The rise of artificial intelligence chatbots and search tools threatens to undermine the content strategies and publishing approaches being employed by brand publishers.
While most public chatter has focused on generative AI’s ability to ease content production and creation, behind closed doors, marketers who have invested significant resources in content operations and branded publications worry that generative AI could significantly impact their ability to attract and engage with audiences, as tech giants such as Google and Microsoft strive to answer users’ queries directly rather than directing them to brands’ sites.
In recent weeks it’s become clear that AI chatbots draw on publicly available web content to train their models and to inform their responses, but it remains to be seen what appetite they have for directing traffic to third-party websites or other source material. For brand publishers – many of which rely on their ability to attract an audience via search engines – generative AI therefore presents an “immediate and concerning threat,” as one executive put it.
The expertise “advantage”
One of the more troubling impacts to brand publishers of the very sudden arrival of chatbots is whether access to expertise or domain knowledge will continue to be a competitive differentiator.
For most brand publishers, publishing content is a way to demonstrate in-house expertise on specific issues and topics. That expertise can be hard to find outside the four walls of these brands, and may touch on topics or ideas that mainstream media doesn’t cover, but can reach specific and engaged audiences via search results pages.
For example, certain companies in sectors like law or finance have made their abilities to turn in-house expertise into content a key part of overall marketing strategies. SaaS companies have often relied on practical tactics, and “how-to” content as a way to build audiences.
The emergence of generative AI threatens to undermine those efforts as access to basic knowledge becomes commoditized. For example, when asked “how to create a social media calendar,” Open AI’s ChatGPT technology delivers very similar solutions to those featured in an article on Hubspot’s blog titled “How to create a social media calendar.” A search on what a “FAST” channel is explains very quickly how free-ad-supported streaming TV works and why they’re becoming more prevalent – a popular topic for both brand publishers and trade publications.
With the advent of AI chatbots, expertise nearly overnight, became “commoditized,” said one editor at a financial services firm. For this editor, their focus now is increasingly on creating original content and reporting.
It’s also possible that the integration of generative AI into search could affect how much “free” traffic is sent to brand publications and brand content. Anyone in the business of media has seen this movie before: Brands typically have to pay for access to audiences one way or another.
Downstream, this potential throttling of traffic can impact brand publishers seriously.
Could there be a first-party data threat?
As traditional publishers scramble to figure out if and how paywalled content is being used by AI chatbots, and how they can best respond to (and prevent) this happening, similar concerns are also being raised at brand publishers.
While few brand publishers paywall content, many do place articles behind registration walls. The number one concern for most marketers who are relying on content as a way to collect leads and first-party data is the ability of generative AI chatbots to scrape content that is behind a registration wall and serve it to audiences.
Based on how quickly AI chatbots are adopted, they have the potential to significantly change how audiences interact with anyone publishing content on the Internet. At a base level, brand publishers will need to reckon with the prospect of these chatbots scraping their publications for content and serving it up directly. (For its part, ChatGPT says it does not have access to subscriber-only content or any content that is “restricted,” such as by an email gate, unless it is publicly available on the Internet, or provided to it through authorized access.)
But that problem feels even more urgent to those who use content as a way to generate leads, or ask people to enter their emails or other information to access certain information. Brand publishers’ editorial content is often based on the idea that it is rooted in certain expertise that isn’t easily found. But if that same expertise is freely available, at least to some extent, via chatbot, then asking audiences to enter email addresses or data to access it is going to become challenging.