Want to get viral page views? That's easy. Write a piece called: "AI is going to replace _____ [insert creative profession here] - and... it's already happening! " Update your LinkedIn profile everyone; you're porked!
I already blew a gasket about AI displacing content creators. But a new piece, larded up with sensationalist BS, got me going again, because of this assertion: "You've probably read its work without realising it's an AI."
Time to put a new (free) AI writing generator, YouWrite, through its paces. My goal?
Find out if enterprise media - the kind we serve up on diginomica - is in clear and present AI danger. Here's what I've concluded:
- Yes, people who write absolutely terrible marketing copy are threatened by AI.
- If horrendous, schlocky, buzzword-drenched, short-form marketing copy is effective, then yes, AI is ready to step in and do that (for some examples, read on).
- If search engines allow that buzzword-drenched, bot-generated marketing copy to rank highly in search, then, yes, that copy will appear on some web sites (not on ours!)
- In almost any profession, the most repetitive, robot-like work is threatened by actual robots. If you write like a robot, and you can somehow get paid to write robotic copy, then yes, AI can probably help - or take your job.
- Ironically, by focusing on the creative act itself - the thing human creatives do best - we've missed the lead story: all the potent ways AI can support content creation.
The (supposed) AI writing threat - "your GPT-3 workmate"
Let's start with Danny's workmate is called GPT-3. You've probably read its work without realising it's an AI. These articles got a second wind because GPT-3 is clearly an advance in bot sophistication - much moreso than Meta's new Blenderbot, which is already getting trashed for being a comparatively dumb (and weird) bot. But GPT-3 has a few things going for it, which leads us to Danny's GPT-3 workmate. The piece asserts:
Danny Mahoney's workmate never leaves, sleeps, or takes a break. Day after day, the AI writing assistant churns out blog posts, reviews, company descriptions and the like for clients of Andro Media, Mr. Mahoney's digital marketing company in Melbourne.
No accident: this example is about marketing copy, perhaps the only type of copy where the bar is low enough to accept AI verbiage, and use it at web scale. I'd love to see a compelling, bot-generated blog post (no examples are provided). There's a technical gulf the size of Lake Michigan between a short company blurb and a coherent blog post.
"Writers are expensive. And there's a limit to how much quality content a human can produce," Mr. Mahoney says.
Well yes, that's why writing is a profession.
"You can get the same quality of content using AI tools. You just get it faster."
Since I've never seen a quality article generated by AI, I'll call BS on that.
Every SEO [Search Engine Optimisation] agency that I've spoken with uses AI to some extent.
Sure, but that's about jamming web sites with keyword-generated verbiage, maneuvering one step ahead of Google, which is cracking down on bot content. Another example:
The AI tool now writes pretty much everything for his company, Moto Dynamics, which sells motorcycles and organises racing events. Its output includes employee bios, marketing copy, social media posts, and business proposals.
I wouldn't let a bot near my own bio, but go ahead, generate some raw copy. Have fun posting bios loose on facts (bots suck at getting facts completely right; they like to run "facts" up text pattern flagpoles).
"Can AI write good?"
Bots excel at mediocre blurbs that provide a boilerplate paragraph (or two). I'd bet my Doordash lunch, however, that these bots are not creating effective social media posts. Short-form posts require cleverness to stand out amidst deafening social noise - that's not for bots. Announcing this Sunday's dirt bike race? Sure, a bot can do that.
The "Danny's workmate" article - which is well-researched, I concede - goes on to ask the question "can AI write good?" The proof points? More generic paragraphs. Bots can't handle the narratives readers need for article-length content. Paragraphs are base camp. Narratives are AI's Mount Everest, and the technology isn't close. Bots can't even provide the hook. The lead paragraph is kind of a big deal - in marketing and beyond. Then the article backs up, reverting to this quote:
"It helps you overcome the blank-page problem."
If you stare at the blank screen, maybe machine-generated junk would get you started. But for now:
- Bots can write topical, short-form content at scale, to plug in where you can get away with it.
- Bots can help you trick search engines into thinking you know stuff, by juicing your web site with keyword-laden text. (Be careful with that - SEO black hats regularly get search spankings).
- And yes, you've probably read a bot's copy online. But I know you didn't share that copy, bookmark it, or say, "that's a really great insight."
Putting YouWrite to the B2B content test
Which brings me to YouWrite. YouWrite is a free, AI text generation engine launched by You.com search. With sign up, you get 50 free text generation attempts (I think that resets monthly). YouWrite churns out a paragraph at a time - about what AI is capable of.
Why not test YouWrite's enterprise chops? Can YouWrite put me out of a job?
YouWrite has a nice clean design. You choose the type of writing, the type of audience, and provide keywords to get the bot started. I started with - what else? Digital transformation:
I picked "persuasive" for the tone, because, let's face it, we all need to be persuaded about so-called "digital transformation." YouWrite served up:
Digital transformation is more than just a buzzword – it's a fundamental shift in the way businesses operate. By embracing digital technologies, companies can create new opportunities and efficiencies, improve customer engagement, and drive growth.
However, embarking on a digital transformation journey can be daunting. It's important to have a clear strategy and roadmap in place, as well as the right tools and resources. Professional services firms can help organizations navigate this journey and achieve success.
