4 Reasons to Hesitate Before Using AI to Create Content
Because I am a content agency owner in addition to being a journalist, I have a personal view into why so many brands are talking about using AI to create content. Writing labor is by far my biggest expense. I, too, can see the dollar signs involved in slashing those costs by replacing writers who do their work from scratch with AI copy and some light editing.
But I highly doubt I would ever switch to a content creation process focused on AI. Sure, AI will play a role in driving more efficient research and may help with small tasks like writing meta descriptions. But there are at least four reasons content agencies, media organizations, and brands alike should hesitate to rely too much on AI content creation.
AI can’t build a differentiated brand. It can’t capture the expertise of your thought leaders. It can’t replace the strategic thinking that expert writers bring to the table. And your customers are discerning enough to tell the difference between automated and human-written content. For all four of these reasons, organizations should at least hesitate before using AI to create content.
AI can’t build a content differentiated brand
AI’s main utility at present is helping with research to inform articles. For example, let’s say a freelance writer has to pen an article about location data, but they’ve never written about the subject before. Asking ChatGPT to write a blog post about how location data can make advertising more effective is an efficient way to help the writer understand the points the article should touch on. Then, the writer can consult with the client or other subject matter experts to learn what the client has to say on the topic that isn’t already commoditized (and available to AI chatbots).
AI can even write basic articles with light human editing. For example, if you just want to write an article about what location data is, AI can probably do most of the heavy lifting. But then, you have to consider the strategy and marketing implications behind publishing such an article with few revisions. If you’re publishing basic AI-generated articles, so are your competitors. And Google has already signaled it will downgrade such content. How is that going to help you stand out and build relationships with your customers?
AI can’t explain why your company specifically is suited to solve the customer’s problems in a way that your competitors are not. For that reason, you will probably want to use it for research, not content creation.
AI can’t capture the nuances of your subject matter experts’ thinking
If you’re producing thought leadership, you are trying to win with the superior expertise of the human talent at your disposal. Putting this expertise into words doesn’t happen by copying your competitors’ blog posts (which is what content farms do and is something AI can replace). It happens via interviews that capitalize on years of experience (which Google highly values) and human intellect.
AI cannot effectively capture this process yet. It is better at regurgitating basic definitions and points of consensus, which are not the building blocks of thought leadership. To stand out in the crowded online marketplace of ideas, you’ll need to work with journalistic writers who can glean your executive team’s non-commoditized expertise and share it with your customers in ways that resonate with their pain points. That still requires human talent.
Let’s say you’re a law firm with some of the best personal injury attorneys in the country. If you’re creating content to explain to potential clients how personal injury laws work and how your lawyers are suited to help them navigate those laws, you do not want to rely on an AI solution that reiterates what every other law firm and Wikipedia article has explained about the laws in question. You want to draw on the expertise and irreplicable experience of your in-house experts to provide value to your prospects by showing them how much you know and how you are best positioned to help them.
AI cannot do that yet. I doubt it will be able to do so anytime soon.
AI can’t replace content from strategic human thinking
When you pay an expert writer to create content, you’re paying for strategic thinking on both the level of the individual article and more broadly.
Even if you use ChatGPT to create a blog post, the quality of the result will depend on the precision and creativity of the questions the user poses to AI. A novice writer might say, “Write me a post on location data.” An experienced writer, especially one with a journalistic background, will say, “How can mobility data drive growth for quick-serve restaurants? How does mobility data differ from other forms of location data? What are the risks involved? What are some brands that have effectively used location data? Can you provide me data indicating the efficacy of using location data to grow QSR brands?” This is the sort of thinking — meditating on the specific needs of the audience and how they map onto the goals of a piece of content and the brand behind it — that expert writers do. You can’t just replace it with a marketing person without writing expertise, nor can you synthesize and edit the answers that come out into a compelling product for customers.
More broadly, when you pay premium writers to help with content, you’re not just paying content creators; you’re paying editorial and/or marketing strategists. If you have a content marketing expert, such as an in-house marketing director, spearheading your strategy, you may be able to get by without a writer with that expertise. If not, you’re not paying a writer; you’re paying someone to help you understand how to use content to grow your brand. This requires understanding where content sits in the funnel, how promotional to be, and how to fit some level of promotion into the article without scaring off the reader. AI cannot replicate this critical counsel.
Customers are discerning enough to demand better than AI content
My customers would know if I replaced my writers with AI. They would know if the writing for which they and I both pay hefty sums were substituted for immediately generated content based on consensus research and often outdated information. They would know if the content previously written by professionals who had dedicated their lives to the craft were replaced by a machine that essentially copies and synthesizes existing information.
Let me be clear: AI can be a very helpful tool for research. I am not a luddite. I have already advised my writers to use ChatGPT to learn quickly about new topics. I will even concede that there are content jobs that can be replaced by AI, mostly because many companies are happy to produce commoditized content. If your content marketing program consists of copying competitors’ blog posts, AI can replace your writers.
But content driven by subject matter expert interviews, crafted by dyed-in-the-wool writers, and written to differentiate high-value brands cannot be replaced by AI. And the brands who try to do just that will likely end up hiring premium agencies to rewrite their work (which is what so many premium content engagements focus on).
Those of us who pay specialized human writers for premium content should aspire to doing it right the first time. Our customers, employees, shareholders, and even Google will thank us.