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The Message: MAMA Festivals/Live Nation

The Message, in partnership with I AM POP, is a monthly insight into the latest direct message and Facebook Messenger marketing methods.

For this edition, Camella Agalbayan from MAMA Festivals describes how the company is using Messenger to market Lovebox Festival, among other events. (Read the last column, with Green House Group and End of the Road festival, here.)

 


Who are you, and what is your role in music marketing?
My name is Camella Agalbayan and I am senior marketing manager at Live Nation’s MAMA Festivals. I oversee the marketing and design team for Lovebox Festival and Citadel Festival, and I am also involved in Wilderness Festival and the Great Escape Festival.

Why did you start experimenting with direct-to-fan messaging? How does it fit in with your marketing strategy, and what lessons have you learned along the way?
We’re conscious as a company that our events are focused heavily on experience. We’ve always been a very dedicated team who aim to respond to as many emails and questions as we can. But as we grow as a company, it gets harder to have a one-to-one experience with every guest.

We felt the Messenger channel was a good place to filter the obvious questions, so we could spend more time taking care of special cases that demanded more attention. We’ve also used the Messenger channel as a way to incentivise our current audiences by giving them information before anybody else.

You used I AM POP’s tool to market the 2018 edition of Lovebox Festival. Could you tell us something about how you went about getting people to subscribe to the festival’s Messenger channel?
We were quite traditional in that sense – simply because we were still testing the efficacy of the channel, and we’re conscious we have a huge audience with high demands – so 2018 was very much a ‘beta’ version of how we’ll be marketing Lovebox Festival for 2019.

All our social content is paid, so we simply integrated this messaging through our content calendar. This way, we could track clicks, sign-ups and return from our posts.

“It’s a good way to filter out the noise”

How did you run your messaging campaign after that? How was it received?
I think people are much more aware about Messenger marketing on Facebook and its purpose, so it’s much easier nowadays to promote your Messenger channel. We’re not being much more playful with how it’s being used, necessarily. Instead, we’re focusing on how we can ensure people get the right information, as well as how we can use it as a marketing tool to increase brand loyalty and build our brand identity.

Can you share some stats from the campaign? How did the open rates and ticket sales do, for instance?
The open rates are amazing! The last broadcast we sent out regarding the Lovebox Festival line-up announcement had over 84% open rates. We make sure to ‘filter’ audiences on Messenger as much as possible, so people are aware about what they are signing up to. I think transparency is key, so you can forge a small community of loyal fans.

Direct-message marketing calls for a different approach to traditional marketing channels like social and email. What kind of approaches do you think work best for direct message marketing in the live music space?
We’ve always been very transparent with our messaging in general. We have really strong brands and create huge worlds in which our artwork, tone of voice and programming comes to life. It’s important to be consistent with that messaging, and we ensure that everything from our website to our newsletters to our communications in general all fit into the same world. With direct messaging you can definitely be more playful with how you reach out to the fan and make it more friendly, and less targeted around sales, specifically.

“A new strategy for us this year is to create small communities of fans within Lovebox that feel special”

Have you already started using direct-to-fan messaging to promote the 2019 edition of Lovebox? If so, how? And how are you planning to proceed?
Indeed we have. A new strategy for us this year is to create small communities of fans within Lovebox that feel special. We are working with a small Lovebox ‘squad’ (to be announced in April), for example, who will be involved in artwork, photography and design for the show.

With our Messenger channel, we want those fans to feel they have signed up to something that has a purpose, which is why we have decided to make sure they are always the first to be in the know before anyone else. Whether it’s dropping a poster, launching a merch line or access to afterparty ticket, our Messenger subscribers will be the first to hear about it!

Do you work on any other projects where Messenger marketing might prove useful?
Citadel is another festival I run. We intend to use Messenger this year, as we want to ensure people can get adequate information about the show easily.

We moved site last year and we tend to vary in audiences depending on the headliner, so it’s important for those new guests to know everything is there for them to explore.

