We review the pros and cons of bots and explore methods that content publishers can use to automate their creative processes.
What Are Bots?
Bots are not new. Ever since the first computer was created, coders have been creating clever automated scripts to provide better user experiences and simplify complex processes. Stemmed from robot, a bot often is built to mimic or replace the behaviour of human users—often to handle tasks more accurately and at a much higher speed.
So what might this look like? And what purposes might bots commonly serve?
Well, a common example is a chatbot—like the floating conversational interface we have available in the bottom right corner of this page. Chatbots allow instant feedback and interaction that can help users answer key questions or improve their experience with a brand. Bots can predict common user behaviours and be programmed to be equipped with a large array of suitable responses. This allows websites and apps to offer 24/7 support without having to invest in additional manpower and training.
Another useful way to think of bots, would be to consider their beneficial function. Automation.
Every day, many people perform tedious shallow work that requires very little brain power or skill. Shallow work may be core to the success of a business, but by automating such tasks, team members can point their efforts towards more purposeful goals.
To illustrate this, you simply need to map out your common tasks and perform a quick self-audit of the time each taken takes from your schedule, and also it's difficulty. Imagine a marketing officer is assigned the task of improving the social media following of the brand. They may undertake various daily tasks to aid their goal of doubling the 'likes' or follows on their particular business accounts:
- Run advertisements, ensuring that data is analysed and adverts tweaked to suit the best progress indicators.
- Invite all users that have 'liked' a status to like the page by using the built in tools on the SMM platforms.
- Check and reply to e-mails.
- Create regular content to test and share, keeping potential interest higher.
Some of these points have clear design elements that require strategic thought and deep brand understand. However, checking e-mails and clicking through large 'invite' lists can be identified as a menial task—no matter how effective it may be.
By spotting the opportunity, a social media bot could easily run in the background and invite all potential followers to like the page on behalf of the user. This could be a simple script that is aware of where the pop-up buttons appear on a page, and automatically ensure the invite buttons are clicked at the correct intervals/frequency.
This automation will then leave the marketing professional more time to give deep focus on better creative content, and stronger ad campaigns.
The Rise Of Bots.
Enough sci-fi writers fill the literature landscape with fear-mongering of robots gaining self awareness and turning on the humans that built them... but the rise of bots in our age refers to the increasing usage and reliance on clever A.I. solutions.
Attention spans have plummeted as anti-social media tycoons brawl for our usage time, and the subsequent advertising opportunities they can reap from our presence. As our generation gets hypersensitive to all information, answers, and services being available instantaneous, it feels like our time must be protected even closer than ever.
Ergo, bots are becoming more prevalent to save time, and also to allow unwavering focus on tedious and lengthy tasks.
Our brains can't compete with the vast virtual databases of information that can quickly fetched and used instantaneously by computer programs, so it's of no surprise that bot usage is soaring across all professional disciplines.
There's an assumption that bots can't fully recreate artistic skill, which we'd extend to quality copywriting. But, today we decided to put that to the test.
Use Of Bots To Generate Content.
The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.
The infinite monkey theory takes probabilities to the nonsensical 'infinite' range, pointing out that any great content could be reproduced by accident. However, time passes quickly in business, and acting at random is always a risky strategy. So, how can bots produce content of similar quality to human writing experts?
Complex algorithms allow for software to avoid seemingly random operations. For example, advertising technology has become so elegant as to accurately narrow a demographic to an extreme niche: If you're a 35-40 year old Female that owns the newest iPhone and has recently visited a cinema, but don't have children, you can be targeted with a specific advert that is activated for your digital footprint matching set behaviours and profile aspects.
When it comes to writing content, there's a similar intelligent targeting process:
- What topic should the content be about?
- What style should it adopt?
- Which similar content pieces follow desirable or inspirational structures?
- Which phrases should be included or avoided?
- What level of eloquence should be followed? I.e. How advanced will the reading level be.
- What are your SEO goals?
- And furthermore, what type of content are your desired target market either looking for or already engaging with?
These questions could demand a great deal of consideration from the most talented content creators. With a bot, the market-research page becomes hyper-charged due to high processing speeds making it easy to analyse hundreds of thousands of results to look for key components and notable aspects.
As technophiles, we were eager to test out a content bot to discover opportunities to better our practises. After various research, we decided to try 'Topic' (usetopic.com) to strengthen some of our initial copywriting steps.
Aptly named, Topic begins with you defining your key words (or topic) for your article/insight piece. After this is chosen, you define your target area to help hone in on key competitors and user behaviour in your immediate market.
We decided to start with a broad subject, and chose 'User Experience'.
From here, Topic spent a short amount of time—no more than thirty seconds—analysing all the top search engine results and providing a quick dashboard of useful information.
We then were asked to pick three competitor titles that appealed to our content direction. Topic then gave us a short list of potential titles that could fit our subject, and compete well with relevancy against the best inspiration pieces. After refreshing through the options, we found an idea we liked but chose to adapt it slightly to read 'Using Bots to Automate Content'.
Next, Topic generated many potential descriptions that would match this title effectively. We chose one that made relevant sense to what we wanted to talk about, and added it as our article excerpt.
On this occasion we left the word count as it was (2'400) and skipped to the final stage of defining the insight outline. Topic gave a varied list of headings that could structure a thoughtful insight, and have obvious relevance to our title.
