Content marketers (myself included) like to make bold predictions about the future. And as a general rule, everything’s always a bit more amplified than it needs to be. When we predict a new search engine algorithm update, it’s not a “small but significant change in rankings,” it’s a “game changer.” When we predict the future of a given strategy, we either hail it as the future of marketing or predict its fast and inglorious death.
So when you see my headline about the “death” of content marketing to robotic artificial intelligence (AI), I don’t blame you if you’re skeptical. But the reality is, we’re seeing the rise of a number of different AI systems relating to the content marketing game, and they could have a powerful impact on the future of content marketing.
Types of Forthcoming AI
There are a number of ways to define AI, so I won’t try to hash out the different algorithms and approaches that could or should qualify as AI. Instead, I want to jump past those semantics and dig into advanced systems, such as those capable of machine learning or those capable of accomplishing tasks once thought only doable with human minds.
There are a handful of main areas where I see AI developing that could bear a significant impact on the content marketing game:
· Machine learning Google updates. First, we have machine learning algorithm updates, initiated by the introduction of Google RankBrain late last year. RankBrain itself wasn’t that massively impactful; in fact, it had been released for several weeks prior to its formal announcement, and nobody really seemed to notice. This algorithm’s job is to gradually learn more about the semantics of user queries, teaching itself how to be better and forcing its own changes to better meet user needs. This will almost definitely spark a trend of new self-updating additions, all of which will start making upgrades faster, more smoothly, and without human intervention.
· Automatically generated content. Chances are, you’ve already read content that was written by an algorithm without noticing. News publishers are already using AI programs to automatically generate simple stories like stock updates or sports reports, and it’s only a matter of time before those systems become advanced enough to handle more conceptual, abstract articles.
· Automation in syndication and promotion. One of the biggest areas of content marketing is actively promoting and syndicating your content, which has become increasingly possible to automate in recent years. AI systems would make this even more streamlined, allowing content marketers to publish and distribute content automatically across the platforms of their choice — and possibly even based on complex user factors like mood and disposition.
· Custom newsfeeds and user-specific content. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are constantly tinkering with their newsfeed algorithms, trying to figure out exactly what the best types of content to display to their users are. As these become more advanced, they’ll start learning from their own individual user experiences, relying on AI to customize newsfeed algorithms for individuals.
On the surface, all these advancements seem, for lack of a better word, cool. They seem beneficial, and they’re impressive in their own right. So how could they cause the “death” of content marketing as a whole? There are a handful of possible scenarios to consider.
The Fall of Human Writers
The first main possibility here is the fall of human writers. With AI algorithms generating content smoothly and efficiently, and possibly even distributing that content to users along set paths, human-written content may no longer be necessary. Sure, some creative input may be necessary to set direction for a campaign, and more artistic forms of writing (like poetry) may still be around, but the average content marketer’s job could theoretically be replaced. Under this scenario, content marketing would still be running strong — but many of the people behind content marketing would be out of a job, and campaigns would simply run on autopilot.
The Demise of Content
This is what most people are referring to if they mention the “death of content marketing.” Under this scenario, the ROI of content would start to decline until content was basically an ineffective medium. A handful of external variables could influence this death scenario, such as the fact that the Knowledge Graph and similar systems are getting better at addressing user queries directly and the reality that content marketing is getting more and more competitive. It seems unlikely that content would ever be unnecessary for the average user, so I’m skeptical about this scenario’s development.
The Unpredictability Scenario
There’s also the possibility that we entrust so much of our systems and processes to machines and AI algorithms that it’s virtually impossible for us to make strategic decisions. For example, if Google’s algorithm starts updating wholly on its own in constant, hard-to-discern directions, SEO could become a game of guesswork. If newsfeeds start becoming individualized to separate users, it could make it extremely difficult to reach a target audience.
Transformations Over Death
As you may have been able to guess from the few scenarios I outlined above, the “death” of content marketing by the hand of new AI systems is unlikely. Instead, it’s highly likely that content marketing will transform. Instead of simply disappearing one day, content marketing as we know it may gradually fade away into something new and unrecognizable.
Instead of bailing out of content marketing or anticipating its disappearance, we simply have to be ready for the changes that are coming, and remain flexible enough to accommodate them when they arrive. The more willing you are to change and the more you pay attention to your content environment, the more likely you’ll be to survive in it as it evolves.