James Hale, Author at Gooey Digital
Gooey Digital

Facebook & Instagram Algorithm Updates To Be Aware Of In 2018

Facebook and Instagram are two of the most popular and potentially powerful social media tools in the world of business – and in recent months, algorithm updates have made them smarter than ever. The machines are learning, and marketers and brands will need to adapt to and play by their rules.


For many digital marketers, hearing the word ‘algorithm’ provokes a sensation that’s not a million miles away from having ice water poured over your nether-regions while someone removes your appendix with a rusty spoon. 

While algorithm updates might have historically only been seen as a part of search engine marketing, things have changed – fast. Social media may once have offered a brief respite from the hoop-jumping forced upon us by pandas, penguins, and a host of other seemingly innocuous fluffy animals, but alas, things have changed.

These AI systems are now an integral part of almost all social media platforms – and in recent months, Facebook and Instagram in particular have seen some fairly hefty changes.

In January, the world of marketing trembled as Mark Zuckerberg (the social media equivalent of a demigod) announced that Facebook’s algorithm would be altered (again) to favour content created by friends and family. Brands are reeling, but this is far from the only change in the social media game.

From virtual sin-binning to banned hashtags, these are the Facebook and Instagram algorithm updates marketers should be aware of in 2018:

Facebook Algorithm Updates

Facebook’s algorithm is getting smarter…

Arguably the Godfather of all social media platforms, Facebook has gone through a huge number of changes over the years.

The newsfeed that many of us take for granted today is, relatively speaking, a fairly recent addition – and the algorithm used to determine who sees what and when has become frighteningly advanced.

In January, Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement of Facebook’s content-serving reshuffle resonated with the marketing world – and struck fear into the hearts of countless social media executives, marketers, and business owners.

Cries of the ‘death of Facebook marketing’ were echoed among the community, and while this seems a little hyperbolic, things have certainly changed, and marketers need to make sure they’re clued in to how Facebook is going to ‘think’ from now on.

Here are a few key algorithm updates to the platform that you might not be aware of, and what this means for your Facebook strategy:

1. Facebook is prioritising content from family and friends (again)

This is less of a dramatic change, and more of a return to form. Unfortunately, from a user perspective Facebook has become less of a social platform, and something closer to an enormous digital advertising board.  

Those of us who logged in to Facebook when it first launched all the way back in 2004 will remember that originally, the whole point was to connect us with other people, not brands or companies.

In fact, Facebook didn’t even have a newsfeed until 2006 – and the ‘like’ button didn’t get introduced until 2009. That’s right, content on the Facebook newsfeed was unlikeable for 3 years, and for the first 24 months of its existence, you couldn’t even see user content without specifically searching for your friends’ pages. *shudder*.

Over the years, the newsfeed has gone through many incarnations: from displaying posts in chronological order, to giving more sway to content that had the most engagement, and even a few weird iterations of the two.

The purpose has always been, according to Zuckerberg, to show people what they want to see. And no matter how well crafted your company or client’s content, chances are people would rather be reading about their friends’ recent drunken holiday stories than learning what your brand has to offer them.

On January the 11th, 2018, Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was aligning itself with “a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people’s well-being”, and admitted businesses are going to have to work harder than ever to gain customers’ attention.

How businesses should respond:

In essence, Zuckerberg has already answered this one for us. Bluntly put, businesses and marketers are just going to have to work harder, and take more care, in order to get their content in front of users. 

This might seem a little trite or vague, but the key takeaway is that the algorithm has its crosshairs on content created by company pages. In other words, you shouldn’t be posting anything you wouldn’t want to see on your own personal newsfeed.

One useful tactic will be to focus on content that can generate interaction between individual users, not just between users and the company.

Posts that stimulate conversation or tap into people’s desire to share things with their network might (and we stress the word ‘might’) be able to break out of the digital reach jail cell that businesses on Facebook currently find themselves in.

This focus on engagement is a vital one, and one that brings us nicely onto the next point:

2. If people don’t engage with your content, it’s going in the Facebin.

We’re not sure we ‘like’ the sound of this… (we’ll see ourselves out.)

Engagement has always been an important metric, but Facebook’s algorithm is now going to be even more scrutinous of posts from businesses when it comes to likes, comments, and shares.

