Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Self-Service for Online Communities. Embrace the robots, but keep the humans

Artificial Intelligence is something of a buzz term around online communities right now.

The promise of a utopian community paradise where 99.9% of a community managers workload is managed by super-intelligent algorithms, leaving them free to bask in the sun of ultimate member approval and attend year-long digital nomad retreats seems within reach.

The Artificial Intelligence juggernaut is coming, and with it will come the rise of Intelligent Self-Service (ISS)

What Is Intelligent Self-Service? Is Skynet Coming For Us?!

Fear not, we aren’t facing the apocalypse just yet. Intelligent Self-Service links together a plethora of exciting emerging smart technology that is powered by an open source Artificial Intelligence engine.

At its heart, ISS takes the self-service piece into the assisted service area allowing your member to sit in the driving seat and control the journey. ISS allows your members to choose the path that is right for them.

Let’s look at some of the features of an I.S.S. ecosystem:

  • Public forums
  • Blogs
  • Knowledge base hubs
  • Chatbots
  • Automated telephony
  • Intelligent virtual assistants

If this looks exciting you’re in good company, not least because this approach lets the user select the channel of their choice whether that be online, in-store or at an event. The use of the word ecosystem is very deliberate; no matter where your customers are or how they want to get efficient, accurate and cost-effective answers they can.

Artificial Intelligence plays a crucial role in this evolving landscape. It is constantly learning from customer interactions and joining tools to become smarter and more accurate, not to mention giving 24/7 coverage.

But Proceed With Caution For Online Communities

When dealing with automated learning data at scale (you can call this Big Data if you like, but it’s really just… data) there’s a tendency for communities to be measured by grouping people together and making certain assumptions about their patterns of behaviour. There’s a balance to be struck.

Is This Valuable? Absolutely.

We swim in a world of incredible analytics that can show us, in real time, what people are doing and how they do it.

Does It Miss The Point? Occasionally.

Many communities focus on the numbers. How many members? 500 in the last week! Yay! How many active users posted in the last hour? 67%! Yay!

Did those members provide true value to the community? Erm…not sure. The data doesn’t show that exactly.

Don’t Hammer The Flowers

Artificial Intelligence is, of course, reliant on a constant supply of clean, rich data that it can process, learn from and use to make calculated decisions. But it still relies on humans to add the level of empathy and understanding which makes the user experience valuable.

The machine layer offers community strategists power – think Tony Stark’s suit in Iron Man. Used as a tool, it can liberate our time for work that demands a human touch – essential to build that human infrastructure of interconnected ecosystems.

But the Iron Man scenario only works if community professionals help drive the creation of AI – behaviourists alongside technologists to shape nuanced, contextually astute intelligences that consider where the human begins and the machine ends.

And it only works if we introduce machines at the right moments and the right contexts.
Let’s not hammer the flowers. There’s plenty of nails to hit.

Community Management expert and SWARM co-founder Vanessa Peach.

The challenge with AI is when it is considered an either/or solution for your audience. Can it take over large parts of a monotonous process, on-boarding users quicker and using machine learning to serve them answers? Of course. Can it make the user journey contextual? Absolutely. Does this cover everyone’s needs? No.

Organisations that build the most effective AI and ISS systems understand that a blended technology solution with a level of effective human input produces the most trustworthy solution for your customers, with your team able to adopt a much more strategic position in shaping the big goals, rather than slogging it out at the coalface.

Emotion AI

Emotion AI, also known as Affective Computing is the next wave of development in attempting to recognise and show human emotions to make interaction and engagement more natural. It will certainly become part of the ISS ecosystem, as 2017’s Pepper Bot example begins to show:


Embracing Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Self-Service Solutions right now will put companies firmly ahead of the curve from competitors, and vastly improve their customer’s experience. The companies that will thrive long term are those who also understand the role and value blending human interaction and strategic input has in building a successful outcome.

As a final reminder, here’s what Gary Vaynerchuk, one of the world authorities on building brands and companies, said in December 2018 about the importance of humans:

Gary V