When they're not called Siri or Alexa, most chatbots try to sell you something in a very simple way. But are there also exciting use cases for institutions that want more than just money?

Chatbots are communication robots that mostly perform automated tasks. They can receive messages, read them and respond to them. Anyone who now has buzzwords like machine learning and artificial intelligence buzzing around in their head is rather off the mark: Learning chatbots like Siri and Alexa - or Microsoft's chatbot Tay, which Twitter turned into a racist within 24 hours - are the exception. Much more frequently, we encounter bots on the internet that respond to certain keywords with ready-made answers.

Unused potential

So far, chatbots have mainly been used in sales. In online shops, they help with support requests, customer enquiries, bookings and reservations. In the commercial sector, they offer another channel to intercept and address potential customers.

So far, so boring. But chatbots can do more: there's Novi, the Tagesschau chatbot, which isn't particularly clever either, but provides users with messages tailored to their interests on a daily basis. Or the chatbot of the savings bank that sends friends a personalised debt reminder for the last shared taxi ride.

Best practice: Chatbot e-Bert trains you in debating for Europe.  Read our Case Study >

These examples show that chatbots also lend themselves to interesting applications in marketing or political education. Possible applications include question-and-answer games, interactive FAQs, meme generators and more. Chatbots are interactive, can provide individual information and deal with user input. In contrast to a specially developed app, they are technically easy to realise - but behind every good bot is also a good editorial team.

A successful chatbot should manage the expectations placed on it: There is no complex AI writing here and this should be dealt with openly. If users know what they're dealing with, they can use the bot more sensibly and don't get frustrated immediately when a question goes nowhere.

Tools - what are the differences?

Chatbots usually communicate with us via common messengers such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Behind this there is always a chatbot tool in which the behaviour and conversation options of the bot have been set up and which is then played out via an interface on the respective messaging service. There are now many tools: From free to paid, from adaptive to database-based bots.

When choosing a tool, it is important to consider the channels on which the bot will be used. While Facebook offers its APIs openly, providers of chatbots for WhatsApp have to officially apply for a WhatsApp Business API. The market for WhatsApp chatbot tools is therefore somewhat smaller overall.

There are also clear differences in terms of the tools' capabilities: while some tools implement complex question-answer games, categorise users based on their answers and can write to them again via subscription, other tools only offer the simplest standard responses.

Who is reading?

Always relevant for our customers: What about data protection with chatbots? As is often the case, the market is dominated by American - and thus rather insecure - tools. In addition, there is the general crux: most chatbots ultimately run via data giants like Facebook and WhatsApp.

Anyone who integrates a chatbot running via Facebook and the like on their website should therefore ensure that the connection to the bot is only established after an opt-in click. However, it is safer to use German chatbot tools and an independent website integration that is not dependent on the well-known social media platforms.

As is so often the case, however, you run into other problems here: if you rely on German tools and secure channels, you have to cut back on the reach and functionality of the bots. We hope that something will happen soon on the German market.


During our work with chatbots we have learned two things above all: 1. one should not overestimate them: Chatbots will not revolutionise our online communication, but they offer a new, fresh way to reach and engage our supporters. 2. in the socio-political field, the potential of chatbots is still largely untapped: NGOs, science and politics should not leave the field to companies alone and give chatbots a chance.