Why should content writers embrace AI?
Nancy Shenker, CEO of theONswitch, is here to discuss her new book about AI for writers.
Nancy will share how AI will shape the future of content writing and what today’s writers can do to adapt to this emerging technology.
- Why AI should be called “assistive intelligence”
- The top apps writers should know
- The skills writers need to succeed with AI
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst.
The topic for today’s episode is why content writers should embrace AI. Here to speak with me is Nancy Shenker was the CEO of theONswitch. A unique and creative marketing boutique that combines the best of digital and social media with traditional marketing practices. Nancy is a marketing innovator, brand builder, writer, speaker and self proclaimed rule breaker.
Throughout her forty year business and marketing career, she has been a C level executive at major consumer and business brands, including Citibank, MasterCard, Reed Exhibitions, to mention just a few. She founded her own business, theONswitch and nunu Ventures, and since has been a mentor to hundreds of small businesses at all stages. Nancy, welcome to the show.
Nancy Shenker: Thank you so much, Steffen.
Steffen: Now before we start talking about today’s topic, Nancy, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career, and what led you to founding theONswitch?
Nancy: Well, I started out actually doing editorial work. I was gonna go to law school and I was the editorial associate for a publication called US Tax Week, thrilling. And so that dispelled me of the notion of going to law school, and I went to NYU’s graduate publishing program at night. And when the marketing speaker came in, the light bulb went on over my head. And I said, this is really what I want to do.
So I worked in marketing for publishing companies for a while, and then ended up sort of through a weird set of circumstances in financial services at Citibank and MasterCard, which is where I really cut my teeth on brand marketing and consumer marketing. And also on automated marketing, which is going to tie into some of what we’re talking about today.
Because digital marketing has been around a lot longer than Facebook or email marketing. It’s just that it was clunkier back in the old days. So I was developing personas for Citibank’s retail bank and doing targeted marketing in my jobs long before automation really came to fruition. And then ironically, I ended my corporate career back in the publishing world, as CMO for the world’s, at the time, the world’s largest trade show company, which now produces ComicCon.
Then in 2003, I was really chomping at the bit to do my own thing and was tired of bureaucracy. And I found the big companies had become much more risk averse and less creative. So I hung out my shingle, I started theONswitch marketing, which I’ve now had, as I said, since 2003. And started using digital media social media in 2005, when Facebook fell into the hands of adults, and started using much more broad level, email marketing.
And I have been in tech powered marketing, pretty much most of my career. As long as there has been some form of technology, I have been there. And nunu Ventures, which is my other company, is my publishing and speaking brand. And I have written eight books so far. And I have a new book coming out on Monday, specifically about AI for writers.
Steffen: Interesting. So obviously, there has been a lot of chat or talk about ChatGPT, right, and what that AI solution can do. At the same time, there’s a lot of talk out there as that solution like that is no fix to creating unique content. Because what the system does is just regurgitate stuff that it finds on the internet, and then kind of writes it together. And Google or the search engine can identify it. That’s why it’s not a good idea. Talk from your perspective, how exactly does AI write content?
Nancy: Well, I wrote my first book about AI back in 2017, called Embrace the Machine. I actually have a trademark on the term embrace the machine. And everything that I predicted in 2017 is now coming true. And it’s kind of shocking to me that it’s taken this long. I think a lot of the technology has just been in development.
As a writer and a content creator, I truly do embrace AI. I don’t think of it, in fact, it’s sort of misnamed. Instead of being called artificial intelligence, it should be called assistive intelligence. Because at the end of the day, I’m still the smart one. I am the human that will decide what I want to write about.
And I still have to create the prompt that will generate the content. So I’ve been using several of the natural language generators. ChatGPT has sort of become a generic. But that’s just one of many platforms that are now available. And they’re brilliant. But at the end of the day, it’s garbage in garbage out. You could argue that Google is horrible, because it doesn’t find the right stuff.
But it all depends on what you type into that little box that will reveal or not reveal what you’re looking for. So I think we as humans need to stop, excuse my French, pissing on AI and saying, oh, my God, it’s stupid. It’s, you know, it’s not as smart as humans, and instead learn how to use it to our best advantage.
Steffen: I think a key word you just said is assisted intelligence. So it can support the development of content, but it still needs guidance from the person that uses the platform. How do you specifically use the solutions that are out there? And you know, there are several platforms that are out there. I think one is called Jasper which I’ve seen a lot.
Nancy: Yeah, I use Jasper a lot. I mean, I love personally, I love to write, and I love to create. So today I write better than either Jasper or ChatGPT. I’m funnier, I’m warmer. Will I eventually be using Jasper much more often? As a thought starter and a first level creator? Absolutely. You know, in the past, and hopefully none of my former interns are listening. You know, in the past, I would hire recent college grads who majored in English or journalism. And I would say, can you please write a first draft of whatever it happened to be.
A social media post, blog article. And they would do it and I would spend hours and hours rewriting it, and fact checking their sources. So in effect, instead of having interns, Jasper will be my intern, and will cost me less and be less aggravating to manage. And over time, Jasper, or ChatGPT or whatever, Bard, Claude, whatever app I end up using, they will function as my virtual writing assistant.
Steffen: Interesting. So you are using it basically, to collect information, get the first draft out. And then you basically use that or take that and kind of clean it up.
Nancy: I’m also using it as like an accessory to my writing. So in other words, I’ll write a blog post from my head and my heart. And then I’ll ask Jasper to create something. In fact, when you download my book next week, you’ll see that the closing paragraph was actually not written by me it was written by Jasper,
Nancy: And hopefully I won’t have to pay Jasper royalties.
Steffen: You already mentioned a few, or we already mentioned a few apps that can be used. Jasper, Bard, etc. What other apps are out there and how do they actually differ? Are they all the same?
Nancy: They’re not all the same. They’re designed for different functions. Some are better for research, some are better for factual reporting. Many of the newspapers have been using natural language generation for years to write obituaries and to report sports scores and stock prices. Because some are really, really good at just aggregating information, much the way human researchers are.
You know, there are human researchers that if you say I want factual accuracy, I want 10 sources, they’ll do that. They’ll knock it out. You don’t have to check, check what they did, because they’re very thorough. And there are others that are more creative. So we are still in the very, very early days of natural language generation. And in my book, there are probably 10 to 15 different apps listed with a summary of what each of them is good for.
So I don’t mean to be vague, but in a few short days, this will all be available as a download for free online so a writer can see all of the tools that are available, and what each one does. And like a lot of industries, I think what will happen is I mean obviously ChatGPT got a lot of media exposure because they have the deep pockets to do that. Jasper is very aggressively marketing on social media.
And there are other players that we haven’t heard of yet because they’re not ready for their PR launch, but they are out there. And then what will happen as tends to happen in the tech world, is there will be consolidation. But at the end of the day, there are just a few major players. There’s Microsoft, there’s Amazon, and there’s Google.
And they will ultimately own this space. And your AI will sit on your desktop, as it already does. I mean, when I look for images on Shutterstock, or I just found out that Grammarly is building AI into their functionality. We won’t even be talking about AI five years from now because everything will be AI assisted.
Steffen: Yeah. So when we’re saying content writers should embrace AI, we’re not advocating have the AI write all of your blog posts, all of your articles, all of your books, or whatever form of content you need to create. There’s still the clear statement here, at least that’s what I hear, is you need to use it alongside what you do. And for whatever you use it, there are different solutions to help you.
Nancy: And the reality may be that there will be many, many fewer human writers, and the ratio may be 75% machine generated versus 25% human assisted. But you know, look at all the other things that have been automated over the years. You know, we all have vacuum cleaners. Like the vacuum cleaner does its job, but there’s a human there emptying the bag, and noticing that there’s dirt on the floor.
So do I believe that humans will become obsolete? No, but I think the cream will rise to the top. And as a woman over 60, I was actually just having this conversation earlier today, that in many ways, this could be a huge opportunity for older marketers, because we have the maturity and the experience.
I mean, I’m way better at googling than most of the 20 somethings that I work with, because I grew up with a card catalog and the Dewey Decimal System. So failure was not an option when I was searching. So I’ve just gotten that much better at knowing what to look for. And sometimes people who have less experience than I have will stand behind me to watch me right.
And they say, how do you do that so quickly? And it’s because I have years and years and years of experience in doing it. So, to me, the automation has merely simplified my life, and machines are making me smarter. You know, there’s nothing artificial about that.
Steffen: Yeah, yeah. Does that mean you know, AI’s machine learning software solutions, that kind of the entry level jobs in the writing industry are disappearing? You said it earlier, you know, back in the days, you would use graduates from school, from universities, to write the first draft. Obviously, at this point, you don’t do that anymore, because you use AI solutions to do that. What happens to all the people that have come off college? Is there a place for them?
Nancy: Yeah, it’s interesting, because I’m ChadGPT, has really proliferated college campuses. So you have a lot of people in their junior and senior years of college, who are now using it to write their papers, which raises a whole host of other issues related to the grading system. But I think the savvy college graduates who do like the written word, will learn how to use these tools.
In fact, the young woman who has been assisting me with my book, hadn’t heard about half of the things that are in the book, which was kind of ironic that here I am, I’m almost three times as old as she is. And I was more in tune with what the future might hold. So they’ll just need to be better trained to be prompters to understand how to look at what AI spews out.
And yes, I do eventually believe in 10, 15, 20 years, that the automation will become so smart, that it will self correct. But it is going to need human intervention to learn those skills. The same way my Amazon device and I dare not say her name, because she will answer me while I’m on this call, will ask whether she gave the right answers and is using that information to become smarter.
Steffen: So you mentioned earlier you’re using it as kind of a first draft solution. What other use cases do you see for those AI solutions from a content writing perspective?
Nancy: I think it’ll be so powerful. You know, obviously Google keeps changing its algorithm. And nobody really knows how to wind up on page one of search. But Jasper integrates with SEO. So rather than somebody giving me a list of keywords, and my playing a bizarre party game of trying to smush the keyword into the copy, the AI will automatically do that. AI will talk to AI, and there will be conversations going on. Especially like in the PR area, which I’ve done a lot of work in that area.
And I predicted back in 2017, that there will no longer be humans pitching journalists on news stories. I mean, there’ll be some level of that. But there’ll be a lot of machines talking to other machines. And I’m using the term machines very loosely. But automation conversations, where, you know, if you know, People magazine wants to know, the latest celebrity gossip, it can automatically talk to police reports, and feed that information in.
So it’s going to be a very rapid, streamlined system. And then the real beauty part, and I know you’ll appreciate this, is I worked on a project recently for a tech company not that recently, like maybe three years ago, and I would write content, and then we would deploy it through a marketing ops system. And then I would have to look at the data to see how the campaign was doing.
And I’d have to look at what search terms were used most frequently. And I won’t have to do that in a couple of years. So in other words, no sooner will the blog posts or the article or the white paper get published, then I will already know what my next piece of content should be. Because the AI will have already interpreted the results for me.
Steffen: Now you talked about a few things that most likely will be possible in the future. If people want to start using AI now, again, what should they use it for? How far should they go?
Nancy: They should use it for whatever they’re comfortable using it for. They should get as the last page of my book says, stop denying and debating, and just start playing around. And if you download my book on Monday, by the way, it’s a free download. I’m not selling anything. You can go through and read about the different.
It’s like going to the supermarket and saying, oh, I’ve never tried these noodles before, I’m going to put them in my shopping cart. So everybody who loves the written language, everybody who writes, everybody who likes words, anybody who thinks they might like words and want to go into some content related career, should be using this stuff now and experimenting,
Steffen: By the way, I want to say is this episode is going to be released, probably one or two months from this recording. So by the time the listeners are listening to this, Nancy’s book will have been released already. So just head over to Amazon, I assume and downloaded it there.
Nancy: It’s actually going to be on my link tree.
Nancy: Which is, you could get through Instagram at theONswitch.
Steffen: Perfect, perfect. And we’ll leave that as always in the show notes. Now, as we talked about a few minutes ago, there might not be not so much room for college graduates in the future because of the advancement in AI etc. But what skills will writers need in the future to be successful in combination with the tools that they have on hand?
Nancy: I have believed for a long time that nobody should just be a writer. Although I love to write, I’m pretty right brain left brain balanced. So I’ve always not only been a writer, but also voraciously curious about the impact of my writing. Who’s reading it? How many times has it been clicked on? So I do think that even if writing is your true passion, having some kind of quantitative skill set to be able to look at data and say is my writing producing results? I’m not talking about people who want to write the great American novel.
But even there, you know, there’s a quantitative side to that. Is my novel being bought and turned into a movie by AI. But I don’t think we yet know what all the jobs of the future will be. There’s so many jobs that existed when I was a kid that just don’t exist anymore. I mean, my younger brother worked as a newspaper delivery boy. And there was a fleet of kids that rode around on their bicycles throwing the newspaper at people’s houses.
And if you said today, do you want to be a newspaper delivery person? And back then it was all boys. There were no girls who did it. They say what are you talking about? That’s not a job. So we’re not really sure what the jobs of the future will look like. I think we can talk more to the skill sets that people will need to have. And as the stewards of automation, we do all need to be sensitive to the fact that machines are not infallible.
And, you know, using my vacuum cleaner analogy, or you know, you can say the same thing about a typewriter or a printer, you still have to know how to fix it when it gets jammed up. And so I do think that the right skill set for the future is a combination of creativity, technology, and a healthy dose of just practicality and cynicism and knowing when things are broken, or when they’re wrong, and how to fix them.
Steffen: Yeah, and as you said earlier, right, as students these days probably write their papers already using software solution like that, they will get so much more familiar with what the system can and can’t do, that a lot of the things that some other people that might have not heard of, of writing AI, writing solutions, will still have to discover.
Nancy: Yeah, and it’ll be very interesting, you know, more so than the role of the student is what’s the role of the professor. If he gets, he or she gets, if they get 10 papers that have been written by ChatGPT, will they all be exactly the same?
And I remember when I was a kid in grade school, I used to write my book reports, and then I would bind them with colored ribbon and construction paper, so they would stand out. So that’s a skill that I think humans will need to have is, if everything is commoditized, how do you make yours different from, better than, everybody else’s?
Steffen: How do unique thoughts get into pieces when you have your blog article content created by machines? Because a lot of, you know when you are, when you’re in college, it’s about what your own thoughts are on a specific topic, you know. How you analyze something. What your opinion is on something. Wouldn’t that kind of change the outcome from the content?
Nancy: Oh, absolutely. I think there’s a real potential for bias within AI. But on the flip side, there’s a real opportunity for creativity. So the cover of my eBook was designed by me in Canva. But I’m not a graphic designer. And if I wanted to make it better, you know, I can’t do this today. But probably a year from now I will be able to, is to say, give me, and I won’t have to even do it on a keyboard, I’ll just say to my device, because it’ll be voice, I’ll say, can you look at five other modern fonts for the title? Can you left justify it? Can you right justify it?
And so it will be a collaboration between me and my Jasper or Frank or Lucy or whatever it happens to be called. So again, I look at that. I don’t have the benefit right now, of sitting in my home office, I’m brainstorming with myself. But to have a thing, for lack of a better term, that’s wildly creative, and has infinite possibilities to assist me with creativity, you know, that’s very exciting to me.
I don’t see that as taking anything away from my creativity. And I just read a really fascinating article in Fast Company, about the possibility of embedding AI-like tools in the human brain. So I won’t even need an external device. By the time I reach 90 or 100. I will be like Robocop with body parts that will enable me to have superhuman cerebral strength.
Steffen: Yeah. Interesting. Now, what are some of the dangers of AI driven content writing?
Nancy: That people get lazy and stupid, and they don’t identify mistakes, or that they don’t realize that they’re in a class and everybody’s using ChatGPT to write their paper, that I mean, unless the AI is smart enough that they know these 10 people are in the same class, and can give them different variations on the theme. I think the people who are resistors who say, oh, it’s never gonna happen. I don’t like this. Humans are creative. AI is BS, they’ll end up unemployed or scrambling to figure out something else to do with their lives.
Years and years ago, I worked at, and it seems so Neanderthal now. I worked at the Macy’s on Herald Square in Manhattan, learning how to use the first ever computerized cash registers. And last night, I went out to dinner, and you know, paid my bill scanning a QR code and the server was carrying around a pocket device. And you know, that’s all happened in my lifetime.
So, again, I think that people who lived a long time and have seen the evolution of technology are the people who really have the greatest opportunity to shape the next generation and the less time we spend resisting and denying, and the more time we spend embracing, the better off we’ll all be.
Steffen: That’s a great last word. Nancy, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your thoughts on why people should embrace AI to create content. If people want to find out more about you, about theONswitch, how can they get in touch?
Nancy: The best way to find out more about me and my writing is actually to go to my Instagram, which is at theONswitch. And you can also find it on my LinkedIn profile, is I do have a link tree page set up that is the table of contents for all of my content. So it’s one stop shopping. And that’s where I’ve been sending everybody these days is to my link tree.
Steffen: Perfect. We’ll leave that in the show notes. Thanks, everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
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