Any final words of advice for other people wanting to get into direct-to-fan messaging?
I definitely think the Messenger channel has been a great add-on to our marketing campaign. It helps us keep things streamlined online and target the right people with the right information.

It’s a good way to filter out the noise when you have some guests that require specific attention, but can also be a really easy and playful tool that lets you have fun with your fans and enhance brand loyalty.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free digest of essential live music industry news, via email or Messenger.

Start your free I AM POP trial today. IQ readers can claim an additional 30% discount on their first three months by emailing harry@iampop.com.

The Message: Green House Group and End of the Road

The Message, in partnership with I AM POP, is a new monthly insight into the latest direct message and Facebook Messenger marketing methods.

For the first edition, Alex Lee Thomson from Green House Group describes how the company is using I AM POP’s Messenger platform to market End of The Road Festival, among other events.

 


Who are you, and what is your role in music marketing?
I’m Alex Lee Thomson, director of Green House Group, a music marketing company that works with bands and festivals to help them reach fans. Recently, we’ve worked with the Specials on their no 1 album campaign, and the Kooks biggest ever headline show announcements.

You’ve been integrating direct-to-fan messaging in your marketing strategies for a while now. What lessons have you learned along the way?
As it’s not a platform which sits there visibly, being engaged with day to day, it does sometimes get a bit forgotten in terms of admin. To really maximise its value though, you need to keep adding new subscribers.

You have to keep coming up with ways to incentivise signing up – it just being there is only going to provide a trickle of interest, so properly integrate its development into your wider marketing strategy. Work it into your plans every week and don’t forget about it.

You used I AM POP’s tool to market the last edition of the End Of The Road Festival. Could you tell us how you went about getting people to subscribe to the festival’s Messenger channel?
Our first mention was simply letting followers know it was there, and that it was a portal for information. Ahead of that we made sure the channel was set up to cater for all the key FAQs, so it would act as an easy to navigate version of the website’s info section.

Where we didn’t want to drag it into too much detail, we simply out-linked back to the main site for more information. It’s always good to remember the user experience. You can get carried away trying to put the whole website on there, but try to keep it streamlined… and fun to use!

After launch we included the Messenger link in standard info posts going forward. Where in previous years we would link to the site, now, we let people start their quest for knowledge on Messenger instead. It became part of the standard marketing vocabulary, so we were always adding new people as we went along.

It’s worth bearing any exclusive content in mind as an incentive to get people hooked – for instance you could offer cryptic clues as to what some of the bands are you’re going to announce in the build-up. If you’re feeling particularly ballsy, you could even announce some acts on Messenger exclusively.

Setting up a competition element is always a winner as well. Maybe give away some merch or tickets to a random subscriber each month. I’d love to say there’re some big secrets we’re keeping close to our chest, but done well it’s as simple as making sure it works, tell people to go there and give them a reason to.

You have to keep coming up with ways to incentivise signing up”

How did you run your messaging campaign after that? How was it received?
Part of the user journey was creating-sub groups, where we could direct specific posts. For instance, if you keep a weekly updated Spotify playlist, you should segment this somewhere in your automated broadcast. Then, when you make additions to the playlist, you can let all your listeners know.

Same for travel, merchandise, stage times and anything else, really. If you think ahead to what you might need further down the line, start integrating that into your Messenger channel as soon as you can in a fluid way. Knowing that the audience is a bit more inner-circle, and very immediate, it’s a good place to run countdown messages with some element of emergency.

As an example, for End of the Road we let subscribers know that there were only a few hundred tickets left for the event. Likewise, if you’re down to only a few merch items, you can let your subscribers know first, as they’ll be more likely to buy, and it keeps some sales messages away from main channels. We also shared key information on secondary ticket selling once the festival was sold out, and directed solo travellers to a bespoke group we set up on Facebook.

You used a direct message to inform visitors of the festival to bring cash for parking costs, which was a smart move. Were the effects noticeable?
Heck, it’s often hard to gauge the real-world effect of digital marketing at the best of times. However, during the event we received, I think, no messages about this via social comments or messages. As they say, no news is good news – which I hope means that it all just clicked together well and all attendees knew what to do.

