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Automated authors: humanising B2B content in an artificial world

Posted by Tom Wall
Speed Reading Mode

We’ve all heard the rumours: artificial intelligence (AI) is coming to take our jobs and our lives. But what about writers?

What impact will machine learning have on the content marketing industry? And can it really master the nuance and artistry of the written word?

While still in their infancy, automated content writers are no longer unique to the realm of science fiction; they’re real and available to the masses. As marketing becomes increasingly digitised, the war between human and machine is set to rage across the blogosphere. So who will win out?

A new breed of writing machines

AI has already proved to be more effective than humans in a number of sectors. Robots dominate our production and assembly lines, with other jobs such as retail and accounting considered highly automatable, according to McKinsey research.

But where does that leave content marketers? Believe it or not, automated content has been doing the rounds for almost two decades, beginning with simple mimicry in the early 90s and developing into the reporting algorithms we see today.

Amongst the current generation of writing tools are platforms such as Quill and Wordsmith, which introduce an element of storytelling to data-intensive reports. The creators of Quill even gave the sector its own name: Narrative Science.

But before you send your entire marketing team to the jobcentre, consider what these machines are lacking.

Automation vs authenticity

If machine learning can compile financial reports, the next logical step must be content marketing. After all, most content follows a simple template or house style.

But despite the potential of automated content, writing remains a fundamentally human process. We are natural storytellers, adding our own unique perspective to the words we pen. The best examples of copywriting and content are those that sound human and have a certain sense of flair and rhythm. So far, this is something the machines have found impossible to replicate.

In the battle of the neural networks, human brains still come out on top. Yes, writing is a specific sequence of letters on a page - just as code is a specific sequence of numbers on a screen – but it’s the sentiment behind those sequences that truly matters.

This is what drives a reader to purchase, subscribe or react. A machine can analyse a topic, identify the crucial components and churn out a narrative report of the events. But it can’t process or tell that story emotionally.

‘The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.’

This was Turing Award winner, Edsger W. Dijkstra’s take on the situation. His thoughts were clear: while machines are perfectly capable of replicating human behaviour at a surface level, there is no emotional intelligence influencing their decisions.

Content is king, not kilobytes

content is king, not kilobytes

Let’s see how human and machine compare head to head. Here are two examples of sports reporting, taken from the New York Times – see if you can spot the automated content:

  1. “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.”
  1. “The University of Michigan baseball team used a four-run fifth inning to salvage the final game in its three-game weekend series with Iowa, winning 7-5 on Saturday afternoon (April 24) at the Wilpon Baseball Complex, home of historic Ray Fisher Stadium.”

Both are certainly intelligible pieces of writing and you might even struggle to tell the authors apart (for the record, the first excerpt was machine-written). But, on the whole, most readers find human-written copy more coherent and ‘pleasant to read'. Of course, I wouldn’t ask you to trust the word of a bitter, human copywriter. Check out the evidence for yourself in the 2014 study, ‘Enter the Robot Journalist’.

Emotion and relatability are such important qualities in a piece of content marketing because the audience you’re writing for is unequivocally human (even Google’s algorithms are striving to behave like actual readers). Just think: how many times has a customer asked for a more personal experience from your business? At a fundamental level, we all want to feel an intimate connection with the material we’re reading.

Working with the ‘enemy’

Humans and machines can work together to achieve the right balance between science and art. Content marketing automation allows human copywriters to produce valuable, insightful content in a shorter timeframe. Tools such as the Hemingway App, Yoast and CoSchedule make it simpler to create engaging articles, optimise them for online use and share them with your audience.

As more companies realise the potential of inbound marketing, remarkable content is becoming increasingly important. Blogs influence 84 per cent of consumers to make a purchase, so it’s vital yours stand out from the millions of posts already available online.

But while machines produce automated content at a prolific rate, writing that lacks that all-important, organic feel serves little purpose. For true personalisation at scale, you need apps that work for your copywriters, not the other way around.

Keeping it real

There’s no doubt that content marketing automation makes a writer’s job easier. At Articulate, we use a range of writing tools to help optimise our online content, but we never sacrifice the human quality of our work.

If you’re looking for a more expedient way to produce reports, then perhaps automated content is the way forward. However, in a world overrun by technological ‘solutions’, your customers will thank you for keeping things real.

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