The Benefit of Automated Headings.
By exploring suggested content topics, we were both given inspiration, but more importantly we were given intelligent guidance towards high ranking subject matter.
Too often, content writers produce an article firstly then consider the SEO implications latterly—using automation allowed us to flip the process and write insightful content that was built in a stronger manner.
But after the headings, this is where our automation ended.
For a first attempt at creating content, this process allowed us to bypass a lengthy ideation, research and structuring section of our typical approach. However, it still holds the copywriter accountable for creating meaningful, human output.
Are Bots The Future Of Content?
Whilst our experience has been motivational, allowing us to share our thoughts in a well-advised format at speed, we appreciated the limitations of this bot process.
Many of the suggestions we received were clearly inappropriate as they included other author or brand names. There was obvious signs that the process was quick and without critical thinking, a limitation many bots suffer. And this criticism is common across almost all entry-to-mid tier bots.
Humans naturally appreciate and crave meaningful social interaction. Only the smallest percentile of top tier bots can recreate seemingly authentic interaction, leaving it debatable how immediately replaceable quality writers will be (or at least, how much time quality writers can reassign).
Chatbot solutions such as automated FAQs and conditional survey forms have provided immediate impact and further integrations promote exciting longevity in this trend. Also, with bots able to analyse trends, marketers can quickly follow the lead of key proven success stories and ride the wave with automated tools doing the heavy lifting for them. We truly believe that quality bots could (and should) be considered in any modern workplace flow, as there is always an improvement that can be actualised with thoughtful automation.
A Word Of Warning.
Automation is not relinquishing responsibility.
Treat it more as delegation with accountability.
You need to be aware of the consistency of any automated process, checking the accuracy or sourced data regularly. When a human is removed from a process, often there can be valuable feedback missed—although you could also create an automation process for collecting and delivering feedback!
Even more dangerous, could be the worry of complacency.
Keeping your mind sharp helps you stay relevant and master your craft. By passing off tasks to automated processes, you essentially remove the need for your ability on a particular task. Why have a librarian if the library is digital, and why multiple brick and mortar stores filled with sales staff, when you can have a virtual store serving many more people more effectively and automatically?
There will be times when automation threatens core skills, and renders them fully accessible to all. This is where deep work becomes particularly valuable, and knowing which tasks require human interaction over those that can be automated.
As a closing example, DJing used to involve beat matching as a core skill. Software solutions allowed a single button press to match the bpm with 100% accuracy, every time—causing many well seasoned musicians to claim the virtual approach was 'cheating'. Those that embraced the technology, went on to improve their mastery and discover the huge versatility that instantaneous beat matching gave them, allowing them to mix as many as 20 songs in a few minutes in a virtuoso-level performance.
Like musical artists, business professionals can be delighted by new technology improving our processes—or be left behind by not embracing the best products, services and tools for optimising how we work. Many of our team members can boast impressive skill with with various design software packages, yet we're also aware of instantaneous online tools that can perform some tasks with almost identical results.
Find the bots and automations that will combat the time-consuming shallow work, but we wary of how your output will be affected in terms of quality and customer perception.
Our Recommend Bots and Automated Solutions.
Firstly, Landbot.io is a highly flexible chatbot tool. It creates a conversational aspect to website experiences, allowing users to interact with a brand and be guided to relevant content through automation.
With the ability to embed the bot within pages, it offers a stylish alternative to the usual floating chat bots that are typically adopted.
Secondly, Typeform is a great solution for gathering data. The 'people-friendly' forms and surveys allow teams to automate some of their processes.
For example, a hiring process may involve the following steps:
- Advertise position.
- Gather CVs, cover letters and portfolios.
- Review all applications in depth, and extract the best candidates.
- Invite selected candidates to initial interview, asking key pieces of information perhaps missing from their applications.
- Give most suitable candidates a second interview/test brief.
Given the time investment required, third party recruitment agencies have thrived. However, rather than making the choice between the time investment of hiring internally or the cost of commissions to a third party, Typeform is a great solution.
By constructing a Typeform with conditional flows, directing particular answers to new question branches, the screening process can be automated. You can avoid having to look at applicants that don't meet minimum experience or education requirements. You can also ask questions with a rating scale, such as 'Do you prefer to be solely accountable for your output?'—which can help give you a better understanding of culture fit aspects before you meet an applicant for the first time.
Great long-form writing is often supported by illustrations and infographics. We could muse that illustration usage can mimic the 'pomodoro technique', whereby a task is punctuated by breaks to help focus. We don't shy away from lengthy articles on our website, but we understand the power that attached illustration can give to a piece.
Images on websites need to be correctly sized. They need to be a small file size, yet good quality. The website should load fast and look good. By using Pïxel, you can have your images manipulated automatically, without having to go through various manual resizing and edits in photo software. It's also free to use.
Remember, the creativity of team members is something to cherish. Automations to improve work flows and general practices are something we should embrace, but thinking of bots as alternatives to talented team members is the wrong attitude. From our experience with 'UseTopic', it's apparent that there's a long way for the software to go before it can be trusted to filter out irrelevant suggestions, and choose the best options automatically.
Use Automations to empower your team, and protect wasted time on shallow work.
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