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Reality Check: Content Marketers Need to Look in the AI Mirror

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Editor's note: This is a guest post contributed to Marketing AI Institute.

The meteoric rise in conversational and generative AI has content marketers excited and anxious about the possibilities. In reality, AI is not here to take your job. Using AI correctly to (I) inform and (A) assist gives content marketers new ways to thoughtfully and intelligently connect with readers.

I’ve been frustrated lately with so much AI content swamping my feeds, dominating search results, and cluttering the TV. From link bait about ChatGPT replacing everything from A-Z to the current flood of sensationalist “self-generated” LinkedIn articles, we’re being inundated with AI content – both about and produced by AI. Sometimes in the same piece!

Figuring out how best to utilize generative AI can be confusing, and the constant undercurrent of messaging about AI replacing all types of creatives doesn’t help.

Good thing it’s not true.

It’s time for a reality check. Let’s strip away the hype and stop feeding the hype about AI being the end of content marketing as we know it. Yes, we’re in a time of massive, rapid change.

The impact of AI on content and all marketing is a revolution.  

But rather than staying up nights worrying about AI taking our jobs, I believe this is a time of great opportunity and excitement for content professionals who can flip the script.

Marketers Risk Losing Focus on the Main Success Factor–You!

Listen, I’m a huge fan of AI. I’ve been working in technology for 25 years and writing about AI since 2017, and I use it daily in my work. But I love human connection more! And that’s not going anywhere. 

People are incorporating different AI applications in their content marketing strategies, and many more are cropping up even as you read this. Thanks to the progression in large language models (LLMs), natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning, AI algorithms can understand and respond to human behavior in ways most thought impossible just a decade ago.  

But that doesn’t mean they’re ready to take over. Sure, you could use ChatGPT and other AI tools to replace your entire writing team. But what we can and should do are often worlds apart, and generative AI is a shining example of that.

New technologies tend to create a flurry of potential use cases as people explore their possibilities and limitations. And what we’ve learned about conversational and generative AI in the months since ChatGPT launched (and others, including Google’s Bard followed) is that:

  • Generative AI has serious limitations and liabilities, including the tendency to “hallucinate” by fabricating information when it doesn’t have an answer.
  • It can state misinformation so convincingly a reader new to the topic may believe it to be fact.
  • It lacks creativity and produces output that tends to be generic and formulaic.
  • The content produced is only as good as the input (prompts) and oversight (editorial process); garbage in, garbage out.

Of course, as with all emerging technologies, what we’re seeing and experiencing now is just the tip of the iceberg.

We can expect AI’s content-generating abilities to grow by leaps and bounds, likely at a rate that will amaze us all.

What’s not going to happen is this: generative AI isn’t going away.

There’s no rolling back to the clock now to an idyllic time and place where human content marketers are left alone with their preferred toolset to ideate, write, and brainstorm creative ways to promote content daily.

Like it or not, you have a new set of AI co-workers, and those who learn to get along will experience the greatest success in the years to come.  

Next, we need an attitude of collaboration—a mindset in which we are open to using AI to mirror back at us and even amplify the greatest qualities human content marketers possess.

Take a look in the mirror; what do you see? Don’t focus on the perceived threats posed by AI. Instead, let’s talk about how experienced, empathetic human marketers can use it to inform and assist them in becoming more effective, productive, and even satisfied in the content they produce.

Working with AI to Inform and Assist

While AI advancements such as ChatGPT offer numerous benefits to many types of marketers, it is crucial to understand the unique strengths and limitations of both humans and AI regarding communication and collaboration.

AI can help scale and amplify the best human competencies across our content marketing strategies and program when we look at it through its mirror lens of IA. Here’s how.

Using AI to Inform

Content ideation is the foundation of creating successful campaigns. AI can help find popular search queries, identify trending topics on social media, and help us study our competitors' content to craft unique and differentiated content. Using AI to analyze search results pages (SERPs) and perform keyword research, we can pinpoint effective keywords and phrases that target relevant audiences optimized for powerful SEO outcomes. And we can do so far faster, processing much larger datasets than we ever could manually.

We can improve content optimization and help enhance its visibility in search with data-backed AI-generated suggestions for more compelling titles, engaging meta descriptions, image alt text, schema, and more.

AI can also help us segment audiences based on demographics, preferences, and behavior into meaningful groups, allowing us to create personalization strategies and provide one-of-a-kind experiences. It can help us send emails at just the right moment, or craft messages directed toward each group.

