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109. How to Build Your Email List with Instagram DM Automation with Mike Yan of ManyChat

Like most people, I had some preconceived notions about automated chat marketing. But the reality is 3 billion people use messaging apps a month to communicate with friends and family–so why can’t eCommerce businesses use the same platforms to communicate with their customers?  

My guest today is Mike Yan, CEO, and co-founder of ManyChat, an automated chat marketing platform. He’s helping us debunk the myth that automated messages are icky, and instead shows us how they can be used as part of an omni-channel marketing strategy to help generate eCommerce leads and create a great customer experience. 

What You’ll Learn

  • What eCommerce businesses need to know if they’re going to use chat marketing for customer communications
  • Why automated chat marketing is very different from spam bots 
  • How to utilize automated chat to convert people into customers and build your lists 

Links Mentioned

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Read the Full Episode Transcript

What is ManyChat and why should eCommerce businesses use it to generate leads? 

ManyChat is the biggest chat marketing platform in the world. We have hundreds of thousands of people using ManyChat across 170 countries around the world, sending billions of messages every month. This gives us a real bird’s-eye view of the chat marketing industry. 

Facebook Messenger is just one specific app we work with, but we also work with Instagram DMs, WhatsApp, Telegram, and more. Classic channels like email and SMS are also on the platform. 

Right now, our biggest source of growth actually is coming from Instagram DM automation. This gives us a view of what channels are really working, what strategies are working and how people should think about the future of marketing and the future of customer communication, because clearly the classical channels like email, they’re stagnating. 

If you think about where the conversation is right now, if you think about how you communicate with friends and family, how you communicate with your coworkers, everything has moved over to messaging apps in that respect. We talk to our friends and family over iMessage or WhatsApp or Telegram or Facebook Messenger. 

At one point, you would actually send a friend an email telling them to check something out—but those days are long gone. 

Right now, messaging apps have 3 billion people using them every month across the world. They’re the most used apps on their phones and they’re more popular than social networks, so clearly customers have voted what channel they like to use and interact with themselves. Now the question is how businesses are going to follow that. 

What do eCommerce businesses need to know if they’re going to use chat marketing for customer communications?

It’s an inevitable trajectory and we have to distinguish several things if we’re going to go toward using messaging apps for customer communications.

There is this notion of messenger chats not being an owned channel compared to an email list. For example, Google Business Messaging is owned by Google. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are owned by Meta. They’re proprietary and the company that owns that channel and that app, and they can set up different rules. 

For example, everything was going really well for messenger before 2020, when Facebook really rolled back a lot of the policies around broadcasting, which they brought back in late 2021.

They just lost a lot of trust from businesses who invested in growing that list, but then weren’t able to use that list. But in 2021, they actually introduced new subscription permissions where you can actually ask people, Hey, can I send you a message, let’s say once a month?

If a person agrees, it’s like an opt-in system, then you can actually broadcast over Facebook Messenger, which have amazing open rates of 80% and 20% CTRs, etc.

The future of marketing is omni-channel, so how can eCommerce businesses leverage that?

You cannot talk to people through a channel that they’re not listening to and right now the most engaging apps are messaging apps. The key thing here is to find an omni-channel strategy where you use the best of both worlds, where you use the messaging apps, the Instagram DMs, Facebook messenger, WhatsApp and others to start the conversation and to be open to having those as a lead gen channels.

From there, you have to make a point of getting what we call a reengaged contact, which is either their phone number for SMS or their email to create an omni-channel approach. This gives you a unified context.

For example, if you use Instagram DMs to get that lead, the person writes to you and you can ask lots of automated questions and get a lot of information about that customer, which is being saved directly in their unified profile. 

From there, in the same flow, you can actually send an email using their Instagram first name, last name and any information that they’ve given directly to your business over Instagram. That will increase your open rates drastically because you’re not sending a generalized email sequence or a welcome series, you’re using messaging apps, a channel that they’re really familiar with, for lead gen and interactivity to get to know the customer. And then you’re using the channels that are independent for re-engagement for nurturing. 

If your customer is in the chat, if they’re DMing you, which they probably are, then there’s probably an opportunity for you here.

How do you utilize automated chat to market to your customers? 

Instagram is going to be one of the most exciting channels for a lot of eCommerce folks because just last year, they released an ability to automate DMs officially.

Instagram automation is amazing in terms of conversion rates and it’s going to enable you to do much more effective campaigns on your Instagram profile.

