“Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs in the ninth inning, but Los Angeles recovered thanks to a key single from Vladimir Guerrero to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.”
Nice bit of reporting, right? You'd be forgiven for thinking it was the lede of a beat writer's game recap in the Los Angeles Times.
A computer wrote it.
The paragraph appeared in a New York Times’ Opinion piece titled “If an Algorithm Wrote This, How Would You Even Know?” In the piece, Shelley Podolny, director of e-discovery company H5, explored the emergence of robo-writers, computer software that not only analyzes data, but creates human-sounding commentary.
The sophistication of robo-writers is impressive. Could you have guessed that the quote was written by a computer?
Can Content Marketing Be Automated?
As a content marketer, some of the content I publish is analogous to a game recap. For instance:
- Summaries from events and conferences
- Summaries from webinars
- Industry insights (e.g. ask thought leaders to share opinions on a topic, then assemble those opinions into a blog post or article)
- Content round-ups (e.g. This week’s selected blog posts from across the web)
Computers have the potential to create more sophisticated content, too. Last year, I worked on a research report that profiled marketers at mid-sized companies. The “Marketing Got Complicated” project involved:
- Designing the survey
- Fielding the survey (online) to 300 marketers at mid-sized companies
- Analyzing the data, including the creation of numerous tables and charts
- Authoring a research report that paired the data with original commentary
- Distributing the report on our website, and generating awareness across the web
- Creating content assets related to the report (e.g. infographic, webinar, SlideShare, blog posts, article on third party sites, etc.)
Some day, a computer will run entire projects such as these, end to end. Today, a computer is well-equipped to do 2 (field the survey), 3 (analyze the data), 5 (distribute the content) and 6 (a computer could auto-generate an infographic, SlideShare and articles).
The survey was similar to a ball game: it occurred over a fixed period of time and generated data to be analyzed. Just as a robo-writer can ingest a baseball game’s data to generate a game recap, it could analyze survey results to create content.
As technology evolves, what does the future hold for human beings and content marketing? I reached out to content marketing experts for their opinions.
Human Beings Share Unique Perspectives
Louis Gudema, president, revenue + associates believes that computers can have a role in content marketing when the subject matter is data-driven. For instance, a robo-writer could write a blog post about the latest economic data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Gudema thinks humans will be secure in their role as content marketers because of the unique perspective that only human beings can provide. Unlike humans, computers don’t exhibit empathy. And that understanding of readers’ perspective helps humans create content that truly connects with them. Content generated from an algorithm will not be distinctive or unique, according to Gudema.
Gudema referenced a question that’s often asked by Ann Handley: “Would your network thank you for your content?” And that’s a useful measure when considering humans vs. computers. Gudema also mentioned Seth Godin, whose shares his unique perspective in a daily blog post. His network sends him thank you’s on a daily basis. A robo-writer could not generate Godin’s blog.
Human Beings Use Feelings and Emotion
Barry Feldman, founder of Feldman Creative, believes humans, not computers, are best equipped to create compelling content. When I asked Feldman for his thoughts on computers and content marketing, he responded:
My stomach churns just reading the question. No types of content seem well-suited to be created by a computer unless the target market is computers. That would make for a nice match.”
What separates human beings from computers? Feelings and emotion. We use our feelings and emotions to relate to others. We connect our readers’ feelings and emotions. Computers are at a distinct disadvantage. According to Feldman, “We make decisions based on the things we feel. Effective content speaks to our emotions. You can’t effectively touch someone emotionally unless you actually have emotions.”
Experts in online community management shared similar thoughts. When I published a piece that looked at whether IBM Watson could be a community manager, one expert chimed in that Watson is missing an essential element for understanding humans: a heartbeat.
Human Beings Can Add Meaning to Automation
Content curation is an essential element of content marketing, so I spoke with the team at Scoop.it, a content curation platform that crawls 25 million webpages each day to source the best content for its users.
For Guillaume Decugis, co-founder and CEO of Scoop.it, pairing automation with human judgment results in the best of both worlds. According to Decugis, “Repeated content marketing tasks, such as content discovery, scheduling, posting multiple times, etc. can and should be automated. No humans can do that as efficiently.”
While computers can quickly generate lists of interesting articles, effective content curation requires human judgment. Humans apply a filter on top of a computer’s selections (after all, computers aren’t perfect) and can add value by providing a unique perspective related to the shared content.
Human judgement is what creates a relationship and eventually trust between a brand and its target audience. We humans don't trust computers yet. We trust other humans who educate, entertain or inspire us,” added Decugis.
Scoop.it’s suggestion engine doesn’t auto-publish the content it finds. Instead, users select which content they should publish and can add insights or commentary, to provide value to their readers. If you ask Decugis about the future of content curation, it’s not about algorithms taking over. Instead, Decugis calls it “Humanrithm,” or algorithms paired with human judgment. Check out Decugis’ SlideShare, “Humanrithm: why data without people is not enough.”
How Content Marketers Can Adapt
As content marketers, should we be concerned about our job security? While I expect to see computers play an increased role in creating content, I don’t worry about my own job security. As long as I’m providing valuable information to my audience, my job should be safe.
If I fail to connect with my audience, then someone may come along and take my job away. And that “someone” could be another human, just as it could be a computer. Whoever does the best job wins.
P.S. This piece was written by a human