Can Meta woo Gen Z with AI chatbots?

Meta is set to release the first of dozens of AI 'personas' aimed at driving Gen Z engagement

illustrated chat bot on a lap top screen
Big Tech is betting that younger users can be drawn in with generative AI
(Image credit: Carol Yepes / Getty Images)

Meta is reportedly gearing up to release a host of generative artificial intelligence chatbots, known internally as “Gen AI Personas,” aimed at capturing the attention of Gen Z users, The Wall Street Journal reported. Citing sources familiar with the matter, the Journal added that the company plans to introduce multiple "personas," with the first set to launch during the Meta Connect event on Wednesday. The bots are intended to drive user engagement, though some are designed for "productivity-related skills such as the ability to help with coding or other tasks," per the Journal. 

The company has plans to release dozens of personas and has been testing the bots internally. One persona, dubbed “Bob the robot,” was described as a "sassmaster general" with  “superior intellect, sharp wit, and biting sarcasm,” per company documents the Journal reviewed. The bot was inspired by Bender from Futurama because “him being a sassy robot taps into the type of farcical humor that is resonating with young people,” one employee wrote in internal communications. 

With TikTok's emergence, Meta has stiff competition for younger social media users. The company behind Facebook and Instagram won't be the first social media platform to debut an AI chatbot feature, with Snapchat releasing MyAI earlier this year. Still, the chatbot "caused a number of headaches for Snap," the Journal noted, including having inappropriate conversations about sex and alcohol with users. With that in mind, some question whether it will pay off for Meta or will it further alienate the Gen Z demographic. 

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AI chatbots could drive Gen Z engagement

AI assistant chatbots don’t “exactly scream Gen Z to me, but definitely, Gen Z is much more comfortable” with generative AI tech, Meghana Dhar, a former Snap and Instagram executive, told the Journal, “Definitely, the younger you go, the higher the comfort level is with these bots.” Meta could benefit from the AI personas if they helped keep users on their platforms longer, she said. The company's strategy for new products is "often built around increased user engagement,” Dhar added. Meta aims to keep their users longer "because that provides them with increased opportunity to serve them ads.” 

While the personas might be "familiar," some of the references might be "dated," especially if Meta is targeting younger audiences, Muskaan Saxena pointed out on Tech Radar: Though "Bender from Futurama is pretty recognizable" Saxena added, "he’s not exactly a Gen Z icon." As a part of the demographic Meta is supposedly targeting, she found the character to be "an extremely odd celebrity to slap onto your product considering there’s a plethora of other (more relevant) personalities to choose from." Gen Z is usually "very public about who they are super into right now," and Meta should use that to its advantage. The advantage Meta has in picking Gen Z as its target demographic is that Gen Z is very public about who they are super into right now. Saxena hopes "the other personalities it has up its sleeve are a bit more … contemporary." 

The novelty will wear off

While custom large language models are "definitely a big area of potential," Social Media Today's Andrew Hutchinson doesn't "see character-aligned bots being a big winner and driving any significant engagement in its apps." Even though the tool is "an interesting novelty," Hutchinson added. "it wears off pretty quick." Similar bots that already exist are "funny and entertaining to go back to every now and then," but " it’s not like it changes the process. " Jokey answers might be humorous, but "the value of chatbots is in providing actual answers to your actual queries," he said. Getting your response "in the stylings of historical figures or wrestlers just isn’t that additive, or engaging."

The novelty may have also worn off of social media altogether. The problem Meta and other big social media companies face "is that the kids were paying attention to how miserable the platforms made their parents," and they consequently "want no part in it," public relations professional Danny Groner said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Social media has made people feel much worse," and "it should be avoided," he added. 

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