Written by: YEUNG Tsz Wing, Anna
What is your first impression when you walk past a homeless person? Old, lazy or an alcoholic? Truth be told, there are many misconceptions the public hold against the homeless. This is problematic since it leads to the stigmatization of a population that is already marginalized.
Cyrenians, a Scottish independent organization, has always tried to break the stigma online and offline. Unfortunately, a dull topic and long paragraph can never catch public’s attention. Realizing how low the engagement rate was, Cyrenians decided to introduce a new form of communication – chatbot.
Every campaign planning starts with market researches. After distributing questionnaires and conducting interviews, Cyrenians found a number of stereotypes around youth homelessness. The campaign objective was therefore clear – to raise awareness of youth homelessness among Scots. But what is the most effective way to deliver the message? After all, educational videos from their previous campaign failed to receive more than three comments. Thanks to their partner agency Primate, the team discovered a live-chat service called chatbot.
Chatbots are built to automatically engage with received messages. In the past, this mechanism could only provide a scripted response; Not until the introduction of artificial intelligence that made dynamic responses possible. Meanwhile, according to a survey conducted by Drift, over 60% of respondents might use chatbots to receive instant response. This shows another gimmick of the chatbots, which they can answer questions swiftly so as to satisfy audience’s curiosity before they lose interest.
Choosing chatbot as the major communication channel is just one part of the puzzle. More importantly, the team needed to design a human-like chatbot instead of an overly formulaic system. With the help of scriptwriters, a fictional character named Alex was created. Alex’s story was based on a client’ s real-life experience. Although he was young and employed, he didn’t have a home because of a broken relationship. People shall ask questions that they might not feel comfortable asking in real life. Through several modifications, Alex could response sensibly and realistically, bringing the inquirers insights into challenges around youth homelessness and conflicts at home. To reach a wider audience, not only did Cyrenians make use of Facebook Messenger, it also programmed “Ask Alex” into wit.ai which allowed non-Facebook users to get a taste of this innovative idea.
This digital campaign was a huge success in that Cyrenians’ Facebook fans number has increased by 171%. Their engagement performance has had significant improvement as well – posts released after the campaign have gained 106% more likes, 84% more comments, and 70% more shares. Since public used Facebook accounts to chat with Alex, their shared personal information become powerful lead sources for remarketing.
Moreover, as the campaign was centered on a fabricated homeless youngster, this pitch-able interesting element was widely featured on STV nationally and a wide range of press including technical papers, Third Force News and local press.
 David, H. (2017, April 26). Digital campaign: Cyrenians launches Facebook bot to educate on homelessness. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2DjB7cd
 Ian, G. (2018, May 22). Find out how a chat bot called Alex is helping raise awareness and inspire future service delivery ideas. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2WQ1mQp
 Matt, G. (2018, July 23). How To Position Your Live Chatbots To Increase Engagement. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2UO0wBU