If your content doesn’t receive a good amount of engagement (and what constitutes a ‘good amount’ is entirely at the behest of the algorithm), then Facebook’s bot is more likely than ever to decide it’s unworthy of appearing on your potential customers’ newsfeeds – and relegate it to the digital rubbish bin.

Worst still, it seems that if you’re on the receiving end of such virtual sin-binning, then the content you publish following your ill-received post will be deemed less worthy, and will in turn be shown to fewer users.

This implies that businesses failing to receive enough engagement on their posts could find themselves in a vicious circle, whereby a post’s poor engagement leads to the following post being shown to fewer people, which leads to even worse engagement metrics, etc. etc.

How businesses should respond:

The simple solution to this is, unfortunately, not that simple. The implication of these changes is that the best way to ensure your content reaches a consistent number of people is probably to opt for paid media, via promoted posts.

Content curation is more important than ever

Facebook is still offering the same comprehensive advertising package, and promoting content is a surefire way to get it in front of a wide, targeted audience. Although it also means sticking budget towards your campaign, and it won’t have an impact on organic reach.

The other option is simply to take a lot more time in crafting your content. Study your insight data carefully to determine what works, and what doesn’t.

Create content that users simply can’t resist sharing or engaging with: be humorous, provocative (in a positive way), and original. Generate discussion – but whatever you do, don’t beg for engagement.

Which leads us nicely to:

3. If you beg for engagement, Facebook can tell – and punish you accordingly

No one wants to receive poor levels of interaction on social media, and businesses looking to rectify downward-curving engagement metrics might feel tempted to simply ask people to engage with them.

It’s annoyingly common to see pages begging users for engagement with phrases such as ‘Like this post if you think X, or Share this post if you prefer Y’, along with other tactics used to try and game the algorithm – but Facebook has clamped down on this too.

Asking users to Like, Share, or Comment on content has been dubbed ‘engagement bait’ by Facebook, and these tactics will also be feeling the wrath of the latest algorithm update. Since December 2017, Facebook has been penalising content that uses phrases such as these, with repeat offenders having all of their posts demoted.

Quit it Fido, no one likes begging

How businesses should respond:

A fairly obvious point, but don’t ask people to engage with you. As mentioned previously, great content speaks for itself – ask questions, or create posts that inherently stimulate engagement, but resist the urge to ask people to hit the like button outright.

One thing you can (currently) point users in the direction of, is the ‘see first’ option. By visiting a business page, users can hover over the ‘liked’ or ‘followed’ icon, and click ‘see first’.

This acts like a vote in favour of your brand’s content, and means that when you post something, it’ll be a lot more likely to be shown to those who opted to ‘see first’.

This ability to tactfully point users in the direction of the setting could mean that even if your content starts to reach fewer people, those that actually do want to see your posts will still be able to do so.

Just be careful and respectful when giving your followers this advice – don’t demand or insist they do so, and try to highlight that this is simply a way for users who enjoy your posts to ensure they continue to see them.

This also comes with the caveat that you need to be creating content that users actively want to keep receiving in the first place. And remember that things change regularly in Facebook-Land; if this becomes another spammy tactic used by brands, then the algorithm may start to recognise it as ‘engagement bait’ too.

Instagram Algorithm Updates

Instagram used to be so quaint. Images of quinoa and other hipster meals were a common feature, along with more photos of animals than the entire National Geographic back catalogue. But while Instagram was a fun platform, it wasn’t always seen as a great marketing tool.

Boy, do times change. With over 800 million active users as of September 2017, Instagram has become the global epicentre of image-based marketing, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

As the key platform for many influencers, Instagram has quickly become a must-use tool for any brands with a visual or aesthetic aspect to their services and products, and there are thriving communities for almost every niche imaginable.

But with this popularity comes a catch.  

In in the early days of the internet, SEOs and marketers quickly discovered how to game the search engines’ keyword ranking algorithms – but these strategies were identified, and stamped out. A similar thing has happened to Instagram.

When the platform was first identified by marketers and brands as a source of potential customer reach and lead generation, a few simple tactics could ensure your posts were seen by a huge number of people.

It was only a matter of time, then, before the platform became clogged with content that people didn’t really want to see. Lo and behold, the platform’s algorithm has now been changed to prevent marketers abusing Instagram.