Can you share some stats from the campaign? How were the open rates and ticket sales, for instance?
Like a lot of our use of the Messenger platform, we received a much higher view rate for our posts compared to traditional social messages. After multiple posts over the last 12 months we have a 98.9% average open rate on our Messenger broadcasts. The post about car parking had a 100% open rate as this was directed only at people who over the campaign had clicked our ‘travelling by car’ segmented group.

The ability to highly target this information, which on the face of it is quite dry and only applicable to some, is for me one of the most exciting aspects of the platform. Using this as part of a wider marketing campaign, I’m happy to say that all tickets sold out.

We have launched the Messenger platform for all of our events now, which, in fact, all sold out in 2018. Considering they are all independent festivals, with modest marketing budgets, this is a huge win for us at Green House Group. 

Even if you’re not sure yet how to integrate Messenger into a wider campaign, get it set up and start building subscribers now”

Direct message marketing calls for a different approach than traditional marketing channels like socials and email. What kind of approaches do you think work best for direct message marketing in the live music space?
One of the selling points of Messenger is that it’s so instantaneous. You get to broadcast to everybody you want, directly into people’s pocket without having to work around algorithms or wait for organic pick-up or viral sharing. And then sharing something that reaches everybody you want it to.

This does however mean that we have to treat the Messenger audience differently, and not dilute the approach, upsetting fans who might feel they are being spammed. It’s very much a ‘less is more’ dynamic. It can be viewed as quite invasive, which is a big selling point, but you should be careful not to milk it. We don’t want to abuse the trust that subscribers have given us by signing up.

It’s not about daily messages and repetition – it’s about giving some inner-circle content, having useful information there when needed, and letting the users decide what content they do and don’t want.

You have the ability to hyper-target your broadcasts, rather than being broad and accessible like you would on a Facebook post. Keep it niche. From an artist point of view, you can create messages and experiences for people at each gig, maybe offering polls on what song to open with, or access to exclusive merch available for one night only. Stuff that isn’t relevant to every one of your fans. A bunch of acts now offer recordings of shows, which you can offer to people who then engage with on-the-night activations by tucking them into a segment group for the show.  

How are you planning to use direct-to-fan messaging for the 2019 End Of The Road Festival’s marketing campaign?
As always, the festival has some fun tricks up its sleeve. You’ll have to subscribe to find out what, though! Needless to say that it will once again serve as a hub for important information, and perhaps the odd (very pleasant) surprise.

Any final words of advice for other people wanting to get into direct-to-fan messaging?
Don’t waste time getting this set up. Even if you’re not sure yet how to integrate Messenger into a wider campaign, get it set up and start building subscribers now.

Then really take your time to build the user journey, making sure there are no dead ends. If people go there, don’t like it and want to unsubscribe, you’re very unlikely to win them back. Or worse, the whole experience pisses them off.

Take small steps if you have to: start with a, “Hello, thanks for subscribing”, and build it from there as and when you can, never forgetting to go back and keep every arm of your flows updated as you go.

Figure out your segments ahead of time, as well, and incorporate them from the off. Even if you’re not sure how you want to speak to them yet. If you never use a segment, it doesn’t matter.

Then once you’ve built your app, keep messaging to only the most vital aspects that needs attention. The more casual posts you do, the less interested people will be – especially if it’s messages they’ve already seen on other platforms. Do not treat it like Twitter or Facebook, because it’s not them. It’s a different universe. Learn as you go along, but start now.

 


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free digest of essential live music industry news, via email or Messenger.

Start your free I AM POP trial today. IQ readers can claim an additional 30% discount on their first three months by emailing harry@iampop.com.

Ticketek unveils its new event finder chatbot

Ticketek, Australia’s leading entertainment ticketing platform, has launched its own chatbot, Ticketek Event Finder, for Facebook Messenger. The company has a social media audience of more than 10 million.

The chatbot will allow users to browse and discover events, while also buying tickets for them, all from the same Facebook chat without having to leave the page, making the process of buying tickets easier and faster. Customers will also be able to receive customer service through searching frequently asked questions.

