Like it or not, artificial intelligence is already changing content marketing and other kinds of online writing. While the first wave of AI tools aren’t all that smart, they still have their uses. I’m not quaking in fear for my job right now, but I am curious how writers like me will be able to use AI to speed up some of the rote work and help brainstorm ideas.
There are a few different AI tools aimed at writers out there, but one of the most interesting right now is ChatGPT, OpenAI’s chatbot. It isn’t actually designed as a marketing tool, but its flexibility allows you to do quite a lot with it. Plus, it’s a free way to check out what AIs are capable of right now. You might be surprised at just how useful it can be — and how unlikely it is to steal my job.
How do AI content generators work?
ChatGPT is an app built by OpenAI using its GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3) language model. It serves both as a way to gather data from real users and as a demo of the power of GPT-3. There are other GPT-3-powered tools that use the model to generate content in different ways, for example, by writing blog posts or rewarding emails. With ChatGPT, it’s set up to act like a chatbot and conversational partner — but you still have a lot of access to the underlying GPT-3 model.
GPT-3 uses a “neural network” to predict what text should come next in any given sentence. Instead of words, it uses semantic “tokens” which allow its language models to more easily assign meaning and predict plausible follow-on text. Many words map to single tokens, though longer or more complex words often break down into multiple tokens. On average, tokens are roughly four characters long.
You can think of GPT-3’s neural network as a complex, many-layered algorithm. It has 175 billion parameters or variables that allow it to take an input — your prompt — and then, based on the values and weightings it gives to the different parameters, output whatever it thinks best matches your request. Ask it for a love song about A Little Brown Dog, and it will do its best to write one.
To get to this point, GPT-3 was trained on roughly 500 billion “tokens” from websites, books, news articles, and other kinds of written content. This huge volume of training data allows it to respond to a variety of different prompts. It can write emails, poetry, dialog, and, of course, marketing copy.
ChatGPT can generate ideas and help brainstorm copy.
ChatGPT can be a pretty good brainstorming partner. It’s like having another person to talk through copy with, even if they possibly aren’t the most qualified expert. While you can’t count on it to get every fact correct, it can spit out some good turns of phrase, all without having to hop on a call with another human.
The team at SBDM got ChatGPT to help write their OpenAI integration landing page. It did an overall mediocre job, but it did come up with the line that says you can use OpenAI and SBDM to “combine the power of AI with the flexibility of automation.” That’s a pretty great bit of copy.
It’s particularly helpful if you feel like you’re better at writing long-form content than catchy headlines or ad copy. That’s me, so I used it to generate some ideas to promote my newsletter.
It certainly won’t provide a perfect copy from one prompt, but if you ask for suggestions, you can get a whole heap of ideas to A/B test. Its suggestions above are at least on par with the kind of things I’d come up with in 30 minutes of brainstorming — and it did it far quicker.
You can also give it directions to get a better copy: for example, you might ask it to emulate your brand voice or go easy on the exclamation points.
ChatGPT can write SEO meta descriptions.
One of the things that ChatGPT is best at is summarizing text that you give it. When it’s asked to come up with something totally new, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. You could get something great, or it could go off on a wild tangent and totally miss the point. But when you give it a few hundred words to work from, it’s far less likely to miss the mark.
That makes it really good at writing SEO meta descriptions. Let’s be honest: they all sound like they were written by a bot anyway, so why not make your life easier and actually get a bot to do it? (In the image below, I only gave it the lede to the article, but you can paste the entire article in if you don’t need to be able to take a screenshot of it.)
Again, though, it’s not perfect. Even when I asked it to, it didn’t include the primary keyword in there (“What is AI”), and when I asked why, it apologized and then sent some very questionable results.
ChatGPT can create rough outlines for blog posts.
ChatGPT is at the point where its rough output can give you a good outline to work from for a blog post. But I still wouldn’t let it write an entire post for me because, by default, it tends to create simple essays where each point gets a paragraph. The conclusion starts with “in conclusion,” the last sentence starts with “Ultimately,” and there are a lot of “furthermore”s and “additionally”s. They’re not incoherent, but they’re super formulaic.
Look, I love that ChatGPT called writing “a valid profession,” but the article is dry and formulaic. The points it makes are good, though, and could form the foundation for a much more interesting article with a bit of tweaking.
Even when you ask it to write more casually or in a particular style, the content it produces can feel a little write-by-numbers.
It also lacks a point-of-view. Even though ChatGPT is deeply involved in whether AI can take writers’ jobs, it doesn’t really have an informed opinion. It’s just writing content that could be a fair response to my prompt — not something that it truly feels. Because, you know, it doesn’t feel.
Still — it’s a useful framework to start with. By taking the rough outline that ChatGPT has given me, I can write something much sharper, more opinionated, and of course, more human.
AI can make sure you don’t miss anything obvious.
My favorite way to use ChatGPT is to get it to summarize all the really obvious points about a particular subject or argument so I can make sure I didn’t miss anything. Because GPT-3 is built on top of huge amounts of written material pulled from the entire corpus of human knowledge and works by predicting the most likely follow-on text, it’s really good at hitting all the major talking points on most subjects.
If you’re writing a blog post, an answer to a FAQ, or some other informative bit of content for your customers, ChatGPT can do a pretty good job of making sure you address the issues that anyone reading it will expect you to touch on. You obviously don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) copy its points word for word, but it’s a good bit of insurance to make sure you don’t miss anything important.
What can’t AI do?
While ChatGPT can offer up the occasional great turn of phrase, it struggles to reliably deliver an exceptional copy. Left to its own devices, it generally churns out formulaic, high school-style English (see: meta descriptions), rather than anything that’s likely to entice people to read more. It’s impressive that a computer can write like this at all — but that isn’t reason enough to just publish what it writes without a bit of editing. ChatGPT is at its best when you ask for multiple options and tweak things yourself rather than treating it as a hands-off marketing tool.
It’s also important to remember that almost everything ChatGPT spits out sounds plausible and looks reasonably coherent. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes plausible-sounding nonsense. When I was looking at one viral blog post about the ways marketers could use ChatGPT, I found a bunch of ideas that just…didn’t work. For example, it suggested using ChatGPT to generate a list of popular blogs that cover remote work. Of the five suggested, three were dead links, one was a marketing site for a psychic, and one was a remote work job site. All the URLs and descriptions sounded plausible, but it wasn’t actually useful information. If you don’t actually confirm what ChatGPT has said, you’re likely to be duped.
Similarly, ChatGPT isn’t up-to-date on current affairs or familiar with the intricate details of your product. If you leave it to its own devices, it will give you a lot of vague generalities.
So, to give ChatGPT the final word, it “should be viewed as a tool that can assist human writers in their work, [so they can] focus on more creative and complex tasks.”