Tag: Content Marketing

Will artificial intelligence render content writers obsolete?

A study released earlier this month by market research firm Forrester predicted that automation (robots) will kill 24.7 million U.S. jobs by 2027. The firm also concluded that 14.9 million new jobs will be created in that same time frame as a result of automation and other developing technologies; placing net job losses at 9.8%. Customer service, manual labor and complex calculation tasks are cited as the most at-risk.

Writing would seemingly be the last jobs robots could take over because of so-called “human exceptionalism.” Emotional nuances, cognizance and other human faculties associated with crafting words that resonate with people, are ostensibly unique to homo sapiens. “Star Wars” fans remember when Luke Skywalker first met C3PO. Luke asked his new droid to talk about some of the battles he’s seen between the Rebellion and the Empire. But because C3PO was programmed only to be a language interpreter, he did not have the functional capacity to tell a story.

There are already robots writing certain types of copy, and the practice is growing in scope. Daryl Plummer, managing vice president and chief researcher at Gartner, said at the company’s Symposium/ITxpo 2016 in Orlando that robots will author 20% of business content by 2018. Budget reports and quick recaps of sporting events are currently the most common types of content written by artificial intelligence (AI).

In the old days (meaning a few years ago), financial writers combed through reports that companies are required to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC): 10-K, 10-Q, annual and quarterly earnings. Some 10-K and 10-Q reports for large companies easily exceed 100 pages of headache-inducing cryptic blather. Weeks and sometimes months later, after making sense of it all, writers crafted stories about the reports that readers could understand.

The Associated Press (AP) reported in January of 2015 that it previously could only write about 300 articles per quarter about individual company’s corporate earnings because the task was so tedious. But in late 2014 the AP formed partnerships with Automated Insights, Inc. and Zacks Investment Research. Automated’s natural language generation platform called Wordsmith, combined with Zacks’ research and analytics, enabled the AP to published 3,000 such articles in one quarter, a ten-fold increase in production.

Automated Insights was purchased by venture capital firm Vista Equity Partners, which owns Stats LLC., in early 2015. Fantasy sports players recognize the name Stats LLC. as one of the industry leaders in providing real-time scoring for their leagues. The partnership has just started scratching the surface as to the types of sports-related content it will produce with Stats’ huge vault of sports data and Insights’ AI technology.

Scientists at the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in Hyderabad, India, also married sports and AI in late 2015. A robot “watched” hundreds of taped cricket matches on the ESPNcricinfo website and the Indian Premiere League channel on Youtube. It learned what words were associated with the corresponding actions and players on the screen based on the commentary from the announcers. The computer then taught itself an algorithm that allowed it to write its own real-time commentary during live games with 90% accuracy. Robots have also tried their hand at writing movie scripts, but the end results didn’t exactly impress the folks at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Top writers in the content marketing industry are perpetually adapting to the ever-changing landscape of SEO and content production. It comes with the territory for those who wish to remain in the industry.

The expansion of AI in content marketing is simply another challenge writers must accept.

Sports and financial writers’ jobs at risk?

Robots have the ability to look at NBA, NFL and NHL box scores and write intelligible summaries as to what happened in the game. Companies like Fox Sports and Yahoo have been generating this type of content with AI for several years now. Similarly Chicago-based Narrative Science is leasing its natural language generation platform called Quill to financial firms like Credit Suisse and T. Rowe Price to write performance reports on mutual funds, hedge funds, and stocks.

The days of sports writers sitting in press boxes, collecting stat sheets from team personnel and writing recaps after games are likely numbered because of AI. But robot commentators won’t be doing play-by-play for fast-paced sports like basketball, football and ice hockey anytime soon. Opinion journalism has become the norm in professional and amateur sports (and cable news), which gives writer an edge over machines.

