Being Human in a World of Bots

By Caitlin Hawken

In a recent meeting I was once again reminded of the value of ‘being human’. It doesn’t matter who you are; during our lives, we all experience fumbling moments and great moments. But, how we react (to both) says a lot about our character, how we define our own growth and – in the process – influence those around us. This then also reminded me of the humanity of our profession, as story tellers and content creators.

Preparing for the next wave

Like many other sectors, the public relations profession is going through another wave of evolution. Over the last 20-years the profession has faced fearmongering calling for the death of (traditional) PR, to Web PR being dubbed as the holy grail in the early 2000s. And today, where robust professional PR is still a thriving practice and a crucial support to any organisation’s communications and exposure strategy.

In fact, Web PR did not bring about the death of (traditional) PR as initially predicted. Rather the convergence of Web and so-called traditional PR practices created opportunities that significantly expanded the scope of the profession – and paved the way for the trends we are seeing today. From integrated SEO, to data enhanced targeted campaigns and reporting, real-time exposure, growth of video content, social media and amplifying content, influencer and content marketing campaigns, etc. Each of these elements are still interchangeably dependent on three critical pillars of PR, which are ever more pertinent today; know your audience, build relationships and have strong content.

The next wave, however, will test the humanity of our profession as artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly integrated into PR practices.

Bot content generator vs. human story teller

Evidence of the growth of AI can already be seen in PR activities and linked to many of the trends that are already being adopted by the profession today. Currently, the most widespread adoption and use of AI in PR can be seen in social media campaigns to amplify automated audience targeting, content distribution and data enhanced reporting. However, developments in automate content creation systems are now also enabling bots to create content. In fact, media companies are already using bots to generate certain content and tech companies are reportedly designing AI that will produce content for public consumption.

Should we be worried about what these developments will mean for the profession?

I don’t believe so.

We can certainly teach bots to use natural language processing (NLP) techniques, to be able to formulate constructive sentences and paragraphs, with proper grammar. Bots may also have the capability to analyse far larger quantities of information from multiple sources much faster – and one day be capable of producing informative and insightful content piece. But, then we have to ask if we are bargaining on quantity, or quality content – and what our measurements are for quality.

In my view, people are complex and – no matter how cognitive the machine – rational or intellectual understanding alone is no substitution for human Emotional Intelligence (EQ). More and more, we are seeing audiences being drawn to stories by people, about people, on things that affect people. This desire has been amplified by the lifetime of learnings of each generation and our capacity for curiosity, compassion and empathy. As professional content specialists and story tellers – regardless of the content format – our EQ influences everything, from word choices, tone and how we tell a story. As ultimately we all want to evoke an emotive response from the consumer. It’s more than just an interesting hook, its why the consumer should care at all.

AI will certainly continue to have significant effect across communications and PR practices and, bots may well one day be able to produce, authentic, analytical and insightful thought pieces. But, I don’t believe that bots will ever match up to our humanity and the value we place in making earnest connections between content and the consumer.




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