Posts are getting far less exposure than they used to, with estimations that only around 10% of your following actually see your published photos. In 2016, Instagram abandoned its chronological timeline, favouring content that was more ‘interesting and engaging’. Sound familiar?

This (along with many other updates to the algorithm) has far-reaching implications for marketers and brands aiming to use the platform for business. Here are a few of the most important Instagram algorithm updates to be aware of in 2018:

1. Instagram wants us to tell stories

Launched in 2016, Instagram’s story feature falls in line with the rising demand for instant, ephemeral content first popularised by platforms like Vine and Snapchat.

Instagram stories have continued to soar in popularity, with over 300 million users actively engaging with the feature daily (almost double that of Snapchat).

This seems a logical pattern with a platform that’s constantly updating and changing the content displayed in its newsfeed. Many users are familiar with the sense of frustration that comes after a big update to a platform they know and love, so it makes sense that with Instagram shaking user feeds up so much, people are turning to Stories as a more reliable source of content from accounts they actually care about.

What’s particularly interesting is the fact that this is now having an impact on how well an account’s content performs in the standard feed. Instagram takes the engagement of stories (including the number of times they’re viewed) into account when deciding which posts to feature in users’ news feeds.

How businesses should respond:

The key thing is that businesses and marketers shouldn’t ignore the potential of Instagram stories, and should dedicate some time to finding ways to integrate it into their Insta strategy.

Put simply, create stories that generate decent engagement, and your standard posts will be shown to more people.

Spending some time to figure out how this could be used in relation to your own brand’s content could be the key to ensuring your posts are seen by a wider audience.

Stories offer a great opportunity to capitalise on timely content that doesn’t always need as much curating as a normal post. Short videos and behind-the-scenes snaps perform particularly well here, along with ‘exclusive’ previews of products, events, and other news pertinent to your brand.

Instagram even offers a few features that only integrate with stories, such as the increasingly popular ‘polling feature’ (allowing you to create a multiple choice poll on a story image, which inherently stimulates engagement).

Stories offer a great way to show a more personal side to your brand too, and make users feel like they’re ‘getting to know you’. (Nawww.)

2. Instagram feels the need – the need for speed (and time spent viewing posts)

Time is of the essence with Instagram engagement…

Another relatively new update to the way Instagram rates engagement is an increased emphasis on speed. Yep, it’s no longer just about how many likes and comments you can get; it’s also about how quickly you can get them. On top of this, the algorithm also now takes into account how much time users spend looking at your content.

The logic behind this seems fairly straightforward – if a post gets published and then immediately gets a lot of likes and shares, it’s probably a good post. Similarly, a picture that people look at for longer is probably worth looking at.

How businesses should respond:

It might be tempting to organise a Mission Impossible-esque synchronisation of likes among everyone you know with an Instagram account, but in reality, the best way to ensure you get that all-important early engagement is to be crafty with your timing.

Instagram provides a useful analytics tool for business accounts, that lets you know the times of day when your followers are most active. You should be using this as a guideline every time you post, as these peak activity times usually vary on different days of the week.

Try to coincide your publishing with these times to get a surge of likes and engagement as soon as your post goes live, which should show Instagram that you’re the best darn brand around.

When it comes to time spent viewing your content, things are a little trickier. You need to try and find ways to stop users in their tracks when they see your content, instead of scrolling past without giving it a second thought.

They key to success here lies both in the quality of images you post, and the captions you write. Try to only upload good photos, and take a bit of pride in making your images aesthetically pleasing. If you need to, spend a day or two taking an abundance of Insta-worthy snaps, that you can draw upon for a few weeks or months to come.

Similarly, when it comes to captions, quality is vital. Instagram doesn’t display an entire caption to a user until they click the ‘see more’ option, so your first two lines are crucial. Ask a question, add some intrigue, make people laugh, and try to find things to say that users will want to continue reading.

3. #Bannedhashtags

“Oh hey #books! Huh? You want to be tagged in our next post? uh, this is awkward…”

In our most recent blog post, we looked into things your brand should be doing with instagram hashtags, and one that really stands out in 2018 is the introduction of banned tags. Sadly, the world is full of people who – intentionally or not – end up ruining things for everyone else. This is exactly what’s happened to Instagram hashtags.

By posting content that violates Instagram’s community guidelines to specific hashtags, spammy accounts have managed to get these tags banned. Nice one, dicks. This is why we can’t have nice things.