Geoff Jones, the CEO of parent company TEG, says the chatbot is the latest innovation under the company’s Ignition programme. “Ticketek Ignition opens our internal network and systems to enable multiple ticket purchasing experiences across multiple platforms and partner systems,” he explains. “The chatbot development is enabled by our real-time content APIs, which put Ticketek at the leading edge of customer engagement and multi-channel integration.”

“With the Ticketek chatbot it has never been easier to find, save and enquire about the latest events in Australian sports and entertainment”

“Best of all, he adds, the chatbot has come from a great collaboration with Facebook and [developer] Social House Media, on the back of consultation with our venue and event partners. With the Ticketek chatbot it has never been easier to find, save and enquire about the latest events in Australian sports and entertainment. This will offer a seamless customer experience and a new way to explore ticketing options.”

Ticketek is not the first ticket company to utilise chat chatbots, however: back in 2016 StubHub partnered with Skype to release the StubHub bot, and Facebook already released a chatbot with Live Nation last year.

 


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Live Nation launches own Messenger bot

Live Nation Entertainment has followed its subsidiary, Ticketmaster, in launching a chatbot for Facebook Messenger, with the aim of converting more of the 1.3bn people who use the app every month into Live Nation customers.

Bots have increased in popularity in the music business in recent months, with StubHub (for Skype), Universal Music (text message-based) and ticket search engine TickX (for Messenger) among the companies now using so-called conversational commerce to sell tickets.

Live Nation explains how its bot works:

Or, if you can’t imagine it, the gif below shows how to buy tickets with friends:

Live Nation chatbot, sharing with friends

 

“Concerts are extremely social experiences, and we’re excited to introduce a concert discovery tool that embodies that social spirit,” says Lisa Licht, Live Nation Concerts’ CMO. “Whether fans choose to interact with our new bot one on one, or get their friends involved in the planning, we think they’ll have a lot of fun finding shows to go to.”

The bot is live now, initially featuring events in North America. To start chatting, users can search for ‘Live Nation Concerts’ in the Messenger app or visit Live Nation Concerts’ Facebook page and click the ‘message’ button.

 


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Ticketmaster debuts own Messenger bot

Ticketmaster has become the latest ticketer to get in on the chatbot craze, unveiling its first bot, Ticketmaster Assistant, for Facebook Messenger.

Like TickX’s recently launched Messenger chatbot and StubHub’s similar bot for Skype, Ticketmaster Assistant is an event-discovery tool that recommends shows via a ‘conversation’ with the user. Users can filter events based on date, location, genre or a specific artist: for example, IQ tried “What concerts are on in London tonight?” (25, apparently, including Ed Sheeran at The O2 and Rick Astley at Hampton Court Palace) and “Jazz on 25 September” (three people called Katie Thiroux, Oleta Adams and Al Di Meola, in Jacksonville, Florida; Hollywood, California; and Scottsville, Arizona, respectively).

I'm excited to finally meet you all! Message me so I can help you discover and search for live events around the world.

Posted by Ticketmaster Assistant on Wednesday, 21 June 2017

 

Or, in the words of Ticketmaster: “Start with a simple, “What’s happening tonight?”, and see all the live event options in your area, including concerts, sports, arts and theatre, comedy and more.

“Or get more specific from the beginning: “Is Lady Gaga playing in New York this year?” – spoiler alert: she is and we have tickets available, but don’t take our word for it, ask for yourself.”

Messenger – used by more than 1.2 billion monthly users – recently introduced in-chat payments, although it appears Ticketmaster isn’t yet using that functionality, instead sending those who click on links to the Ticketmaster site.

 


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TickX unveils world-first Messenger chatbot

UK tech start-up TickX – the ticket search engine, or ‘Skyscanner for live events’, which last year turned down £75,000 in funding from BBC’s Dragons’ Den – has taken the wraps off its first Facebook chatbot, which it hopes will revolutionise the ticket-buying process.

