AI, Automated Content, and the Future of Marketing: Our Chat With #SMMW16 Speaker Christoper Penn (@CSPenn)

April 19, 2016Employee Advocacy, News

We’re having a blast here in San Diego for Social Media Marketing World 2016! With so many fantastic speakers and attendees, it’s a great opportunity for us to hear from the experts where they think social media and marketing are headed.

I was fortunate enough to catch Christopher Penn, VP of Marketing Technology at ShiftComm, for a quick fireside chat.

Christopher describes himself as a bridge – the intersection of IT and Marketing. He speaks on digital marketing, but he doesn’t classify himself as an expert in either or. He tells me “Yeah, I’m a terrible coder and I’m not a great marketer so it turns out that two halves actually equal one whole!”

Christopher will be speaking at Social Media Marketing World on How to Create a Data-Driven Customer Journey on April 19 at 11:15 PDT – don’t miss it!

Without further ado, here’s all of the awesome insight that Christopher was able to share with us!

HK: Your marketing strategies are founded in data and technology. What are some of the biggest trends you see for enterprises in technology, content marketing, and social media.

In the next 3-5 years, the biggest trend will be machine intelligence (or artificial intelligence). We’re just starting to see this take hold, but it’s going to skyrocket. For example, Facebook’s new Messenger bots at the F8 Conference. If you look into the AI, there’s a service called Wit.AI that Facebook acquired a few months ago. It allows you to drag and drop programming of an AI. So you give it structure parameters. At an event like this, let’s say, you can conversationally ask a bot “when does the next session start?” or “where is the restroom?” and it will give you answers.

If you look at what IBM is doing with Bluemix and Watson – these supercomputers are able to actually manage language well. Well enough that the average human can be fooled by it. There are companies that exist now that will automatically generate press releases, or automate social media updates.

There’s a political candidate here in the US that is known for a certain style of speech. So someone fired up an AI that mimicked that speech pattern and would tweet in that style. You’ll see Shakespearean verse in this candidate’s speech pattern.

For enterprises looking at big data and content marketing – the machines are going to be able to do it probably better than we are. So we might be out of a job! But there will be tons of content going out.

Think about it this way: we’re at the point where we now have the technology for self-driving cars. Not the legislation, but the technology. If a car can drive itself, we can definitely get a machine to write press releases. It isn’t too far off. If you’re a content marketer – you might want to brush up on your programming skills.

HK: What digital transformations have you seen from enterprises in the last 5 years, and what do you think is next?

In the last 5 years, the focus has been big data. Getting your data in a clean, compatible, and structured way. Or if it’s unstructured, being able to query it and ask questions. Being able to scale things in real-time – these are all things that have laid the groundwork for AI. Without structured data and clean data, they would not have happened.

HK: You’re a highly sought-after speaker, and you understand the importance of a personal brand. Do you think organizations should encourage employees to build their own digital presence?

CP: Absolutely. The reason for this is: from an algorithmic perspective, with Facebook and Twitter switching to an algorithm to determine what users see, a brand’s ability to reach an audience on their channel alone has greatly diminished. But if you have employees (particularly if you have a lot of employees as an enterprise), you basically have a built-in amplification tool if employees choose to opt-in. It’s important not to hit them over the head and say “you must be part of this program.! Here’s your mandatory fun!”

But in order for that to work, the employee has to actually have a social network. If it’s just the employee and their mom following them on Twitter, then it isn’t very useful.

The tradeoff is: I will help you as my employee build your personal brand and make you more employable, in exchange you’ll amplify our content to like-minded people. Chances are that employee, let’s say it’s a software engineer, has a network of more software engineers. But that tradeoff has to be made clear up front.

HK: Exactly. One of the biggest challenges companies face is employees saying “okay, well what’s in it for me?

CP: What’s in it for you is a better resume!

HK: And you do a lot of work with earned media value and PR. Do you see a lot of potential in employees to generate earned media through social?

CP: Employees generate earned media all the time. In social media, if you like what you do for work and you like your company, you’ll be telling people on social media. And conversely, if you don’t like the company you work for, you’re probably still telling people about it. So there are these mechanisms for amplification that we can use judiciously as marketers if it makes sense to do so.

So if your company gets named “One of the Best Places to Work”, it’s a great thing to remind your employees that they work somewhere great. But there’s more to it than that. Employees can actually be involved in the content that gets created. New content, new infographics, new video – the more you can try to train employees to create this content just by using their smartphone, the more talent you’ll have accessible.

One of the biggest challenges we face in marketing is thinking “it’s only me, the Director of Marketing, and my minion and that’s it.” So how do you scale? You scale with your co-workers.

HK: So being here at SMMW, what are you looking forward to most?

CP: I’m looking forward to seeing lots of my old friends, meeting new friends who work in the social media space, and hearing where they think it’s going. Talking with some of the resident experts and seeing where their heads are at with metrics and analytics.

But here’s the odd part – out of 105 sessions here, there are only 4 on measurement. There’s 32 on content creation, 33 on social media operations. There’s a lot of focus on doing “the stuff”, but not a lot on measuring “the stuff” to see if it’s working. So in my talk, I’ll be figuring out what challenges in measurement that marketers might be facing that aren’t being addressed.

I think measurement remains in the margins for 3 reasons:

  1. Most people who are into earned media and PR got into that field because they don’t like math. (It was my understanding that there would be no math)
  2. There’s still an element of squishiness when it comes to dealing with humans. I can count the number of people in a room, but I can’t tell you what they’re all thinking. If we talk about social media influence for example – I can guess how much influence I have, but there’s no way to verify whether you are actually influenced by me.
  3. There are some social media marketers and practitioners who know that the emperor doesn’t have clothes. There are some who measure impressions, or engagement, meanwhile the Director of Sales is thinking “the whole social media thing isn’t working, because I have no leads from it.”

So I think measurement has taken a back seat at most conferences, because the audience might not be demanding it. If you don’t have the math background, and you don’t want to be compensated based on something you don’t know.

HK: I do get the sense that marketers are leaning toward insightful analytics, and fully understanding the analytics to prove ROI.

CP: Yeah, and with ROI, sometimes there simply isn’t. Sometimes you do things because you’re mandated to. If your executive says “I want more Twitter followers”, we all know that isn’t the best approach.

It’s being treated as an end goal rather than a diagnostic metric.

HK: Any advice for enterprises trying to scale brand awareness and lead gen through social, digital, and content?

CP: Please measure your stuff!

And go for the low-hanging fruit. Google Analytics is the gold standard right now for the middle of the funnel. At the top of the funnel you have brand awareness and PR, but the rubber hits the road when people who are talking about your brand start talking to your brand. That’s typically done through web analytics – even for brick and mortar stores. Your web analytics have a lot of capabilities.

Inside GA, you can attach your social networks so that you can’t differentiate between discussions about you, and who’s actually engaging with your content. This helps to derive actual value to social media. You can say that Twitter has generated a certain number of leads that converted into a sale. The conversation changes from “look at all of the impressions” to “look at the money.” Your C-Suite tends to like money.

HK: Do you think this is an untapped resource?

CP: Absolutely. Your website is a digital intermediary between the top of the funnel and the bottom of the funnel. If you get that right, you can see up and down the entire way.

The Future of Marketing

Where do you think social media and marketing are headed? What would you add to Chris’ thoughts? Let us know in the comments!

Hannah Kovacs

Author: Hannah Kovacs

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