If an account uses a banned hashtag, the content associated with the tag won’t appear in the feeds of those it may otherwise have reached. Accounts regularly using banned tags can even have their entire accounts ‘shadowbanned’: a penalty imposed by the algorithm that prevents any future posts (and sometimes all past content) from being seen by anyone but existing followers, or even anyone at all. *quakes in fear of our mighty robot overlords*

How businesses should respond:

The most important thing is to be careful whenever you’re using hashtags on Instagram, and avoid using any banned tags at all. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to find out if your chosen #s are greenlit or not, so, annoyingly, you’ll need to do things manually.

#balls is officially a no go. Balls.

In Instagram, if you search for a phrase and the relevant term doesn’t appear as a viewable hashtag, it’s been banned. Some tags are still searchable however, so even if it appears in the dropdown list, don’t stop there.

Click on the tag, and see if you can scroll down through the images using it; after a few historic ‘top posts’, banned tags will prevent you from scrolling, and will display a message saying something like this:

‘recent posts from #example are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s community guidelines’ 

If you see that message, don’t use that hashtag.

What’s particularly surprising is just how seemingly harmless some of these banned tags are – you might assume that none of the hashtags you’d want to use could be associated with anything seedy, but this isn’t always true.

Case in point: #books and #desks – banned. (We know, ridiculous.)

It might seem like an agonising and time consuming process to check every tag you use, but it’s important not to leave this to chance. Make a list of the tags you’ve used and that you know are all clear. And if you come up with a hashtag that you’d like to use, only to discover it’s been banned, add it to the naughty list and avoid.

Final thoughts

The ever-changing algorithms used by Facebook and Instagram might be a source of endless frustration, but ultimately, they’re simply trying to ensure that the end user experience is a positive one.

These updates are just steps along the way to ensuring that the content we get to see is the kind of content we want to see, not the content that’s been shoved in front of us against our will.

As we move into 2018 and beyond, these updates are a sign of a simple premise that should be at the heart of social media marketing for businesses – create content for the user, not for yourself. Craft posts people genuinely want to see, and that stimulate engagement, and you algorithms will continue to show it to them.

#simples

How Digital Technology Has Changed Language – The Good, The Bad and The Smiley

Chat. Jargon. Jibber jabber. Even the language we use to describe language is rich and diverse.

Over our species’ history, language has been evolving constantly, and the deep and intricate nature of the way we communicate is arguably the reason we’re the dominant species on Earth; should a Jurassic Park-esque scenario ever become a reality, it’s not velociraptors opening doors we should worry about – it’s T-Rexes writing sonnets.

We’ve come a long way from the cave painting and war dancing of our ancestors, and from the time when written communication was new (some 30,000 years ago); we’ve now crossed the 1,000,000 word threshold in English.

What’s fascinating about this achievement, is the word that tipped us over the edge. The millionth word added to our language, controversially, was ‘web 2.0’ – and this is hugely telling. Technology has always been one of the major driving factors in the evolution of language and communication, but in recent years, with the emergence of digital technology, these things have been turned on their head, possibly forever.

Marketing and the Digital Revolution

A blue and gold strategy banner
“We need to innovate, synergise, and strategise. Blue-sky thinking team, blue-sky thinking.”

The subheading might make it sound like a weird math-rock Prince cover band, but marketing and the language of digital are two things that go hand in hand. For those working in digital or content marketing, language is hugely important. It’s central to everything.

Marketing is all about understanding how to communicate to a target audience, which for the most part is done, in one form or another, through language – written and spoken.

As our modern world increasingly turns digital –  and with the internet of things now making big waves in Western society (think A.I speakers) – it’s never been more important to understand how language has been shaped by the digital frontier.

Digital Communication

Tin can language
“This modern technology is amazing…”

There’s no question that digitisation and the internet have redefined how we communicate. We can talk to each other across huge distances. We can get in touch with people that in the past, we would never have had the opportunity to meet. We can talk with, record, watch, and write to people across the entire globe, in an insurmountable number of ways.

The internet, arguably the biggest evolution in communication, is itself built upon a foundation of language. As Bill Gates famously said, ‘content is king’, and the internet is governed by the written word.

Despite the popularity of video and image content, search engines – the godly entities by which essentially the entire internet is filtered to us – only really understand written content.