Generative and conversational AI can help inform content strategy in myriad ways, which greatly benefits the human marketers who learn to make the most of it.

Using AI to Assist

AI is a powerful assistant for streamlining workflows, analyzing big data, and improving the effectiveness of your content. Content marketers can use AI-driven tools to find and share quality content with their audiences more efficiently. Automation allows them to allocate time for strategizing and creating new material, while recommendations serve as a personal guide toward engaging content tailored to each user's preferences.

And just like a human assistant, your AI requires training. The machine learning component enables AI to “learn” your company’s policies, principles, and priorities. You can then utilize these technologies more confidently and freely to make recommendations to consumers via chatbots, assist junior creatives in creating content, or translate content to use in various markets, for example.

Again, we’re not talking about replacing the creatives in your company but augmenting their performance by giving them tools to simplify redundant tasks, triage frequent communications, provide self-serve options to customers, and more.

Using AI to Amplify Human Content Marketers’ Best Qualities

The emotional intelligence we possess as humans allows us to understand and respond to the emotions and feelings of others. Empathy is a critical component of human communication in content marketing, helping us establish meaningful connections and nurture relationships that result in sales and long-term loyalty.

While AI can recognize sentiment in text and generate contextually appropriate responses, it cannot genuinely experience emotions or develop true empathetic connections.

Creativity and Originality: Your Experiences Are Your Advantages

Humans have an innate ability to think creatively and generate original ideas. Our experiences, emotions, and cultural backgrounds contribute to a unique perspective that can drive innovative ideas, creative stories, and out-of-the-box thinking.

ChatGPT can produce coherent and contextually relevant answers (sometimes), but its responses are ultimately based on patterns and information it has learned from existing data. Look at the ChatGPT or Google Bard knowledge base as an extension of your own. Just as your experience makes content richer and more interesting, you can’t know it all. Tapping into a larger repository of information can add important detail to your content – but AI can’t do that alone. It’s up to human writers, editors, and marketers to determine what’s relevant.

Contextual Understanding and Common Sense: Nuances and Narcissism

Depending on your age and experience, we each have a different but deep understanding of the world. I’m in my 40s, for example, and have been writing and ghostwriting for many years; you should expect that the content I produce will be dramatically different from that of a 20-something engineer or construction worker.

Human understanding of context allows us to make sense of ambiguous, complex topics and situations. Generative AI can give us information, but it is human common sense and intelligence that enables us to produce content with nuance, considering factors like cultural context, social norms, and unspoken implications.

ChatGPT, despite its remarkable language processing capabilities, struggles with understanding context or applying common sense. It can produce responses that seem inappropriate, irrelevant, or factually incorrect due to its limited understanding of real-world knowledge and reasoning.

Remember, humans and machines both make errors. If there were a human on your marketing team making errors, you might take corrective action or remove them from direct interactions with the public. However, the very thing that makes conversational AI such an attractive prospect for marketers is precisely where it becomes a great liability for brands: economies of scale.

A negative behavior from one individual is a problem. A negative behavior perpetuated at scale across multiple client accounts, customer interactions, or pieces of brand content quickly becomes a major liability. This is precisely why using AI to mirror and augment our best human qualities is so essential.

The Future: Humans Take the Lead in the AI Loop

Humans have long been in the AI loop as experts used to train and refine AI systems. As long as AI algorithms have existed, humans have been integral to ensuring they perform as intended and that their output is of satisfactory quality.

That doesn’t change now that we’ve involved AI in content creation.

Humans are an essential part of the loop whether AI is part of the process of creating a blog post, designing a rocket ship, or turning widgets out on the factory floor. And in content marketing, humans are destined to lead – keeping emotional intelligence and empathy for the customer at the heart of your strategy – as AI tools inform and assist.

This is the time for education, experimentation, and exploring the possibilities. AI is learning and evolving fast, and so is our collective understanding of its capabilities and limitations.  

Expect a flood in the market of new chat-based applications, and an explosion of AI-assisted content on the web the search battleground of quality vs quantity evolves. As content is copied, rewritten, and AI-generated at scale, those humans in the loop most skilled at AI-assisted content marketing will be the differentiator that ensures the best content is front and center.

AI will not replace your role, as long as you learn to embrace it and understand the more effective ways it can help improve your content performance.

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