: UNICEF
We’re kicking off a series highlighting some of the top experiences on the Messenger platform. These businesses and developers have approached Messenger in a unique and interesting way, and are seeing success during the early stages of the Messenger platform. Next up is UNICEF, a children’s rights and emergency relief organization.
In 100 words or less describe what your bot does.
UNICEF’s bots for U-Report allows young people from around the world to join and participate in a social movement that amplifies their voices to help create positive political and social change. Through Messenger, U-Reporters can respond to weekly questions on a range of issues that affect them. Their answers are aggregated and shared with decision makers who can, in turn, use the data to improve the lives of U-Reporters and people in their communities. Issues discussed include, education, sexual and reproductive health, access to health services, how to navigate their legal rights, and more.
Who are you trying to reach?
U-Report is a tool designed to engage young people who want to have a say in decisions that affect their lives. It’s for youth who want to contribute to movements for positive change. Depending on the country in which it is deployed, this can include people age 13 and up. U-Report supports the right of young people to express themselves (with guidance from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) while at the same time respecting the laws of nations. U-Report is run at a country level in over 23 countries and through a global account in partnership with Facebook and Twitter, and via SMS through a number of mobile network operators.
What’s the killer feature/interaction?
U-Report has a growing subscriber base of over 2.3 million young people. The traditional way of reaching U-Reporters is via SMS. SMS will continue to be an important channel for U-Report, while Messenger will help reduce costs and reach youth who prefer, and are able to use Messenger. This new integration with Messenger improves sustainability for U-Report and has really extended our global digital reach to young people. The exchange of information in real-time increases opportunities for social change to happen faster than ever before.
The Messenger integration, combined with useful local content UNICEF provides through Facebook Free Basics, creates additional ways for young people to access information that could improve their lives.
How did you go about designing your bot?
Planned interactions (weekly polls and responses) are designed in RapidPro, our open source software platform that powers connections, engagements, and collaborations with beneficiaries, governments, and partners. In this bot, RapidPro lets us build out flows of questions U-Reporters will receive depending on how they answer the questions that came before it within the same poll. Unsolicited messages we receive from U-Reporters are handled by CasePro, a separate piece of software, that assigns messages to UNICEF partners based on keywords that map to partners’ programmatic areas of expertise.
What have you learned since launching? Any surprises or successes you want to share?
We are still in the early stages of deploying Messenger as a U-Report channel. So far we have 24 Messenger apps approved, (for various U-Report countries, 1 app for the global account, and 1 for RapidPro), 4 in various stages of setup and testing, and an additional 12 in the pipeline. Since our first app submission to Messenger, the time for review by Facebook to get the app approved has decreased significantly. Receiving feedback from Facebook quickly has been great for UNICEF country offices, as they’re often working against internal deadlines to launch the programme in their countries.
We have also learned that U-Reporters who communicate over Messenger seem to have a sense of community. They become linked to a preexisting Facebook page about issues they care about, and poll results get published there too. Bringing them onto the platform with this information and interaction makes them feel like they are part of a movement.
If you knew one thing when you started, what would you say that would be?
That partnering with Facebook would provide UNICEF with a unique opportunity to reach and engage more young people. With Messenger we can scale in more countries in all of our regions. We can also target specific audiences through Facebook so we can really pinpoint issues and topics that matter to certain audiences.
What will you build next?
A few things. We’d like to incorporate natural language processing to detect local languages and assess message intent so that we can meet the needs of U-Reporters and match them with appropriate partners with greater efficiency.
Because we need to make it easier for young people to speak out on the issues that affect them, and a lot of young people are on Facebook! Young people are more likely to engage on channels they are already using, so Facebook is a natural platform for us to use. We will continue adding more channels for U-Report globally so that we can continue to advocate for children’s rights.