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How this marketing agency used a bot to help empower freelancers and small businesses

Here are two new use cases for what chatbots can do: They can be tools for freelancer job training and economic development.

You already know that Messenger bots are powerful tools to help businesses increase sales and automate support. Now, there are two new use cases to add to the list: chatbots as tools for freelancer job training and economic development.

Our story begins in a small country in West Africa called The Gambia, which has a population of just over two million. Three-quarters of those citizens rely on agriculture for their livelihood. So when unpredictable events like droughts impact the output of that industry, the country’s entire economy is at risk. To help diversify the Gambian economy and build up other sectors, international organizations have set up certain programs—and one of them runs on chatbots.

In 2018, the International Trade Centre (ITC) planned one such initiative. The ITC is a global agency linked to the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, and the European Union, and one of their objectives is to promote economic growth in certain countries. They came up with a plan for The Gambia and partnered with a Danish marketing agency called GrowthBond to implement it in 2018. We spoke to their CEO, Ferdinand Kjærulff, to find out how his team used a Chatfuel bot to help promote and organize this unique project.

A plan to empower Gambian young people and small businesses

Kjærulff explained that the ITC identified a two-pronged problem in the Gambian business world. First, most small- and medium-sized businesses in Gambia don’t have the resources to harness the power of modern digital marketing. Very few have in-house talent with enough experience in the digital marketing space, and not many have room in their budget to hire outside help either.

Second, young people in Gambia lack opportunities to break into the world of digital marketing work. It’s nearly impossible to be competitive in the international freelance market without proper training, experience, and a strong portfolio. So with no local certifications, internships, or similar programs available to Gambians, their chances of breaking into the freelance marketing world were slim.

That’s where GrowthBond came in. They worked with the ITC to create a program to equip young Gambians with in-demand marketing skills. Then, they granted ITC funding to SMBs in the country so they could afford to hire the newly trained freelancers. That way, the businesses could get free marketing and the freelancers could gain experience—a perfect win-win.

The six-step program (chatbots included)

Over a period of six months, GrowthBond was responsible for “the selection, training, and supervision of the digital marketing students, as well as digital marketing consulting and local mentorship.” Here’s an overview of how the program they developed worked:

  1. Lead generation via Facebook ads

The first order of business was to spread the word about the program to promising young Gambians. GrowthBond set up Facebook ad campaigns advertising their digital-marketing training program for aspiring freelancers.

facebook ads sample
A sampling of the Facebook ads GrowthBond ran to get students for their new program.

  1. Lead qualification via chatbot

Of course, not every Gambian Facebook user would be the right fit for the program. So those who clicked the ads were redirected to Messenger. There, a chatbot that GrowthBond set up asked them lead-qualification questions to find out if they were eligible to participate. The group that made it through this round was whittled down even more after that with an in-depth questionnaire GrowthBond sent them next.

messenger chatbot
GrowthBond set up a chatbot to qualify leads for the training program.

  1. Course reminders via chatbot

The students who applied and were approved then received messages via chatbot with important information about the training courses, including reminders and helpful hints.

  1. Online training

The students could go through some of the freelancer training at their own pace in Thinkific. For the rest, GrowthBond hired two local mentors to run live trainings on Facebook. They reminded students about the trainings via chatbot and via email.

conversation rates
Stats for one of the live trainings GrowthBond's local mentors held for students on Facebook

  1. Email outreach

To get local SMBs on board with the project, GrowthBond reached out to many via email. They offered these businesses $50 USD in Facebook ad credits, plus $200 USD worth of freelancer work to help get them set up.

  1. A Facebook group and in-person meetings

GrowthBond also created a Facebook group for students who completed the course. They shared extra tips and advice there for their budding freelancers. The group also served as a place where the students could get feedback on their pitches and profiles, and share their success stories. In addition, the local mentors GrowthBond hired held in-person meetups where students could get support and input on their work.

chatbots for freelancers
One of the in-person advice and feedback sessions GrowthBond set up for its students

Once the students finished the training and gained experience working for the SMBs, they were ready to launch their careers as freelance marketers. The GrowthBond team continued to support the students for the first two months of their new adventure, to help them put what they’d learned into practice.

The role of Messenger bots in the training program

GrowthBond’s training program focused more on the basics of Facebook advertising than the basics of chatbot building. However, they did use Messenger bots to promote their program at different stages along the way. As a result, many students got their first exposure to chatbots. Plus, the bots helped the program grow and assisted the students in staying on track. GrowthBond used their Messenger bot for:

  • Lead generation. To generate leads and get students to apply for their freelance training program, GrowthBond ran a series of Facebook ads. They were click-to-Messenger ads, which meant that users were directed to a Messenger chatbot after clicking the CTA.

  • Lead qualification. Then, the marketing agency took advantage of a chatbot’s back-and-forth, conversational style to gather more information about program applicants. Based on the user’s answers to the questions, the bot could automatically approve qualifying students to move to the next round. It then saved the responses from qualified leads as attributes, and exported them to a Google Sheet automatically so the GrowthBond team could easily access the information.

  • Reminders. Once students were enrolled in the program, the GrowthBond agency used a chatbot to keep them on track with their studies. This program ran in 2018, well before Facebook’s 2020 policy changes. So although GrowthBond used a sequence of messages then to remind students about upcoming live classes, there are still several ways an agency could do this with a bot now. You could still set up a sequence that engages students daily, to keep reopening the 24-hour contact window. You could have students sign up for One-Time Notifications to remind them about the classes. Or, you could use sponsored messages to send reminders and other important course info.

chatbots for recruitment
GrowthBond used a Messenger chatbot to generate and qualify leads, and to send students reminders about their coursework.

Success stories from GrowthBond’s freelancer training program

GrowthBond got 370 applicants for their freelance marketing program initially. Of those, 180 showed up to the first online course sessions. From that group, GrowthBond chose 50 of the most promising candidates to move forward. Out of that group, 30 completed the course and started working as freelancers.

10 of them are currently generating revenue, “and are expected to make it as online freelancers,” according to Kjærulff. Considering that less than 20% of Gambians are internet users (compared to over 75% of Americans), these numbers represent a great start.

One of the program’s top success stories is a young man named Bakary Fatty, who earned $515 in freelance income during the program. His story “proves that, with proper education and motivation, anyone can reach his or her targets,” Kjærulff says.

chatbots for freelancers

To keep the program alive even after its six-month span, GrowthBond ran Facebook ads to companies in Africa to promote the services of these freelancers. After receiving interest from 130 companies, they turned off the campaign and got to work connecting them with students from the program. “We expect to continue receiving a constant flow of companies lined up to hire freelancers in the future,” says Kjærulff.

facebook ad copy
GrowthBond continued to run ads after the program was over to get more opportunities for the freelancers to build experience.

The power of Messenger bots for education and training

This story serves as a timely reminder that chatbots are powerful tools for education. And while Messenger bots have always been effective learning tools, their potential is even clearer during this global pandemic. Bots can help people build new skills from the safety of their own homes, whether those skills will help them complete a degree, explore a new field, or learn to bring in money remotely as a freelancer. It also reminds us that agencies and nonprofits will continue to be crucial players in how we recover and rebuild pieces of the economy that COVID-19 has damaged.

Start building a Messenger bot for free today to keep your customers informed, automate tasks, generate revenue, and more.