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Sésamo Chatbot

From television to a chatbot - An openness to keep learning and exploring

Q&A with Brenda Campos, Senior Director of Social Impact, Latin America
Brenda Campost with Sesame Street characters Ernie and Bert
Give it a try

With a mission to help kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder, Sesame Workshop is using a WhatsApp Chatbot to provide engaging educational content for families across Latin America during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.


Registered chatbot users


Messages sent


Sesame Workshop is active in 14 Latin American countries


Initial organic growth of WhatsApp broadcast group users - without promotion
The Sésamo Chatbot menu
Sesamo Whatsapp Bot Menu
Variation of content available

What is the Sésamo Chatbot?

Built on Turn.io, The Sésamo Chatbot is part of Sesame Workshop’s efforts in Latin America ( Sésamo is Sesame Workshop’s local brand name) to “reach the right person with the right content at the right time” and works alongside other efforts such as WhatsApp Groups, media broadcast and community outreach. It reinforces the role of messaging as an educational platform.

Families and caregivers can easily access free learning resources, including play-based learning activities, audio clips, ebooks, professional and caregiver development support, and much more. Filled with videos, playful learning activities, and ways to support families and caregivers, the Sésamo Chatbot menu items include Smile of the Day, Healthy Tips, Video of the Day, Song, Storybooks, Activities and Learning from Home.

Tell us a bit about your work with Sesame Workshop and how you go about reaching “the right person with the right content at the right time.”

BRENDA: At Sesame Workshop we develop educational content and programs that reach children at scale through mass media, but through direct engagement at the local level in partnerships with schools and community centres, and other places where communities gather. We do this with experiences that support children to learn and develop.

It is the emotional connection with our characters that makes our content very special.  Characters such as Elmo and Cookie Monster are very popular, and they really create a powerful bond with the children and families, but there is also rigorous work and research behind them. So the Sesame model includes the production, which is the creative force, the education component that responds to children needs in different contexts — how do we address the most pressing needs for children? Then the other side of the model is research. Everything we do goes through analysis, both to understand the requirements and test — is the content relevant? Is it going to help children learn? And, of course, researching the impact of our programs. So it is an intense and rich process. But it’s also so much fun. I guess that is why I like working with Sesame.

Sesame Puppeteers on set
In-studio creative production
Sesamo Whatsapp Bot banner
Sesame Characters adapted for various platforms

What has changed in the way you are engaging with audiences over the years?

BRENDA: We deeply care about content development and reaching the children and families where they are right now. At the beginning we were mostly on television, of course. Then we started to evolve and develop content that could reach families in schools or community centres. But more and more cell phone access has grown, and we’ve been using WhatsApp now for some years — even before COVID-19 hit. We saw that in our educational programs in schools, working with governments, teachers already had a connection with families using WhatsApp groups. So it was an excellent way for us to tap into those existing networks. To engage more with caregivers and distribute content to them through teachers. That’s where we started testing with WhatsApp, and it worked! In the past, we’ve tried other platforms and consistently tried to create these groups with user and teacher experiences, and you know, they were not successful. People don’t necessarily go onto a new platform. We saw that people were already on WhatsApp. That is how we started — how can we tap into existing networks to distribute the content?

Brend Campos
BRENDA CAMPOS, Senior Director of Social Impact, Latin America

“People don’t necessarily go onto a new platform. We saw that people were already on WhatsApp. That is how we started — how can we tap into existing networks to distribute the content?”

When we think of Sesame, we often envision longer format video on television. How has that changed, and what does the range of content look like now?

BRENDA: So we have content in many formats, we have, of course, video, including our TV episodes. But we also have shorter video formats like PSA’s or short messages. So we could make them available through a chatbot, but we also have a plethora of content that is not video — which is audio-based or graphic-based. This can be infographics, comic books, or storybooks.

Sésamo content available through various channels
Sesame Whatsapp Bot sharing various links to Sesame content Channels
Video selection submenu
Sesamo Whatsapp Bot Video Menu

BRENDA: It started to grow, and we created our own Sesame broadcast group, and without any promotion, it grew to 11,000 users — just organically. There was a need and people want to get content, and then when COVID hit, we felt that we needed to expand the way we reach to families directly, specially now, when parents were so much in charge of children’s learning at home. We wanted to make sure that the tools that we develop we're getting to them. That is when we started using the WhatsApp Chatbot.

Image and text based replies
Sesamo Whatsapp Bot image reply
Ideas for activities to do at home
Sesamo Whatsapp Bot activities at home recommendations

BRENDA: So we are able to distribute that type of content through the Chatbot. This is ideal as we need to consider that many of end users don’t have a lot of bandwidth and access to the data. So it is about content that could be accessed with very limited access to technology — which is often not the best or newest phones. So we rely on the graphics and some audio files, and some short video formats.

“This is ideal as we need to consider that many end-users don’t have a lot of bandwidth and access to the data.”

How would you like to improve the Chatbot, and what are your main challenges?

BRENDA: It has a lot to do with the data we can access. By this, I don’t mean personal data. But it is crucial to see how the users are engaging with the content. Understanding if they are returning and how are they navigating through the Chatbot. I wish there were a way for us to get some of that information and learn the pathways people are using while engaging. That will be something more for the backend and our technology partners to get solved.

Another challenge ensuring uptake - which happens with every platform and/or distribution mechanism. This includes promotion, but also how could we make uptake easy, for example, that not everyone scans QR codes, so they need to add the contact centre manually — it just adds another step, and that could become a barrier.

So it is just a question: how can we get the word out and make it easier for people to access the Chatbot? We are still learning, and we are just launching a promotional campaign through community outreach and with our partners, including television and radio.

The other challenge is, how do we retain them once they are on the platform? For this, we are starting to explore some behavioural concepts on how to nudge them through the design and language of for example, the menu, to come back. We want to make sure that we create a chatbot design that makes people want to come back.

Those are the things that are exciting to think about. We’re trying to take it on, you know it is an exciting challenge to solve, and I’m sure that other partners have the same questions.

“We share similar values and interest in learning. An openness to keep exploring and learning as we go ahead.”

There are various tools out there for creating chatbots. How did it come about that you are working with Turn.io specifically?

BRENDA: I think it’s the way in which we work with you. We share similar values and interest in learning. An openness to keep exploring and learning as we go ahead. Like sharing lessons learned and how to help each other overcome challenges. This is important for us.

Turn.io opt in privacy compliance
Sesamo Whatsapp Bot Opt in link
Registration allowing for custom responses
Sesamo Whatsapp Bot registration response

Focus on privacy

The Chatbot also includes privacy and terms and conditions and makes use of a two-pronged user acquisition strategy — through the Chatbot’s link and specific keywords and a television episode-based unique text back code that responds with associated learning materials.

“Using education or education as a vertical for a chat platform is new. Doing all this during a global pandemic is new. So there are so many new things that are all happening at once. I think we still need to find out, you know, what are the best practices?”

Simon de Haan, Turn.io CTO
On privacy and designing within constraints

The Impact

Since launching in April 2020, the Sésamo Chatbot has had 8,610 registered users, with an engagement of 251,134 messages. Sesame Workshop reports that the Chatbot’s messaging interventions show promise in helping engage adults 1-on-1 — and get the right message to the right person at the right time. The Chatbot intervention is currently being evaluated for its potential to help with distribution challenges in programmes across the world.

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