Sports and financial writers have adapted to this reality not only for the sake of job security, but also for competitive reasons since everyone else is doing it. Financial writers tend to let the numbers speak for themselves in their content. But in the fast-paced 21st century, a human touch is essential to lessens the chance of jobs being overtaken by machines and to distinguish yourself from the crowd.

AI isn’t cheap

Automation is on many companies’ wish lists because of its potential to streamline workflows and significantly reduce the time it takes to complete certain tasks. The reality is that AI is cost prohibitive for most businesses.

The legal industry is particularly bullish on AI for its potential money and time saving capabilities. But Connie Brenton, chairman of the board at the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium, told law publication Corporate Counsel in February that AI is not a “silver bullet” that is going to disrupt the legal profession overnight. Brenton elaborated at Legalweek: The Experience 2017 Conference. She said that beyond the initial costs that can potentially exceed six-figures, there is also a 5-6 month time investment before virtual assistants can actually be implemented into legal workflows. Firms would also need to hire multiple full-time administrators for the system and frequently consult with the AI vendor.

Seth Earley, CEO of Earley Information Science, agreed that cost and time investment eliminate AI as an option for most companies in the near term. Earley suggested in his Harvard Business Review article that the more realistic option for small and medium-sized companies that lack huge corporate budgets is what he termed “AI Lite” systems. These more simplified virtual helpers lack cognitive computing ability, and are programmed to complete only certain tasks. These systems would require additional coding to learn new tasks, but would provide a scalable AI foundation for companies as the technology becomes more affordable and accessible.

Breathe easy, writers

Financial writers had job security because relatively few people in the world can make enough sense of economic regulations, indexes and statistics to compose good stories. AI has already impacted that segment of writers. The journalistic aspect of financial writing, however, is still a human activity. Interviews with industry experts, CEOs, etc. still produce quotes that provide readers perspective. Human journalists already experience difficulty contacting sources on the phone and/or via email to get direct quotes. Its doubtful CEOs and market analysts would be more willingly to talk to robots on the phone or via email versus responding to another human being.

AI is everywhere in 2017. Whether humanity likes it or not, the trend is not slowing down. Robots are now driving people’s cars for them, but 75% of Americans and a majority of Europeans are scared of autonomous technology and would rather drive themselves. An Indiegogo virtual sex robot campaign had to be suspended because demand was so high. But most (normal) people still favor sex with another human as opposed to robots.

An experiment carried out in the 1940s before the United States had medical ethics also proved human touch is vital to human life. One group of caretakers was ordered to hold, look at, talk to, etc. a group of babies they would also feed, change diapers, etc. The other group only changed diapers, fed, etc. the babies while excluding all other physical contact, communication, etc. The experiment had to be stopped after four months because four of the babies that received no human contact died, and two more died months later even when given real parental care thereafter.

AI is presenting writers the opportunity to better themselves; to become subject matter experts in more industries and acquire new skills like graphic design, web design and/or SEO. Writing is innately a human form of communication that requires humans to craft and subsequently appreciate. Professional writers know the basics: always cite primary sources, use keywords in headlines, hit deadlines, etc. But most importantly in 2017, give your writing that human touch that only we as humans understand and appreciate.

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#Happy420: Is writing about cannabis on company blogs still taboo?

The United States is a much different place than it was when the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 first made cannabis illegal. The federal law required anyone who possessed or distributed marijuana to obtain and publicly display a federal tax stamp.


But the process of acquiring the tax stamp was viewed as an admission of criminal activity in a court of law since doctors and commercial hemp farmers were typically the only people issued tax stamps without much hassle. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional in 1969, ruling that it required defendants to incriminate themselves in violation of the Fifth Amendment. Congress quickly passed the Controlled Substances Act  months later to ensure possession and consumption of marijuana remained a federal offense.

The turn of the 21st century brought with it dramatic changes in attitudes towards cannabis. A 2015 Gallup poll found that 58% of Americans supported legalization of marijuana, a significant increase from the 36% that supported legalization 10 years earlier. Eight U.S. states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) have legalized marijuana for recreational in that same time frame, while 21 more states allow medicinal marijuana and/or have decriminalized the plant.

