What the Machines Can and Can’t Do for Your Content Marketing

In the modern workforce, there’s been a constant conflict between humans and machines. For decades, we’ve been replacing the former with the latter, often with far (sometimes exponentially) better results.

In the digital content world, this conflict is in full swing. SaaS platforms, algorithms, and other tools are taking over work that, until recently, was entirely done by humans. It used to be that the question, “What do people want to read?” was answered by a pack of editors crammed in a conference room. Now, we have a predictive algorithm that measures 6 million data points and spits out an answer, while those editors are all working for brands or running conference businesses.

Luckily for us humans who work in content marketing, there are limits to what the machines can do.

Yes, there are tools to guide you in what to write about, how interested people are in what you write about, which headline options work better, which posts are the best candidates for getting more traffic, and much, much more.

But to get everything done, and have it succeed, there’s no silver bullet or Do-It-All app. Humans are still a necessary part of the process (for now, anyway) when it comes to planning, executing, and amplifying a successful content marketing strategy.

So what, specifically, do we need these pesky humans for? To make answering this question easier, let’s break it down by task. The tools for content marketing can be divided, roughly, into three categories/uses, with a lot of overlap.

1. Helping you come up with ideas

Tools like BuzzSumo are great at identifying what’s happening out there in the vast depths of the Internet and showing you channels in which to plug your content. These tools can track which topics are trending, which topics get the most social shares, which topics do the best in search… the list goes on. They offer a ton of valuable insight into what people like to do and how they act when presented with a certain type of content.

The issue isn’t whether humans can do this better—they can’t. Rather, the problem is when, and how much, you rely on these tools. “Suggested ideas for stuff to write about” is not a strategy—it’s just something that’s helpful once you already have a strategy in place. Without a cohesive and well-thought-out content strategy that factors in things like your business goals, your brand’s topics of expertise, the existing white space in those topics, and more, all you have is a bunch of articles thrown at the proverbial wall.

There’s also the matter of originality. Not every piece of content marketing needs to be original—in fact, there can be value in following the herd. But the truly breakout stuff will be something that no one else has done yet.

(Editor’s note: Holler. That’s why we love the pitch tool within Contently that makes it easy for our writers to submit story ideas.)

2. Managing your workflow process

Tools like Curata, and Kapost, and, yes, Contently all provide ways to help create and manage your editorial calendar, as well as suggestions for how to fill it and ways to track who’s doing what.

This is a category in which tools make a huge impact—without an organizational process that can be used by everyone on your team, it would be chaos trying to track all the moving parts, let alone plan for the future.

The human necessity here is a bit tautological: Humans need a tool to manage their work process, so without humans there would be no process to manage. But it’s a point worth making for this reason:

Content marketing doesn’t exist in a numbers-only vacuum. The decisions concerning what content a brand creates, how they create it, and what audience they target comes from myriad motivations and individual circumstances. Humans are the only ones who can understand the vagaries, requirements, budgets, etc. of your particular organization, and come up with a workflow process that makes sense for you. Maybe you work with a team of 85 freelancers—maybe it’s all done in-house. Maybe twenty people need to approve each piece of content (not advisable) or maybe just one (advisable). A person has to come in, make sense of all the politics and navigate the system, and then assemble a process that works for the company. Only then can you bring in a tool to add some structure to the whole thing.

3. Telling you how your content is doing and how to make it do better

Amplification. It’s worthy of its own post (coming soon) but the fact is, without it, your content will tank. The Internet is flooded with sites and tweets and videos and snaps all fighting for our attention. If you build it, they will not come. Unless, however, you’ve put together an awesome amplification strategy that has you taking all the right steps and using all the right tools.

What can these tools do? A ton. They can give you oodles of data points on your content, your competitors’ content, your influencers’ content, and just about anyone else’s content, all presented in beautiful graphs and charts. They can show you insights that no human could have uncovered.

What they can’t do is tell you which data points matter, and which don’t. Or rather, which are most integral to the achievement of your brand’s goals. Some tools can do impressive things like integrate your content traffic with Marketo or Salesforce to let you see which blog posts or videos each new lead has viewed, when they viewed it, and how often they came back. Amazing, right? But if your goal is brand lift rather than lead gen, that feature does you no good.

It’s the job of your smartypants human to know this, and to guide you toward an amplification plan that suits your needs and goals.

To sum it up

The bottom line: Tools are fabulous, and valuable as hell. As with most technology, they elevate our puny human efforts to a new level. On our own, we’d be scrambling half-blind in the muck.

But the machines are borderline useless without some experienced and savvy human beings to wield them. And each brand needs their own team of such humans to determine 1) which tools to use; and 2) how to best use them.

No two content marketing strategies are alike, and no two success stories are alike. So the predictions of one algorithm or the suggestions of one tool may have little or no value for your circumstance or situation. It takes a (talented) person to assess all the unique aspects of your brand and its audience, synthesize them into a plan, and then plug in tools when necessary. The machines give you all the materials you need to make the world’s most killer pair of boots—but you’re still SOL without a shoe designer.

Melissa Lafsky Wall (@Lafsky) is the founder of Brick Wall Media.

Image by Willyam Bradberry

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