Developed by a team led by Aayush Chadha, an 18-year-old student of artificial intelligence at the University of Manchester, the bot plugs directly into TickX’s search engine, allowing users to search for tickets to more than 70,000 events from 35+ sellers without ever leaving the Facebook Messenger app.

“The benefits to users are twofold,” Sam Coley, TickX’s co-founder and CTO, tells IQ. “Firstly, chatbots make it quicker and easier to get answers to complex questions. For example, you can ask TickX, ‘When is the cheapest ticket to see The Lion King in July?’, and one second later have the answer and link to compare and buy tickets. The second benefit is that millions of people spend hours on Facebook Messenger each day, so now they can click straight into TickX in one click – [there are] no apps to download, and no need to open a website.”

TickX is the first event ticketing company to take advantage of conversational commerce on the Facebook Messenger app, which has more than 1.2 billion monthly users.

“You can ask TickX, ‘When is the cheapest ticket to see The Lion King in July’, and one second later have the answer and a link to buy tickets”

The launch of the new bot – which goes live on 1 June – follows the pilot launch of a chatbot for Skype by StubHub last August, although the StubHub app is restricted to its own marketplace (one of many crawled by TickX). Seattle start-up ReplyYes, meanwhile, has made a success of selling merch and vinyl via standard text messages.

Coley says the feedback to the beta version of the bot has been “incredibly positive”, although he reveals the company, which is backed by £925,000 in private-equity funding, is already working on its next innovation.

“This Messenger bot really is just the first step for us in making it easier to search events and compare tickets,” he explains. “Over the next few months, alongside continuing to improve our Facebook application we’ll also be rolling out to voice-based assistances such as Amazon Alexa.”

Watch the chatbot in action below – or try it for yourself at m.me/tickx.uk.

 


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Party like a Russian: Trends in ticketing

The ticketing market in Russia has largely developed according to its own rules. While the era of electronic tickets didn’t begin until the late 2000s, the sector is now in the process of rapid formation.

According to news agency Intermedia, the turnover of the market for cultural events (excluding cinema and sports) in Russia topped US$1.2 billion in 2014, and experts estimate the size of ticketing industry to be around $2bn.

At the end of March, the first conference in Russia on ticketing solutions and technologies, Moscow Ticketing Forum, was held in the Russian capital. The conference brought together around 600 key market players from Russia and beyond to discuss the state and future development of the Russian ticketing market. While delegates showed a high level of expertise, our European colleagues can learn much from the Russian approach and experience.

I believe that Russia can undoubtedly become a trendsetter in technological development in the global ticketing market and in the entertainment industry.

Our European colleagues can learn much from the Russian approach and experience

Online vs offline
By the end of 2016, 65–70% of all tickets sold in Moscow and St Petersburg were paperless. While this percentage is obviously smaller in the regions of Russia, where it averages 30%, it is expected that sales of electronic tickets will continue to increase, reaching 80% in larger cities this year.

Electronic tickets in Russia are bought mostly by millennials, with paperless sales of up to 60–70% at youth-focused concerts and events. However, a majority of ticket sales in Russia are still offline.

Monopoly vs diversification
In comparison to international ticketing markets, there is no monopoly in Russia. While CTS Eventim dominates in Europe and Ticketmaster in North America, the Russian market is more diversified. Tickets for most events are sold through several major ticket agencies, including parter.ru (Eventim’s local operation), kassir.ru, ponominalu.ru, concert.ru and many others.

In Russia, as elsewhere, each ticketing partner is allocated a quota by the event promoter, with each selling only their own quota and taking a fee on any tickets sold. This means customers visiting a ticket agency’s website can only view that seller’s inventory.

Most experts in Russia consider the ‘quota’ system of ticket distribution to be obsolete

Imagine what would happen if airline tickets were sold on a quota model. Each aggregator would show only its own limited pool of tickets – with business-class tickets available on one service, tickets in the middle of the plane on another and seats closer to the tail on a third.

This distribution model is still used in both the Russian and international markets. Most market experts in Russia, however, now consider this approach obsolete.