This says a lot about the foundations of modern communication, but it potentially could ring some alarm bells; if the internet is able to fluidly understand written communication, could there be justification for fears of technology’s ability to influence people? With the rise of superintelligent A.I, could machines learn to write and communicate by themselves?

 

The Good

Statue of Shakespeare
Ol’ Shakey P would be proud.

It’s not all doom and gloom. By developing technology to the extent we have, we can now communicate in ways that our ancestors would likely have thought impossible.

The concept of being able to live video chat with a friend was once singularly relegated to the realm of science fiction, and it’s now commonplace (we can even do it on the move – *Christopher Walken Impression* “It’s CRAZY”).

As a result of the countless methods we can now use communicate, our language has also diversified in ways we would likely have never predicted.

Simply put – there are lots more words now. The internet, with its layers of interconnectivity and endless sources of inspiration, has led to countless new terms and additions to our vocabulary.

This includes things like now-officially-recognised abbreviations such as ‘lol’ (shudder), which are not relegated purely to the digital realm – many of us will have heard friends say ‘lol’ out loud, without actually laughing (possibly and justifiably prompting a swift removal of said culprit from our friendship circle).

Say what you will about these new ‘internet words’ (we did – check out our article on it), there’s no doubt that digital tech is broadening our vocab GCSE-French-style.

It doesn’t just widen vocabulary in terms of specific words either – but also exposes us to entirely new dialects and grammatical forms. Anyone who’s read ‘Wuthering Heights’ will likely remember the almost nonsensical Yorkshire dialect of the servant, Joseph.

Compare this to popular social media pages like ‘Scottish Banter’, or simply take a look at the number of middle class schoolchildren now referring to each other as ‘blud’ or ‘fam’, it’s easy to see that our ability to comprehend, understand, and utilise dialects we weren’t previously exposed to has improved significantly as a result of digital interconnectivity.

Digital tech has also lead to new forms of communication entirely – enter the meme. By integrating image and language seamlessly, memes have become a globally recognised form of communication – there’s even an argument that understanding the warped grammar of certain memes like ‘doge’ (Much digital marketing. Very content. Wow.) requires a basic knowledge of accurate grammatical forms – to be able to write deliberately incorrectly, you have to be able to write correctly in the first place.

It’s also interesting to think about how ‘pure’ internet language is. Linguistics have always developed due to the way people use and apply language, but there has historically been a divide between the educated and the illiterate.

Essentially, it’s traditionally been accepted that there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way of speaking, but the internet is blurring that line. As the internet becomes the primary way by which huge amounts of people now communicate, there is no longer such a clearly defined, ‘established’ way of speaking.

Sure, grammar still exists, and it’s important, but what constitutes accurate grammar is no longer purely dictated by dusty tomes and ageing professors – think of the number of supermarkets offering customers a ‘ten items or less’ aisle, when it should be ‘ten items or fewer’. It’s a war of attrition – if enough people speak in a certain way – as we can clearly see online now – then should that way not be recognised as ‘correct’?

The Bad

Look at all the friends I have

Inevitably, some of the ways that the digital world has affected language have been less positive.

Language now moves and develops at such a rapid rate, that it can actually divide people. Many of us will have sighed after one of our parents or older relatives has asked ‘what’s a meme’ (possibly pronouncing it ‘mehmeh’, the ultimate sin.), or who have mistaken ‘lol’ to mean ‘lots of love’ and sent a seemingly cruel text to someone who needed some moral support.

It’s a relatively new phenomenon that in the space of a single lifetime (even sometimes a few years), so many words and grammatical forms can come and go that the speech of our juniors actually doesn’t seem to make sense to us – and it would be fair to say that digital technology and interconnectivity play a big part in this.

There’s also the ‘anti-social media’ argument. It’s not uncommon to hear complaints or concerns over the amount of time young people in particular spend on social media.

Fundamentally, these platforms are built to keep us connected – but there’s an argument that due to their screen-based and impersonal nature, they actually do more harm than good, and if they’re the medium through which language – an inherently social thing – is evolving, could this be harmful?

The Smiley

Poop emoji
“Actually, it’s a happy chocolate ice cream” Sure. Sure it is.

One of the most interesting ways that the digital frontier has shaped language, might not initially seem like it has anything to do with language at all.

