Tag Archives: quants

Create Content for Humans, Not Machines

June 14, 2016

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Let me preface this post by saying that I’m the current Director of PR and Content Integration at an agency. I’m telling you this so that I can tell you this – I really hate content marketing.

Well, let me rephrase – I hate what marketers have done to content marketing. Content marketing used to represent the new era of marketing – a less offensive, less intrusive, and more useful way of advertising. Brands realized that interrupting what their customers were doing only to shout at them with CTAs were getting their ads blocked and fast-forwarded with increasing regularity.

The content marketing revolution was upon us! Brands came to understand that if they started creating really useful and entertaining content, people would not only stop avoiding it, they would even (gasp!) search it out. This led to brands creating everything from full-blown magazines to films to video games to how-to videos. Life was good. Brands stopped shouting at customers and started delivering more of what their customers were looking for.

Unfortunately, just as marketers did with commercials and TV, spam and email, banner ads and the Internet, we’ve reduced content marketing to nothing more than yet another way to score some impressions, views and likes. Rather than solving problems, telling stories, and collaborating with our customers, we’re poring over analytics and algorithms to figure out ways to optimize clicks and shares.

Engineers, analysts, and data scientists have wrested control of content marketing from the creatives, writers, and storytellers. We’re letting Facebook’s, Twitter’s, and Google’s algorithms decide what to create and when and how to share it. And like a Las Vegas casino, those algorithms are put in place to help the house, not you the brand, and surely not the end user. And so on we go feeding the machine, creating and sharing more and more content, all in an attempt to get these algorithms to smile down upon us with the occasional huge payout.

Las Vegas slot machines.jpg

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5709790

We’ve even gone so far as to remove humans entirely from the process. Chatbots are taking over customer service (oh good, the digital version of “Press 1 if you are having an emergency”), blog posts are being written by machines, even native advertising is being standardized and placed programmatically.

Here’s the problem. In our big data haze, we’ve forgotten the whole point of content marketing. How much of the content we create anymore is truly for our customers? How much of it actually builds our brand? How much time and money are we spending on creating content that serves another platform’s goals more than our brand’s business goals?

Creating content for a social media platform is a lot like feeding the slot machine – put in a lot of cheap coins to trigger an algorithm and hope for a jackpot. Instead, let’s start creating content for people, not machines. Let’s take back control of our brand’s story from the social platforms. Let’s get back to creating content that benefits our customers. Let’s get back to using data to enhance our decision-making, not make decisions for us. The data that we have access to now is exponentially more powerful than it was even just a few years ago, but rather than using that data, we’re just abdicating our decision-making to it. Data should be used to help us identify what our customers actually need, not just what they’ll click the most.

Sure, that video interview with your head of customer service may have taken a lot more time to create and probably won’t get as many likes as that cat GIF you shared the other day, but it was probably a hell of a lot more effective at telling your brand’s story and educating your customers about who you really are and what you can do for them. I’m guessing it’s also a lot easier to justify the time and expense of creating a customer service video than a series of cat GIFs.

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You Become What You Measure

January 6, 2014

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As we kick off 2014, we’re awash in PR trends and predictions. Here are six trends to watch in 2014. Here are 20 more. And another 10 more. But let’s look a little further ahead. And let’s start by looking at the implementation of standardized testing in our nation’s schools, the performance reviews of police officers, and the recent financial crisis.

These three seemingly incongruous industries are actually suffering from a situation that will soon face the PR industry as well. They’re all suffering from quant overshoot. It’s one of the four stages of the rise of the quants as described by Felix Salmon in his excellent “Numbed by Numbers: Why Quants Don’t Know Everything” article in January’s WIRED. In the overshoot stage, people stop thinking like people and start thinking like machines.

“On a managerial level, once the quants come into an industry and disrupt it, they often don’t know when to stop. They tend not to have decades of institutional knowledge about the field in which they have found themselves. And once they’re empowered, quants tend to create systems that favor something pretty close to cheating. As soon as managers pick a numerical metric as a way to measure whether they’re achieving their desired outcome, everybody starts maximizing that metrics rather than doing the rest of their job – just as Campbell’s law predicts.”

Salmon points to police departments that judge effectiveness on arrests and schools that focus their efforts on increasing standardized test scores as examples of the unintended consequences of yielding decision-making to quantitative data. What scared me as I read this article is that I see marketing and PR taking the exact same road. Quantitative analysis of big data is thoroughly disrupting our industry – everything we do now can be measured, analyzed and optimized. We use tools like Sysomos and Radian6 to track millions of social media posts. We use sophisticated algorithms to measure the specific level of influence people have among their friends. We use social network analysis to determine how messages flow from one person to another. We can even use cookies and web analytics to optimize the actual content that you see when you visit a site. And we’re only at the beginning. PR is going to get more and more data-driven, allowing us to become more efficient than we’ve ever been.

And that’s what scares me.

Image courtesy of Flickr user themadlolscientist

PR has always been more art than science and for good reason

Just because we can measure and optimize something doesn’t always mean we should. We’re abdicating our relationships and conversations in favor of statistical models and algorithms. Data has undoubtedly made PR more efficient and effective, but I worry that we don’t know when to stop. We’ve already stopped using Twitter to actually talk with people. Instead, we analyze the length, content, and timing of them to optimize their reach and shares. I’ve already seen instances where relationship-building Tweets like “Great article @reporterX – will be sharing that one around the office!” are shunned because they won’t impact engagement numbers. We’ve resorted to sharing “inspirational quotes” not because they do anything for our brand, but because they’ll get us more likes. We ignore reporters and bloggers who don’t measure up to some arbitrary influencer score. Where does it stop? Will it stop? Can we stop? 

PR can and should serve a critical role in the integrated marketing mix. PR should be the ones who help mitigate the impact of the overshoot stage and quickly move organizations into stage four – the synthesis stage, the stage where quantitative data is married with old school subjective experience. PR professionals should be the ones who help bridge this gap, not fall victim to the same over-reliance on data that doomed our financial systems or our schools.

In 2014, let’s make a concerted effort to not be a slave to data. To not let machines and spreadsheets dictate our conversations and relationships. To remember that public relations is still more art than science. To use data to enhance our decision-making, not make decisions for us. Let’s recognize that no matter how advanced the data gets, computers and algorithms will never be able to replace actual human interaction. Hopefully, PR professionals will still be able to do that in between analyzing their graphs and spreadsheets. 

*Image courtesy of Flickr user themadlolscientist

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