Pretty accurate. But I'd never use it, unless I was trying to get a project manager to take a nap. What if we dial back the promotion? I tried "digital transformation" again on YouWrite, but selected a "neutral" tone:
Digital transformation is a process that helps organizations to change the way they work in order to meet the demands of the digital age. It enables them to use technology in new ways to improve their performance and competitiveness. By embracing digital technologies, businesses can create innovative customer experiences, optimize operations, and discover new sources of revenue.
Not exactly neutral, but that's a notable tone shift. Now, YouWrite's "witty" option scared me a little. If bots start getting witty, I start updating my resume. Here is the "witty" version of "digital transformation":
Digital transformation is a critical process for businesses in the 21st century. It allows companies to take advantage of new technologies and changes in consumer behavior to remain competitive. By digitizing their operations, businesses can improve efficiency, create new products and services, and better understand their customers. While there are challenges associated with digital transformation, the potential benefits make it a necessary step for any company looking to stay ahead of the curve.
Okay, not so witty. How does YouWrite feel about low-code? Here's the "persuasive" version:
Low code platforms are revolutionizing the way professionals build and deploy applications. By abstracting away much of the complexity of traditional programming, low code platforms allow anyone with basic coding skills to create sophisticated software solutions. This makes low code an ideal platform for prototyping and proof-of-concepts, as well as for small businesses that need to quickly develop custom applications without investing in a full-time developer.
If you're persuaded, I know some low-code vendors who would just love a word with you. Here's the "witty" version:
Low code is the perfect solution for businesses that want to get up and running quickly with little or no programming experience. Low code platforms allow you to create custom applications without having to write a single line of code.
Witty? No, but if you need overhyped assertions for your web site, and want to come off like a carnival barker, feel free to copy/paste that.
My take - B2B content is more than marketing blurbs
I give YouWrite credit for attempting to provide "witty" bot text. I suspect there are wittier responses outside of tech jargon. But bots can't really be witty. You can teach them to be provocative, punchy, and offensive. YouWrite's bot struggled with "neutral" when it comes to tech terminology. What does that say about the model, training data, or our underlying techno-optimism?
Still, the bot's ability to shift from "persuasive" to (somewhat) "neutral" was pretty cool. Notice, however, that the bot didn't provide choices like "critical" or "expert." For high-caliber enterprise writing, I'd go with:
1. expert/knows their stuff (most important quality),
2. critical (ability to evaluate tech hype and vendor speak) and, yes,
4. satirical or snarky, to keep it real. Oh, and don't take for granted: a coherent blog narrative.
Notably, AI comes up quite short on all my top characteristics. Crafting a definition of digital transformation is redundant with Wikipedia.
Frankly, marketers should be offended that these AI bot articles throw your profession under the bus. Can marketers can get away with such low quality that AI can step in and replace you? The "Danny's workmate" article says:
With proper guidance, GPT-3 (and other AI writing tools) can be good enough for standard professional writing tasks like work emails or content marketing, where speed is more important than style.
Work emails? Tread carefully. Style is not important to work emails, but facts and specifics are everything. Bots can save time with a one-liner, like "got the TPS report," but if you want to keep your job, I wouldn't take it further.
Content marketing? No. There is a vast difference between content-for-marketing and content marketing. Verbiage a marketer could plug into a web site - maybe AI can help. But "content marketing" is now very competitive. Content marketing is meant to engage the distracted reader, through exceptional entertainment or relevance. You're not winning at content marketing with bots.
Ironically, these sensational pieces miss where AI has impact: all the tools that support the creative process. AI excels at analyzing articles for contextual keyword usage, or even spitting out possible article headlines for consideration. My two main uses cases: transcripts and grammar/spell check/writing improvement, the latter of which I used on this piece (see: How an AI service won me over by becoming an AI platform - the Otter.ai machine learning transcription example).
Lackluster paragraphs of buzzword-drenched AI text isn't going to help good marketers become great marketers. The race to the bottom is another matter.
For now, enterprise writing is safe from robotic authors. We aren't safe, however, from the algorithms that decide which content matters. Short-form virality dominates our online discourse. The warning I issued last year still applies:
If engagement is the chosen KPI, isn't the door open to all kinds of "snackable" content, fleeting-but-measurable content moments, each of which can be followed by the next sensationalized bite? If so, that's the type of content AI is potentially capable of creating.
This redefinition of "quality" via engagement, and (AI created) content snacks threaten hand-crafted creative content? If we say "yes," that's a tragic concession. We would be accepting life in a distracted dystopia of factually ambiguous content "snacks."
Fortunately for enterprise content creators, we need more than snackable content to get projects across the finish line, or see transformations through. Complex issues require deeper dives.
But: if the world around us descends into viral content snacking, I don't like our chances. Instead of celebrating AI's ability to polarize us, we should push back. That may seem like it's beyond the scope of diginomica; I'm not so sure. We can't operate in enterprise productivity bubbles. It falls on us, then, to show why human-crafted content still matters, rather than celebrating the modest content achievements of machines that excel at other things.
Updated, August 24, 7pm US PT, with a number of small tweaks for reading clarity. No bots were involved.