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Content Wars: Of Robots and Writers

 

online content wars robots and writers 1

Two developments in content marketing have me thinking that total online chaos is just around the corner: 1) Brands are becoming publishers, 2) Robots are too. Taken together, I believe these two developments foreshadow the great online Content Wars, coming to an iPad near you.

I can’t take full credit for this idea- it came to me in a dream (never again will I write a content marketing blog with The Ten Commandments playing in the background). In my reverie, I was overwhelmed by a deluge of content of biblical proportions. Everywhere I turned, there was content. My email box was maxed out with personalized messages linking to free eBooks and webinars; my RSS Feed was clogged with actionable insights on everything from gutter cleaning to love making; cleverly-worded Sponsored Stories were strewn across my Facebook profile like so many grains of sand on a beach; my smartphone was awash with SMS text messages of dubious origin. In this veritable maelstrom of content, my only refuge was Google+, on whose pristine pages the gentle singsong of crickets still could be heard…

I awoke violently, my body bathed in sweat, my heart racing. Could this nightmare ever become reality? Worse still, was I contributing to its fruition?

Realizing that the answer was a resounding “yes” to both questions, I shrugged my shoulders and headed to work to punch out a few more blogs.

As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

BRANDS AS PUBLISHERS

Though the idea has been around for some time, the whole brand-as-publisher chic really gained steam in the past year or so, driven primarily by a series of algorithm changes to Google’s search engine. Seemingly overnight, the paradigm shifted to favor fresh and original content over technical SEO. This changeover was hastened by the mass consumer adoption of mobile devices and social media, which in turn lead to the rise of mobile-friendly content media, especially video. As marketing departments large and small struggled (and mostly failed) to keep up with these rapid-fire developments, everyone started throwing around the term “content marketing” as if it had just been invented.

In some ways, it had.

It was then a short intellectual leap for brands to realize two things: 1) essentially everything shared online- social media updates, reviews, blogs, whitepapers, videos, you name it- is some form of content, 2) the people consuming this content are, well,…consumers (sorry for that).

Once brands had that Eureka moment, it was all downhill from there. It didn’t taken long for would-be pundits galore (me included) to slice and dice the concept of content, adding layer upon layer of complication. In a similar development, marketing departments and key executives, realizing that content was now king, collectively went all in. Deanna Brown, CEO of Federated Media Publishing, echoed this sentiment almost verbatim a few months back, where is was quoted in a Mashable post written by Brian Solis as saying, “Content, in the right context, is ultimately king.”

From there it was a hop, skip, and a jump to the concept of brands as storytellers focused on personally engaging with their audience; in other words, brands as publishers. Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan has gone as far as to suggest that brands should start running their marketing departments like production companies- think CNN or HBO- businesses pumping out tons of content that speaks to the particular interests of each segment of their target audience. Though it may seem hyperbolic, I think many brands will follow Mr. Halligan’s advice.

ROBOTS AS PUBLISHERS

With brands as publishers, the online content marketing landscape is going to get crowded in a hurry.

Enter the robots.

Chris Crum of WebPro News recently wrote a great piece about a company called Narrative Science, a robo-content farm with a tag that reads, “We transform stories into data and insights.” Crum boils down the Narrative Science business model into clear terms, “they provide articles that are written by machines rather than people.”

Think Terminator with a keyboard.

The article gets downright creepy when Crum explains how Narrative Science’s algorithms are getting better at understanding context and natural language, both of which will allow the firm to micro-target specific demographics with personalized messaging. Imagine a smart program that knows what you are interested in, understands your preferred writing style, and as such can extrapolate what it thinks you should (or in this case eventually would) want to read. What if election campaigns with unlimited PAC money start using this technology?

If you suddenly find your RSS feed flowing with amazing stories that capture your heart, you better raise an eyebrow.

This isn’t science fiction; it’s the future of content marketing.

CONTENT WITHOUT END

So on the one hand we’ve got brands retro-fitting their marketing departments to look like the CNN newsroom (sans Wolf Blitzer), and on the other robots churning out reams of content you’ll want to read but don’t know it yet.

Ugh.

Like so many conflagrations of the past, irony is rife in the Content Wars. Brands who started out realizing that they should listen to their audience and provide them with content that informs, entertains and is otherwise useful to their daily lives may spare the trouble and instead churn out reams of robo-content faster than a Gatlin gun. Push marketing, you say? Not technically; because brands will be able to divine what their audience wants when they want it, it’s more like “anticipatory marketing.”

Call me a blowhard, call me a crackpot. Do me a favor, though, and save this post (while you still have room) for future reference; if I’m at all close on this, such admonitions may be harder to come by. After all, life is going to get pretty hard for a lone blogger trying to navigate his way in the Content Wars. 

 


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