Brands have been upping the ante on bots and adding a new layer of consumer engagement to their strategy at a fever pace ever since Facebook enabled the conversational-tech friendly feature in April.

Food Network became the latest forward-thinking organization to join the frenzy and the over 30,000 pool of brands trying to engage with the friendly AI tech on Messenger’s billion-strong user base.

The lifestyle TV network, website and magazine is leveraging its foothold as the go-to source for foodies in search of some culinary inspiration by instantly offering recipes through chat. The concept is straightforward: simply strike a conversation with Food Network through Facebook Messenger and search by any ingredient, chef, emoji and more for over 60,000 recipes. The service is free, and no download is required.

The fairly nascent concept of bots is an interesting one that can revolutionize the consumer experience. But it hasn’t happened in a meaningful way—yet.

With a buffet of recipes and menu suggestions, Food Network is hoping to change that with an artificial intelligence strategy that’s about connecting and interacting with consumers in a way that provides value in their lives. In September, the brand became the first culinary network to launch a skill on Alexa-enabled devices that allows access to show information and scheduling, as well as recipes seen on air.

Forty percent of US mobile users are on Facebook Messenger, so there definitely is an audience for brands to engage with millennials and Gen Z consumers who are increasingly shifting smartphone communication from voice to text and images.

Liesel Kipp, vice president of product management for Scripps Networks Interactive, the parent company of Food Network, joined [a]listdaily to detail how they’re engaging with kitchen conquistadors over the holidays, and beyond.


How did Food Network identify that there was an appetite for chat bots among consumers? What are you trying to accomplish in this space?

Food Network is the leading provider of trusted recipes for our fans on our sites, and in social. We’re always looking for new and innovative ways to be there for our audience and reach new audiences. Consumers are looking for fast and easy ways to find recipes, and chat bots are just that—fast, and very easy to use. Bots are another great way for us to deliver on the promise of Food Network being our user’s best friend in food.

Why is forgoing the download of a branded app a good strategy for companies to offer consumers?

Food Network’s ‘In the Kitchen’ app is an important part of our digital offering and among Apple’s Hall of Fame. Our commitment to that experience is strong. Our app provides consumers the opportunity to go deeper into their planning and cooking with features like Recipe Box, our wide selection of how-to video content and the ability to quickly see the recipes that are on air at that moment. However, we often let our users decide where they want to engage with us, and when. By providing a chat bot experience, we’re giving them another option for possibly a quicker response that rides on the popularity of Facebook Messenger. For us, it’s just another opportunity to connect with our brand in multiple ways, and one experience doesn’t negate the other. 

What makes foodies a great audience to target on Facebook?

Food enthusiasm is taking over the internet and especially resonates with millennials. People can relate to each other through food, and we’re watching more millennials engage with food as part of their identity. Not only do they love food and cooking, they use food as a gateway to broaden their perspective of the world—and they love using social media to showcase this. For us, this is just about extending our brand to another platform. Food Network is uniquely positioned to provide inspiration, entertainment and utility. In October, Food Network had the second highest audience of total food video views across social platforms, with more than 715 million video views on Facebook alone. It’s definitely a trend we are loving. 

What is your favorite way in interacting with the bot? How do you find it to be most pragmatic, and useful? 

My favorite way of interacting with the bot is the ‘surprise me’ feature—these are fun recipe ideas hand-curated daily by our editorial team—we aim to make finding ideas fun, as well as easy. The bot is useful because it’s easy to use. We know our customers often search by ingredient, but they also search based on what they recently saw on TV from a favorite Food Network show or chef. Giving users control to quickly find what they want, in a platform they are already using, like Facebook Messenger, was a no-brainer for us. 


Are you looking to test other social and digital platforms to reach your mobile audience?

Everything we do is optimized for mobile. The Food Network brand is everywhere, really, and our goal is to bring our brand to wherever our users are today. We are testing Facebook Live, Facebook social video and we were an early partner on Snapchat’s Discover platform. In October, we broke our own records on Facebook Live with a pumpkin carving that reached 4.6 million views. We are also reaching millions of daily Snapchat users with our Food Network experience on Snapchat Discover. Of course, we’re also working on some exciting projects that we can’t mention just yet.

Food Network also launched a “skill” on Alexa-powered devices. What’s been your main takeaway from your artificial intelligence marketing activations thus far? 

We see consumers moving to new technologies for inspiration and ideas around food, and we want to be there to serve their needs, whether they are on the go, or in their kitchen—so you will see us continue to innovate in this space, but always in ways that provide value to consumers.

How does bringing content right into kitchens of consumers through Food Network’s menu of digital offerings help raise brand equity? 

We believe that touching the Food Network brand happens in many different ways. Ultimately, we’re here to provide entertainment and trusted support for users who are food enthusiasts and love to cook. What better way to show the power of our brand than to help you fix a meal and allow programming that is suitable for the entire family? Ultimately, we want our fans to be able to experience our brand wherever they are right now—the plane, the living room, the grocery store or the kitchen.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan