business messaging blog
What the Facebook chatbot story can teach us about content marketing
Scott Navratil

Unless you’ve completely avoided the internet for the past few weeks (unlikely), you’ve probably heard a rather alarming story going around lately regarding chatbots that Facebook’s AI team were working on that went rogue and started planning the overthrow of humanity. You may also have heard since the story blew up across various social media platforms and online newspapers and magazines that the story may have been just a little bit overblown. Rather than get into what the story got wrong–since so many others have already done that, let’s look at what this entire episode can teach us about content marketing instead.

The headline is very important

It quickly became apparent with this story that the people sharing the various iterations of it and predicting the robot apocalypse hadn’t even read much beyond the headlines. That isn’t just unique to this particular story. Research backs this up. Approximately 60% of people who share links to articles on social media do so without ever clicking on the link themselves. In other words, they’re basing their decision solely on the catchy headline. That’s not to say that good content isn’t also important for the 40% who do actually read the article but a good headline may have a bigger impact on its success than anything else.

Timing is less important than we think

We often think of content marketing as being tied to current events; reporting on things that have just happened are going to be more successful than covering old stories. Well that isn’t always true. A new take on an older story can earn you huge success. The Facebook chatbot story is a great example because it first happened and was reported in early June but it wasn’t until about two months later when the vast number of doomsday articles were published in response to it. It’s still a good idea to give preference to the latest news but an older story can still work for your content marketing strategy if you can say something new about it.

Original reporting will make you stand out

While all the later coverage of the Facebook chatbot story was saying that it was a sign that a robot overthrow was imminent, a few who were willing to do the work to get to the bottom of the story eventually came to the original reporting on the story. These were more detailed and accurate. While taking somebody else’s original reporting and exaggerating the facts can get you some initial success, it’s more important that your brand be seen as a source for reliable (and preferably original) reporting.

Fact-checking is an essential part of a content marketer’s job

When the first stories claiming that the failure of Facebook’s negotiation chatbots was a sign that robots were planning a takeover, many content marketers were happy to take the sensationalized story and run with it. If a few people early on were willing to do a little research, talk to people within Facebook’s AI team or even just find some of the original reporting on the story, they would have seen that the sensationalized version was dishonest.

You can’t focus solely on appeals to pathos at the expense of logos

Good marketing always should include an emotional component. But when emotion is emphasized so much so that the facts (and reason) take a back seat entirely, you’ve gone too far. The sensationalized versions of the Facebook chatbot story played on people’s fear of an AI takeover and while that earned them some initial success, when the true (and less exciting) version of the story came out, it was those who had done the more accurate reporting in the first place that established trust with their readership.

Chantel Fullilove

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