The rise of the humble emoji might seem like something cute and quaint, but content marketers and language analysts would be wise to quake in fear at the eminent and expanding power of these little yellow demi-gods.

Emojis have the power to transcend language. Big statement, we know, but it’s true. Spoken and written language are always inhibited in some form or another, by one or more things.

To be able to understand someone speaking to you, you need to be able to speak their language, understand their dialect, register their tone etc.

To read, or write, you need to not only know a language, but how to record and interpret it graphically. Communicating with someone who isn’t able to do one or more of these things is difficult – these integral features of spoken and written communication create barriers (and shouty tourists).

Emojis, on the other hand, aren’t restricted by this. All it takes to understand an emoji is a basic grasp of facial contortion and human emotion/expression, or the ability to recognise simple emblems – while of course this may be difficult for some, it’s far less restrictive and complex than the spoken or written word.

These little graphic devils are also fast becoming a powerful tool in online marketing. It’s now possible to search specifically for an emoji in the same way we search for a hashtag, and more and more symbols are being added to the emoji ‘dictionary’ all the time – it’s even possible for brands to create their own, personalised emoji symbols.

Possibly the most fascinating thing about all of this, is the paradox in the way that emoji use is simultaneously pushing our digital society forward, and harking back to some of the earliest forms of communication. In essence, you could say emojis were hieroglyphs. Had we only listened to wise words of The Bangles, and done as they’d asked… we’re not walking like egyptians – we’re writing like them.

Why is this important for digital marketers?

Billboards
1. Create message. 2. Put it in front of people. Simples, no?

At its heart, digital marketing is all to do with language. All the data-analysis and tech wizardry aside, the crux of what marketers do is find ways to put a message in front of people, and articulate that message in such a way that said people engage with it. Language is utterly essential to this – and remaining in touch with the way people use language is crucial.

These same principles apply when you’re considering the experience required when recruiting a marketer, hiring a digital agency or developing your own marketing skills. In order to succeed in today’s digital environment, the core skill sets have fundamentally changed as the Google algorithm has got smarter.

With engagement now considered to be an important factor for SEO, Social Media and Paid Media campaigns, it’s not all about how technically proficient you are, but more importantly how engaging your content is – basically, it’s all about how good at words you are.

Marketers need to stay in touch with the way people talk and communicate, and apply this knowledge in alignment with your target market and brand identity.

In an ideal world, there should be an authentic and relevant tone of voice that resonates with your audience. There’s no point using slang and abbreviated forms of communication if this isn’t part of your audience’s every day lexicon – it just comes across as insincere and a bit shit.

Digital marketers and SEOs, in particular, also need to understand how to carefully use the very same language to appeal to people and search engines alike, which can be a tricky balancing act.

Final Thoughts

“I just wonder what it all… what it all means, y’know?”

The issue of the development of language is a complex but thoroughly compelling one. There’s little doubt digital technology has redefined the world in innumerable ways; the way we communicate and the language we use have been reshaped – possibly forever.

The relevance to those of us who work with language on a daily basis is twofold. 1 – we need to keep up to date with the way people talk online and in person.

We need to know what people say, why they say it, and when it’s a good idea to say it ourselves. 2 – possibly more importantly, we need to remain constantly aware that language is evolving – faster than it ever has before.

In a world where words can appear, disappear, and take on new meaning in such a short space of time, staying tapped into our evolving language has never been more important.

As with almost all facets of society and culture, language will always change. New technology will emerge that will alter the way we speak and communicate, and I’ll have to rewrite this article. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, so it goes. At least we can stay safe in the knowledge that if a talking T-Rex were to become a reality, we could bamboozle him simply by speaking in Tumblr.

Could Artificial Intelligence Replace Content Marketers?

It’s Thursday morning; I arrive at the office and ask Alexa to turn on the radio.

“Alexa. BBC radio 6.”

“Bleep.”

I’m aware this makes me sound like a rude and demanding colleague who was just deservedly sworn at. In my defense, Alexa isn’t a person, she’s an internet-connected artificial intelligence speaker, and she simply hadn’t registered my command.

It’s no longer in debate: in many professions and industries, jobs and tasks previously completed by people are now being performed by artificial intelligence systems. While this might seem inevitable in certain fields, one industry which has always been quietly confident of its security in this regard has been content marketing.