A few examples of what you could do with Instagram DMs with the help of ManyChat, is instead of using a link sticker, you could tell your followers to react to your story by dropping a fire emoji as a reaction. This can get a ton of engagement if you’re doing a good offer as it’s a low effort action. When they react to that story, the automated chat bot addresses the person by name and thanks them for being interested in the promotion. You could either just drop the discount code right away and then try to cross sell afterwards, or you could use this opportunity to grow your email or phone number list. 

The person already expressed interest and they’re feeling very comfortable sharing their email over a protected channel. The cool thing about chatbots and chat marketing is that it’s more intricate, it’s more personal, and it’s more efficient because if you know how to use it, you get a lot of power.

How does the 24 hour messaging window work and what happens after it expires?

Instagram and Meta have decided what’s allowed, and what’s not allowed. They set it up this way to protect people from getting overwhelmed with business messages and broadcasts on Instagram.

They’ve made a rule that when somebody messages your business account, you have 24 hours to talk to them. If they do not message you, then you basically lose the ability to talk to them unless they talk to you again. 

The way you think about this is that every time somebody messages you, every time somebody leaves a reaction to your stories, you get 24 hours to talk to them.

After that, you need to re-engage them again through the same mechanisms—through stories, through posts, through lives, ect. That’s where the 24 hour comes from. 

How is ManyChat different from spam bots?

ManyChat is a Facebook business partner. We literally have a call on a Tuesday and on a Thursday—one is a marketing call and one is a product call—we talk about how we can basically enable more businesses to create more value through these business communications over WhatsApp, Instagram DMs or Facebook Messenger.

When we entered this market, Instagram DM automation was driven by a lot of black hat companies who would ask people for their username and password. 

We would never ask for usernames or Instagram passwords. It’s all done through Facebook API, which are official authentication mechanisms. 

How can eCommerce use chat marketing to engage customers on Instagram?

You can actually automatically message everybody who comments on your Instagram posts. You can do this in so many ways, like using different replies for different keywords. 

If you’re running a promo, you can ask them to make a micro commitment, like leaving a comment to receive the deal. That’s super simple and it takes two seconds. Then you send them a message that prompts them to share their email in return for something—extra entries in a competition, a free PDF, ect—so they share it. That’s an easier commitment than sharing a story because it’s private. Nobody has to know that you did it. Then you ask them for one more thing, and now they’re so far in it with you they don’t even think about it, so they share it to their stories.

Story shares are the new word of mouth and it’s really hard to get people to do it and for you to even be aware of if they’re doing it. So the fact that ManyChat can just track that for you is amazing. 

What else can you tell us in terms of the functionality of ManyChat? 

Did you know you can actually automatically reply to all the comments that are being left during an Instagram Live? It’s a great way to have a direct interaction, but it’s really hard to convert the Instagram Live conversations to an action. 

You can ask people to write a specific thing using keywords during the live, and they will get an automatic message.

You can actually set up an automation when you want to announce a sale or a product launch. Instead of driving them towards a post or your website, you drive the keyword like “coupon” or “free” or “early access” and you can let your audience know that once they do that, they’re going to get a message from you that guides them through the process of getting that free thing or pre-order for or whatever the conversion is.

The last thing that I wanted to mention in terms of features is that you can actually know if a person is following your page or not. This is very important, and this is how you should use this. If you have a free thing that you want to be giving out, and a person messages you, you can check if they’re following your account or not. If they’re not, you can tell them it’s only for your community, and if they want to be a part of the community, they have to follow you on Instagram. If they’re not following you, why are they trying to get your free stuff? 

How do you convert people into customers and build your lists using chat marketing?

People do not want to leave the platform. There has to be a ramp-up for them to actually leave Instagram and go to your website and buy something. Getting them to react to a story is a very natural way of deepening that relationship and establishing that conversation. It’s important to build trust, to build that affinity, and that connection. 

Once they feel comfortable with your brand, then they will actually be much more likely to click on the link to buy something from you. It’s a relationship like anything else. 

Usually, there’s a big gap between watching your story and buying your product. Sure, some people will do that, but there’s going to be a huge gap where other people don’t do that. But going from a story watch to a story reaction, that’s much easier. It’s a much simpler, lower effort going from a story reaction to back and forth on DMs. It’s about having all those little micro-commitments along the way. Rarely do people go from zero to a hundred and that’s why this can be so powerful in your business. 

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Jessica Totillo Coster of eCommerce Badassery eating gelato on stairs in Rome Italy

Hey, I'm Jessica eCommerce & Email Marketing Strategist

I support scrappy female entrepreneurs with actionable steps & strategies to grow and scale the traffic, sales & profit in their eCommerce businesses. Learning from the top experts in the digital marketing & eCommerce industry I love working with female entrepreneurs and teaching the secrets of 7-figure eCommerce businesses.

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