Attack of the robot writers

When the New York Times company released its latest earnings numbers, Forbes.com saw an opening to rub salt in the wounds of the struggling newspaper industry. A preview of the announcement was penned by Narrative Science, a company founded by two journalists that have developed software to generate articles automatically. Their technology can take a list of facts and crank out a 500-word article with the click of a button. Businesses, including publishing companies such as Forbes, are experimenting with the software to see how it could help meet their content needs.

Will this type of editorial software effectively consign writers to the slag heap of obsolescence? Not by a long shot. Narrative Science’s sweet spot is likely press releases or financial reporting such as the Forbes.com article—just the fact’s, ma’am, no personality or insight required.

When evaluating ways to cut corners on content development, companies should keep three rules in mind.

1)     If you view your content purely as a commodity, you’re missing a huge opportunity. While it’s not possible for every article or blog post to be a masterpiece, the deepening glut of low-quality content presents companies with a chance to stand out from the crowd. The human touch, demonstrated either by knowledge and experience or a personal writing style, will be far more engaging than any computer-generated text.

2)     Changes to search engines have placed an even greater value on high-quality content. In the online world, a steady stream of fresh content on a company’s website has a direct impact on search engine optimization. The more you publish, the more receptive Google’s search engine will be to your site. Recent changes in Google’s algorithm mean that companies are rewarded for good, new content and penalized for low-quality or duplicative content.

3)     The strategy and thought behind the writing is the hard part. Developing a distinctive piece of content is about far more than lining up a scribe to take dictation from a brilliant executive. The best content comes from an iterative process that, by digging deeper, helps to crystallize thinking and bring something new to the conversation. Knowledge and insight can be far more relevant by integrating the latest industry trends, a company’s messaging and business objectives, current products and services, and any other elements that make the content especially relevant to the target audience.

While there’s no doubt that Narrative Science’s software could prove valuable for some companies, it’s far from a magic bullet. Instead, businesses should invest in creating content that speaks directly to their target audience. It might take a little longer, but it will have far more of an impact.

Scott Leff

Scott is the founder of Leff. He's spent his career helping executives and subject matter experts tell their story in a compelling way. In the process, he's had the opportunity to work with C-suite executives, politicians, academics, and Olympians, not to mention dozens of talented writers, editors, and designers in the business world. Scott developed the concept of "lean content creation" as a cost-effective way to support comprehensive, integrated communication strategies.

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