In an industry rooted heavily in intrinsically human qualities – creativity, empathy and the ability to know an audience – it’s understandable that the general position is that A.I systems probably couldn’t replace writers in any real capacity.

If this is your thinking, it might shock you to discover that you’ve quite possibly already read content online which has been written by an A.I program. While this technology isn’t yet able to replicate an authentic piece of writing by a human, it’s not as far off as you might assume.

While many have brushed this issue off as sci-fi hogwash, the basic pillars of content creation can give us some insight into the pressing question: could artificial intelligence actually replace content marketers?

 

Automated Creativity

Artificial intelligence robot with flower
Do androids dream of… flowers?

The logical place to start would be to establish which aspects of content marketing are the most ‘human’. First and arguably foremost is creativity. This is often where the buck stops with an argument debating the potential of artificial intelligence to replace human effort. Some would say that a computer program or system could never exhibit true creativity; plain and simple, thank you very much.

Alarmingly, this might not be as clear-cut as most content marketers would likely hope. Advanced computer-based systems and tools already exist which are capable of producing astonishingly ‘creative’ results.

Deep neural networks, computer systems which are designed to replicate the basic synaptic structure of the human brain, are an example of this. Advanced systems like these have already managed to create pieces of music, and ING’s Next Rembrandt project used A.I technology to faithfully generate an eerily accurate, entirely new painting in the style of the master artist.

Creativity has always been one of the most enigmatic aspects of the human mind, but if computer systems are able to ‘decode’ artwork in this way, and use this information to create entirely new content, it might no longer be a uniquely human quality at all.

Even if the definition of creativity is rooted firmly in what is novel or unique, the basic premise of using established knowledge to inform the creation of new material is something that A.I systems are already pretty good at.

Simply put, it might not even matter if a computer is truly ‘creative’. An A.I system could feasibly have enough data and information on how content is created to generate writing that’s indistinguishable from that of talented marketers. Gulp.

I like Siri, but it just doesn’t…get me, y’know?

Artificial intelligence friendship
“I’ve never felt so understood…” “Thank *bzz* You *bzz* Colin”

So possibly, in the near future, we could have computerised musicians, artists, or poets. An A.I might get to a stage where you could feasibly claim it was creative. Fine.

But there is more to content marketing than just creativity. A great writer doesn’t just  craft engaging and effective pieces of writing, they do so with a specific audience in mind. Their writing has a purpose, which comes from a deep understanding of what it is people want and need, and how to provide it to them.

Could a computer program really know how to find out what people want, pick a target audience and then craft content around them? Again, the answer: quite possibly.

A.I marketing is already taking place. When we log into Amazon, Facebook, or Netflix, we’re bombarded with suggestions for products and services. Save a few renegade adverts, these are mostly based around what we’ve been searching for and showing an interest in online. It’s all very 1984.

The saving grace for content marketers currently is that these algorithms don’t replace good old-fashioned common sense. The fact that someone searched for something online doesn’t necessarily mean they want to buy that thing, or want to discover similar products.

At this stage, these A.I programs spot trends, but aren’t great at identifying or understanding why these trends are taking place. They receive information, and they use that information to provide other information. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t always end well either (take a look at the story of ‘Tay’ – Microsoft’s tweetbot that became accidentally racist.)

Curtains for Content Marketers?

Writer
“Siri, when I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.”

Looking at how far A.I. has come in recent years, and how quickly, it would be naive to suggest that there will never be an A.I program that can do the job of a content marketer.

Identifying audiences, defining content purposes, creating quality and appropriate content, and assessing results to inform future projects. These are all things that a computer system will most likely be able to do in the future.

But for all you despondent content marketers out there, don’t panic just yet. We’re still a long way off any computer being able to do these things in correlation with one another. The sheer complexity of a good content marketing strategy means that while current-gen tech is smart, it’s not the well-oiled machine it needs to be.

For now, content marketing isn’t going anywhere. A.I.s are clever, and are getting smarter, but at this point they’re limited. They’re built by people, and they only work in the way we tell them to. Computer systems don’t ever have a creative ‘spark’, or a moment of brilliance; there aren’t specific programs that are more talented.

We simply can’t know how things will develop, but if at some point Alexa chirps up with a suggestion about how I might approach some writing, I’ll let you know. Unless, of course… I AM Alexa (Cue Twilight Zone music).

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