 


 

Trend #1: Towards a global distribution system
The answer is a ‘global distribution system’, wherein all tickets are available for purchase through all possible channels, as it is in the aviation industry.

Through global-distribution technology, it is possible for promoters to open access for all tickets to be sold by all ticket distributors. Under a global distribution system, all distributors receive equal access to the ticket database in real time.

A transition to this model is beneficial for event promoters, who can connect to as many tickets distributors as they want. It increases sales – as every customer can have access to all tickets in their budget in one convenient place – and allows promoters to accumulate data, previously held by ticket agencies, about their audience.

One such global-distribution service in Russia is Tickets Cloud, a cloud-based platform that allows promoters to connect to an unlimited number of distributors – such as ticket agencies, social media sites and artists’ fan clubs – to sell tickets around the world.

More than 30% of Russian theatres are now utilising global distribution systems, as well as several concert venues in Moscow, including YotaSpace (1,500-cap.) and Crocus City Hall (7,500-cap.)

 


 

Trend #2: Social selling
As Steve Machin, CEO of Accent Media (.tickets), said at Moscow Ticketing Forum: “The amount of tickets sold via social networks is constantly growing, and we can not deny it.”

According to local experts, promoters who consciously rely on sales through Vkontakte – a Facebook-like social network, the most popular in Russia – sell an average of 30% of their tickets through the service, and this trend is set to continue.

 


 

Trend #3: Secondary opportunities
The Russian secondary market in its current state is still unregulated and largely outside the law, with ticket brokers paying no taxes. This niche, therefore, is ripe for technological innovation, and a number of Russian start-ups are working in this direction.

Enter Eticket4 – Russia’s first online ticket marketplace. This start-up was presented in a competition for ticketing technology at Moscow Ticketing Forum and was well received by delegates.

 


 

Moscow Ticketing Forum demonstrated that ticketing industry players, both inside and outside Russia, realise the importance of new technology in not only increasing sales but developing the entire live music industry.

Blockсhain, chatbots, tools for dynamic pricing… All are gradually penetrating the Russian market – and all are being welcomed.

 


Katerina Kirillova is general director of Euroshow Moscow and managing director of Moscow Ticketing Forum.

UMG, ReplyYes to sell tickets with chatbots

As predicted by ReplyYes CEO Dave Cotter last year, the chatbot-based ecommerce platform is to begin selling concert tickets as part of a new partnership with label giant Universal Music Group (UMG).

Cotter told IQ in that ReplyYes’s ‘conversation commerce’ technology, which makes personalised product recommendations through text messages, has the potential to transform live music ticketing following a successful launch selling vinyl records and comic books. (The Edit, ReplyYes’s daily vinyl recommendation service, has sold more than 100,000 albums via text in its first 18 months in operation.)

The company’s deal with UMG, announced on Friday, is described as “an exclusive agreement to create a host of new engagement and shopping opportunities for UMG artists and their fans worldwide”, including for tickets, merch and recorded music.

“At UMG, we want to empower our artists and labels to leverage new technologies that help them build deeper relationships with their fans,” comments Universal’s senior vice-president of consumer engagement, Peter Sinclair. “ReplyYes helps us accomplish exactly that.

“Our recording artists, songwriters and labels benefit from these exciting new forms of fan engagement and merchandising that are created by conversational commerce”

“Our recording artists, songwriters and labels benefit from these exciting new forms of fan engagement and merchandising that are created by conversational commerce. We are excited to work with ReplyYes, and even more excited for the millions of fans around the world who will experience this new and direct way of interacting with their favourite artists.”

The Seattle-based start-up has also announced it has raised US$6.5 million in series-A funding from a consortium of venture-capital investors.

A statement from Madrona Venture Group, one of the firms leading the funding round, says: “We believe that mobile messaging will play a major role in the future of ecommerce. ReplyYes is at the centre of major macro technology trends: ecommerce, mobile, messaging and artificial intelligence.