Despite changing attitudes, the legal conundrum between federal and state law enforcement officials complicates matters. A memo issued by the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this month indicated that it will be enforcing federal marijuana laws even in states that have legalized it for recreational use. Eleven U.S. Senators declared in March that they will oppose enforcement of federal marijuana laws in their respective states.

Personal attitudes and government squabbling aside, the cannabis industry has morphed into a powerful economic force. The state of Colorado hit the $1 billion mark in cannabis sale by itself in 2016. Total North American revenues for both recreational and medicinal marijuana, including edibles, reached $6.7 billion in 2016, a 30% increase from the previous year, according to data compiled by Arcview Market Research. Tom Adams, editor-in-chief for Arcview, told Forbes the only industries he’s ever seen experience that level of compound growth were post-dot-com era broadband sales and cable television subscriptions in the 1990s.

Recreational and medicinal cannabis retailers and growers obviously talk about their primary products on company blogs. But the economic and political landscape around cannabis still makes it a sensitive, albeit potentially popular, subject matter on company blogs in other industries. Here are a few things to consider before writing about cannabis on your company blog.

Location, Location

It would not be in the best interest of national and international companies to ever mention cannabis on their blog. But local and regional businesses with finite reach as far as customer base and physical presence have more freedom in this regard.

The above map from Governing.com show obvious geographic trends pertaining to marijuana attitudes across the country. Companies that are physically located in bright-green states, and have customer bases within said boundaries, should feel comfortable writing content about cannabis. All other should avoid it if possible.

Relevance equals legitimacy

Auto repair shops, toy stores and solar energy firms have no business even mentioning the subject of cannabis on their blogs. But yoga instructors and massage therapists may speak to the relaxation properties of certain cannabis strains. Personal trainers and fitness instructors helping people lose weight may want to discourage cannabis due to what known as cannabinoid-induced feeding, aka “munchies.” Travel blogs may want to provide maps and information on the best recreational cannabis shops in Colorado, Oregon and other legal states.

Companies with genuine, business-related reasons to discuss cannabis should feel comfortable doing so on their blogs.

Stick to the facts

Cannabis is a subject that triggers different emotions in different demographics. Most people have hard-wired viewpoints and are unlikely to be swayed by other’s opinions.

When writing anything about cannabis, always utilize original sources. Don’t make claims such as “marijuana cures cancer” without citing reputable, verifiable university and medical studies. The same approach is necessary when presenting seemingly negative information about cannabis, such as “it leads to other things.” Stating your opinion on any controversial subject, regardless of which side you’re on, alienates some of your reader base and completely derails the discussion. Stick to the indisputable facts and everything else will take care of itself.

Do you have white-glove type content ideas for your company blog that would be best produced by a professional content strategist and writer? Join the Content Coup today! Cut out the middle man and be a part of the revolution!

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How much should you pay for content marketing?

A vast majority of banner ads online are completely ignored by internet users. Despite this fact, marketing professionals still pay premium prices for them.

Small businesses that utilize PPC (pay-per-click) ads as their primary advertising source, spend $9,000 to $10,000 per month on Google AdWords campaigns, according to Google partner and PPC marketing firm Wordstream. Marketing directors are willing to pay this kind of money for the prestige and reach of Google (Alphabet) regardless of the well-known drawbacks associated with AdWords.

Data compiled by marketing blog Invesp found that 85% of clicks on PPC display ads come from only 8% of the global internet using population. These dart-throw-type odds for conversions and high prices related to PPC campaigns have not deterred small businesses and their large corporate counterparts. Google revenues rose to $89 billion in 2016, with more than 90% of that coming from advertising. Meanwhile blogging continues to be the most effective, efficient and relatively inexpensive inbound marketing solution that is still (inexplicably) ignored by many small and medium-sized businesses.

