Humanity has always tended to exaggerate the prospect of technological advancements. You could say we are comfortable with the way things work right now. We don’t like change. But most often than not, it is that same change that moves our standard of living forward, advances our understanding of the world, and deepens our curiosity. With that in mind, the recent breakthrough regarding the GPT-3 Artificial Intelligence, capable of creating human-like content, raises a lot of questions.
For the purpose of this article, we are only going to focus on how AI might and most likely will impact the digital marketing field. Here are some of the most pressing questions that come to mind in the context of AI-generated content:
- Will AI completely replace content creators and digital marketers in the next couple of years?
- Will it be even worth it to learn the skills necessary to be a digital marketer?
- Is any niche field of marketing safe from the abundance of cheap and valuable content that can be created within seconds by a computer?
- Is fake news going to take down the digital marketing field?
Let’s try to answer each of these questions at a time.
The impact of AI in digital marketing
First of all, it would be helpful to describe what exactly is all this recent fuss about. After years of development from the OpenAI team in San Francisco, a program called GPT-3 (generative pre-trained transformer) is now finally able to mimic human written text and fool both people and computers. This is an important milestone in the still short history of AI programs. It is also the most consequential yet in terms of potential real-world impact.
What do we mean by that? If we were to observe just some of the latest news concerning GPT-3, we would certainly notice a pattern. A college student used it to generate fake news posts that reached the top of Hacker News. There are already new platforms for creating AI-powered PPC and landing page copy. A Reddit user used it to post comments on various subreddits for a week without anyone noticing. GPT-3 has written a screenplay for a short movie.
This is not the first project to use the power of AI and try to create content. But it is the first one that consistently produces results that can pass as being written by people and not machines.
Let’s get back to our questions.
Will AI replace marketers?
Are we doomed? Is this more of an evolution than a revolution? Will AI completely replace digital marketers in the near future? It might depend on a few aspects, some of them in our control, some not so much. If marketers can adapt and acquire skills that are still out of the reach of any AI program, then the future might not look so bleak. If, on the other hand, we are going to insist on the purity of human-generated content, we most likely are going to be shocked at how fast we are going to become obsolete.
Are subject matter experts safe? AI doesn’t yet seem to have the ability to replace specialists. But it is learning fast. That makes it extremely hard to predict how things are going to look just one year from now. But for the time being, it is clear that subject matter experts might be harder to replace than generalist content writers.
Are marketers a dying species? Not necessarily. It all depends on how fast we adapt, how fast the technology evolves, and how cheap and widely available it will be. One thing is clear: AI is consistent, it is only going to get better, it can generate content at a speed that humans simply are not capable of. But this could be the perfect opportunity for marketers to learn new skills: creating strategies for lead generation or lead nurturing, conversion rate optimization, or search engine optimization. It needs to be something that requires critical thinking, something that AI will not be able to do at a human level anytime soon.
With that out of the way, it’s time to move to the second question.
Is digital marketing still worth it?
This is a trickier question. A lot of digital marketers have started in the field with no formal training and no degree. That implied starting out by creating content for social media posts, blog articles, or email marketing campaigns. If all of that will be automated by AI, it is difficult for me to imagine a world where enthusiasts are being given a chance.
But with AI taking care of generating the content, it is entirely possible that new and imaginative ways of doing digital marketing will be created by the new generations. Maybe they will put more focus on video content, on AR and VR. Maybe the next generation of marketers will emphasize visual content, from photography to illustration or from filming and putting together short-form videos to gifs.
I would not discourage anyone from diving into the digital marketing field. It is still one of the most dynamic and fascinating careers that anyone can have.
Avalanche of AI-generated content?
If generating new articles is only going to be a matter of seconds, won’t that mean that we will witness a new era of AI-produced content? With automated creation and publishing options, we can only imagine how abundant websites are going to be with new content that, at most, will only be reviewed by humans.
In such a scenario, it is difficult to predict how users will react, how search engines will try to fight back, and how reputable publishers will try to survive. If AI-generated content will not be detected by computers, then we can easily expect SEO to suffer radical changes in the near future. Private blog networks are probably going to grow in influence, while link building and outreach efforts will diminish in significance. Search engines such as Google will be incentivized to grow their knowledge graphs to depend less and less on external information. The rise of voice searches on IoT-connected devices will only exacerbate this trend.
Everything that we have discussed so far sounds dramatic and extreme. But we have yet to touch on one of the most dangerous aspects of this topic: fake news.
The perils of fake news
Our society has started to confront fake news on the political scene, with accusations of Russia, China, Iran, and other states using it to influence elections or threaten democratic processes. But we have paid very little attention to how fake news can impact the marketing field.
In the same ways fake news is currently empowering political ads, we could start seeing it switching focus to marketing. Instead of attacking political opponents, fake news could be used to make up stories about competitors. We could start dealing with AI-generated websites that only smear competitors. They could be set up in less than a day, with testimonials from apparently real people about made-up experiences.
With people only reading headlines, how likely it is that consumers would end up believing those fake stories? Sure, they could be debunked while fact-checkers would be able to point out the truth. But in some cases, that might be too late. If or when one world-renowned brand will be tarnished by fake news marketing, we will have already opened the Pandora box. If it proves cost-effective and efficient, marketers will be too incentivized to use it.
We are just starting to scratch the surface of the impact AI could have on marketers all over the world. With advancements in AI-generated images and videos, the world might suffer changes that we cannot practically predict right now. But the main idea is that we need to be prepared to face new challenges. We could actually benefit from some of them. On the other hand, for others, we will just have to wait and see what happens.
Should we be scared? Not necessarily, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.