How to design a chatbot for music journalists – a guide for journalists

Evee By Evee, 29th Oct 2017 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Technology>Computer Software

A guide for journalists who would like to create their own music bot

Chatbots and journalism

When chatbots became an even bigger talking point in the tech world last year, journalism was not immune from bot fever and that year news rooms and publications released their own news bots. Some of these were bots with a US election theme, or specifically a Trump tweet theme. Some went down the more traditional route of recommending articles based on topics. Others tried to be quirky and human, and some were possibly built for the purposes of misinformation. This year, news bots are still going strong.

Writers are continuing the discussion about chatbots and journalism, and how the two entities overlap. Recently, I wrote an article about the current state of music bots and music journalism. I found that even though chatbots are beginning to act like music journalists, they are in no way displacing them – not even close. Looking at it from a different perspective, music journalists can benefit from this chatbot evolution. Playlist discovery bots and concert locator bots can be a useful tool for journalists. Chatbots that instantly provide the latest news about an artist have the potential to make a music journalists’ day more efficient. In the overlap between music journalism and chatbots, there is an opportunity to ‘create’ more time.

Speaking from my own experience writing about music, approximately forty to fifty percent of the time I spend on an article is spent doing research. This percentage varies depending on the topic, but generally this is the norm. For a ‘top 5 songs’ article that takes fifty minutes to complete, twenty-five minutes is spent on the internet collecting references and information. For a feature that takes twenty hours over four days to write, a minimum of eight hours is spent doing research. There are exceptions – articles that are seventy percent research and thirty percent writing, and features that have been in my drafts folder for weeks because they are very much reliant on one hundred and twenty percent certainty.

I can’t speak for every journalist, but I thoroughly enjoy spending an afternoon gathering huge volumes of information about one single topic. It’s a form of healthy hoarding, and the world needs lots of hoarding journalists. Unfortunately, spending a day researching usually doesn’t mean money in your bank account, and if you’re doing this freelance or for nothing then any day spent not contributing good content to your articles feels like a waste. We would be living the dream if life didn’t make financial demands on our time, and sadly the realities of journalism and of music journalism is that they are difficult things to make a steady living out of. It takes time to write great articles, to break into the industry and to build an audience – this is where a guide to making your own personal music bot could be your time saving strategy.

Creating your own music bot

The reason why I’m recommending that you add a music bot to your journalistic repertoire is primarily down to the increased level of engagement it provides for your readers, and the knock-on effect of ‘creating’ more time for you. The chatbot provides the opportunity for dialogue and two-way communication between you and your audience. Instead of an email being sent out to your readers, where the conversation ends as soon as they finish reading it, sending out weekly or daily updates in your chatbot allows your readers to respond in that same chatbot with feedback, or their own thoughts on the topic. All of this means that you save time for the next update, or the next article. You’re building a relationship with your audience. This level of engagement means you can tailor playlists for them. You can discover what is they are interested in. You can introduce them to new music and find out quite easily what they thought of it. It’s getting to know your demographic. One of the problems that journalism is facing is a problem of readership and of trust in the news, and in those who deliver the news. By allowing your audience to become part of the process, you are not only making your own job more efficient, but you might also be future proofing your own career.

The example I’m going to provide is a ‘Top 10 tracks for the week’’ chatbot guide.

Step one: Grab and pen and some paper. Write down what it is you want your chatbot to do: I want my chatbot to provide a weekly top ten for my readers, and I want it to be sent out every Friday – easy. Now you need to sketch out the conversation you envisage happening between the bot and the user. The process of designing the chatbot is easier when you have done this first.

“Hi, I’m the MusicNow bot. Shay created me to send you some killer tracks every Friday and to hear what you think about the music you love. If you haven’t already, would you like to sign up to the weekly broadcast? You can go straight to the top 10 if you like and sign up later.’’

Yes / No / Tell me more / Go to the music - these are the options for the user to select.

This is a good opening statement for a number of reasons. The question it asks – “if you haven’t already…’’ – will ensure that brand new users are made aware of the broadcast and can sign up, and that returning users who have not yet signed up have the option to do so. Also, allowing them to go straight to the top ten gives them a chance to see what you are offering before they make the commitment to receive the updates.

If yes, then they want to be added to that list of people you send the update to – great, reply with a thank you. If no, then follow up with something like this: “OK, no problem. You can still stay tuned in to Shay’s writing here on their blog , and you can still access the top 10 every week by returning to his bot’’. ‘Tell me more’ means you need to describe what the update entails. Remember, if the user refuses the offer of signing up to the broadcast, you still need to ask them if they would like to be directed to the top ten.

Step two: Start building the chatbot. I recommend using SnatchBot for this. It provides you with everything you need. It doesn’t matter if you are completely new to chatbots because it has done all the coding for you and it has guides for everything. You can either read their built-in guides, or watch their Youtube videos.

You’ll need to learn how to create interactions in your chatbot; this is the bread and butter of any bot you make. You will also need to understand how to add quick replies, text cards (for your music URLs or other links), and email extraction (if you are broadcasting over email).

Publishing your music bot

I’m going to fast forward to the point where you have watched the Youtube videos about how to create your first bot, and you have one ready – the conversation you sketched out earlier is now in your bot, which you’ve tested out and are happy with. Excellent work. Also, don’t be afraid to add in some personality and an emoji now and then – the experience should also be fun.

Step three: Connect your chatbot to your platform. Most chatbots floating around in the netherworld are on Messenger so you can go with this option, or just put it on your own website or plug it into Skype. There is a handy guide for how to do this here.

Step four: When people have interacted with your bot and have agreed to receive a weekly broadcast – this is important because receiving things you don’t ask for is annoying, and you also don’t want to breach your platform’s terms of use for bots - create your broadcast and send it to those people. You will need to have your top ten ready in the chatbot for when they interact with it.

If you’re sending this broadcast over Messenger or Skype, you can say something like: “Hi, Shay’s top ten is ready. If you would like to hear it, just reply to this message’’. The user will be brought to the initial interaction in your bot, and from there they can click ‘take me to the music’ – and that’s it! The bot takes care of announcing your new top ten to the world, all you need to do is press send.

Again, there is a video for this entitled ‘How to send a broadcast message on SnatchBot platform: 4 steps’ which tells you exactly what to do. Each week you will have to change the top ten content, and also tailor the opening statement to an introduction suitable for that weeks’ music. What’s great about this broadcast feature is you can create it in advance and schedule it for a later date. And because you are able to add URLs into your bot, your audience has everything they need to engage with the music. There are a number of platforms you can use for this, but SnatchBot stands out from the rest because not only is it free, it is also multi-channel and it has a market place where you can browse chatbot templates.

New technologies and journalism

The point of this article is to firstly provide you with a guide for how to create one type of journalistic music bot so that your job is made that little bit easier. Secondly, I want to highlight the potential that exists in the overlap between chatbots and journalism for a beneficial collaboration between journalists and technology. Some journalists are pointing to the uptake of these emerging technologies as a possible solution to the problems journalists face today. There is a happy medium that can be maintained between bots and humans when we take the time to understand the technology and our own relationship to it. And for a music journalist, this technology could be the answer to the ever increasing pressures and demands to deliver more.


Chatbot, How To, Journalism, Music, Snatchbot, Technology

Meet the author

author avatar Evee
Music journalist and content creator. I also love discussing sexuality, gender, and the joys of sex positive technology, toys, and ideas.

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