A 2015 study by market research firm Clutch found that nearly half of all small businesses don’t even have websites, let alone blogs. Only 36% of Fortune 500 companies have blogs. Many companies, both B2B and B2C, cited cost and time as the primary reasons for not having blogs. Despite the reluctance, more companies are now prioritizing inbound marketing, specifically blogging, because of the obvious benefits.

A company blog with high-quality content provides a 24/7/365 de-facto advertising and customer relations platform that helps grow your brand. Its simply a matter of coming up with a plan and executing it for your company to start reaping the benefits. Writing, like driving, is something pretty much anybody and everybody can do. But everyone cannot be on the NASCAR circuit competing with the best drivers on the planet. The same can be said when it comes to writing.

Companies of all sizes have three choices when deciding on how to handle their blogging needs:

1. Have existing employees write all the content

2. Hire a full-time, in-house content strategist/writer. The salary range for a full-time content strategist/writer is between $81,000 and $115,000, according to Robert Half.

3. Hire a professional freelancer or marketing agency.

The first option is the worst since you’ll be sacrificing the quality and SEO benefits professional content strategists and writers bring to the table. Its best to mix employee content with professional SEO content. The second option is good if your company can afford to bring on another full-time employee. The third option is the most cost-effective without sacrificing quality and SEO.

RELATED: Why choose Content Coup vs. marketing agency?

The 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America report by the Content Marketing Institute found that successful companies blogs with measurable ROI spent an average of 42% of their total marketing budget on content marketing. Using that statistic and the above salary numbers as reference points, here are a few things to consider when budgeting for content marketing.

You get what you pay for

Freelancers and marketing agencies charge widely different rates depending on reputation, writer quality, order size, etc. Compare pricing of different marketing agencies to get an idea of what you’ll get for your money.

Upwork places the cost per blog at $700 – $1,500. That amounts to about $2 per word. A Clearvoice survey found that 40% of freelancers charge anywhere from $100-$300 per article, while 20% charge $300 or more per article. Content Factory has a wide price range, charging anywhere from $80-$950 per article.

Marketing agencies also charge monthly access and retainer fees, which of course increases cost per article. The best freelance writers that demand fees on the higher end of the scale should have a lot of published work samples for you to read and evaluate. You should also connect with your potential writer on LinkedIn to see any/all past experience, recommendations, etc.

Be Prepared

A freelance writer or marketing agency provides professional writing, research and SEO experience when your content marketing endeavors begin. But you must inform them about the specific needs of your customers.

Why are your customers interested in your brand? What do they like best? What do they complain about most? What questions come up most from your customers? Your writer will read online reviews and social media comments about your company to get a broad feel for your brand. But your internal customer service and sales personnel have the most experience and insight with your most valuable assets. The writer and one of these individuals should have at least a one-hour conversation (whether by exchanging emails or by telephone) about your brand and company culture before the content creation process begins.

The more information writers have, the more targeted and relevant the content will be towards your customer base.

Measure ROI

Increasing web traffic, brand visibility and sales are the obvious goals of content marketing. But the money you invest in content marketing should provide noticeable differences to your online presence.

Quality content results in more social media engagement. Keep in mind Facebook algorithms have essentially eliminated organic reach for your posts and companies must now pay to get posts “boosted.” But you should still see increases in total engagements relative to your number of followers if the content is of high-quality. If one blog post gets more “likes,” shares and comments than your previous three posts combined, your investment is paying off. Writers also need to understand how to use hashtags on Twitter to maximize engagements there.

Another metric to monitor is direct engagements on your website and/or blog. Most people use social media to interact with companies. Effective content marketing should lead to more unique visitors to your website, direct comments, and newsletter subscriptions.

Leads and conversions are obviously the bottom line. But as long as your content is keeping your customers engaged and positioning your company as a thought leader in the industry, it is money well spent.

RELATED: Work Samples/FAQ

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