“With the success of their vinyl music store, The Edit, […] and by bringing on major partners like UMG, ReplyYes has proven that their ecommerce over mobile messaging platform has a huge opportunity ahead of it.”

 


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StubHub creates first ticketing chatbot for Skype

Video chat service Skype has rolled out a suite of new third-party chatbots, among them a StubHub bot that ‘talks’ to users and recommends events in their local area.

The chatbot was developed at the Bot Hackathon at Skype’s offices in Palo Alto, California, in late June by StubHub engineers Pablo Flores and Carlos Lopez and joins other bots by flight comparison sites Skyscanner and Hipmunk, task automator IFTTT and, er, Spock from Star Trek.

The event, co-sponsored by Skype and Microsoft, aimed to develop a new framework that will allow developers to build bots that also work on Facebook Messenger, Kik Messenger and SMS.

“StubHub for Skype makes finding your next great experience as easy as chatting with friends”

“We’ve been working closely with StubHub, one of the world’s largest ticket marketplaces, to bring you a fun, simple way to find your tickets to an amazing event,” says a statement from Skype. “Add the StubHub bot to find tickets to some of life’s most memorable artists, athletes, performers and experiences – all in one chat. StubHub for Skype makes finding your next great experience as easy as chatting with friends.”

In May IQ spoke to Dave Cotter, the CEO of Seattle tech start-up ReplyYes, which has sold over US$1 million worth of vinyl records using its own chatbots, who predicted the technology could also be applied to concert tickets.

 


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Could chatbots soon be selling concert tickets?

The CEO of a Seattle tech start-up which has sold over US$1 million worth of vinyl records in eight months through a text message-based ‘conversational commerce’ channel says the technology could soon also be applied to concert tickets.

ReplyYes chief Dave Cotter, a former Amazon general manager and the co-founder of the private SquareHub social network for families, tells IQ its first two channels – the aforementioned The Edit, and Origin Bound, which sells comic books/graphic novels – are “just the beginning”, and that the live music business is poised to take advantage of the growing trend towards text-based ecommerce chatbots.

So how does ReplyYes work? Each person who signs up to The Edit or Origin Bound (by texting ‘start’ to join the service) receives a text message daily with a personalised record or comic suggestion. Users can then reply ‘yes’ to purchase the item, or ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ to help ReplyYes’s algorithm learn their preferences.

“Beyond the ability to be able to deliver messages more quickly than email, there’s no app people have to download, which reduces the friction,” explains Cotter. “In other words, text messaging works on every phone, smartwatch or any device that supports SMS.”

“The chat platform is really exciting right now. It offers a much more intimate channel for retailers and brands to connect with their customers, and with much better open rates”

However, “the nuances of human conversations are really hard for a bot to handle”, he continues (just ask Microsoft, whose Tay chatbot became a sex-crazed Holocaust-denier in less than a day), so ReplyYes has humans on the other end of the phone, too. “When bots can’t handle it, it can be a really bad customer experience. Bots are good at tasks, not conversations; this is why [we have] human operators as well, to jump in when bots aren’t right for the job.”

These human operators – unlike, say, the staff of a call centre in Bangalore – are also experts in their field, picked for their “deep knowledge of the channel”. (The staff of The Edit, for example, include a “puppy-loving neighbourhood riot grrrl”, a “feisty text artisan who puts the ‘wreck’ in ‘record'”, a Golden Girls-watching, Justin Bieber-loving, ‘Psycho Killer’-singing vinyl therapist and Britanny, who is “fuelled by laughter and driven by hip hop.”)

While ReplyYes is by no means alone in exploring the possibilities of chatbots for ecommerce – Facebook, for example, earlier this month announced the launch of a feature that will enable businesses to offer automated customer support via its Messenger app – it remains one of the most successful examples so far of how the technology can be harnessed to build a solid customer base, boasting 50,000 users across both platforms, and has secured over $2.5m in investment from various venture-capitalist groups since its inception.

“I do think it’s great for live [music],” concludes Cotter. “The chat platform is really exciting right now. It offers a much more intimate channel for retailers and brands to connect with their customers, and with much better open rates.”