Are Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) Ready for Prime Time in PR, Marketing & Customer Service?

Artificial intelligence will replace or transform millions of white-collar jobs, including public relations and customer service jobs, many predict.

Chatbots now take phone orders in many restaurant chains. AI already writes some PR content such as press releases. The Associated Press now uses computer programs to write earnings reports. PR and marketing materials like earning releases and product descriptions are ideal for AI, asserts Adam Long, director of product management of Automated Insights’ Wordsmith, the AI program the generates the AP press releases.

Automation helps PR complete routine tasks, such as completing research, gathering media lists, and distributing press releases. Although PR may not be as data centric as other professions, AI can be especially helpful in gathering data and PR measurement. Tools like Hootsuite help automate social media and services like Glean.info automate media monitoring and measurement.

While some PR pros believe artificial intelligence will revolutionize PR, others doubt it will impact the profession much. The computer programs cannot replace storytelling or relationship-building abilities of accomplished PR pros, they say.

The Big Question about AI & PR

Responding to a SpinsSucks blog weekly Big Question, PR pro Sandra Fathi compared AI to attempts to outsource PR. When companies tried to outsource PR to third-world countries, they got call centers that spammed thousands of journalists. The attempt failed due to the callers’ lack of cultural context, nuance, and personal interactions.

“There are some functions that artificial intelligence can assist with, but it is nowhere near being able to take over for a public relations pro when it comes to media relations,” Fathi said

While confident they won’t be supplanted by machines, other PR pros said AI will perform mundane tasks. Some said they’re preparing for the change. “I am preparing by building stronger relationships with clients so that they can see that artificial intelligence can’t replace creativity and strategy,” said Susan Cellura.

Companies Retreat from Chatbots

Chatbots, AI programs that answer customers’ questions and mimic human conversations, are also predicted to revolutionize PR and marketing. However, companies are dropping chatbots after seeing disappointing results, according to Digiday.

Facebook said it was “refocusing” its use of AI. Its chatbots, among the more sophisticated, could respond to just 30 percent of requests without human intervention. Fashion retailer Everlane and Spring stopped using chatbots after they didn’t meet expectations.

Chatbots can work well when taking straightforward requests like taking menu orders. Taco Bell’s TacoBot accepts orders through the Slack messenger app. However, outside of retail, corporations have become cautious about adopting chatbots.

The bots cannot provide a human-like, personalized experience, at least not yet. “I would call it overpromising,” CP+B executive creative tech director Joe Corr, told Digiday. “Brands that created bots with a structured request or utility like Domino’s or in retail were easy. But bots that tried to break out of the utility and be chatbots became the problem.”

Misunderstanding about chatbots is another obstacle. Some companies mistakenly think chatbots are the only entry way into artificial intelligence. But they can use AI without chatbots, for instance, for a better product search on a website.

Bots may substantially impact public relations and change how publishers distribute news, some predict. Publishers have developed bots to push content onto platforms like Facebook Messenger, but they fall short of their promise. The natural language processing for conversation doesn’t yet exist, and many publishers lack infrastructure to delve deeply into their content, according to Digiday.

Bottom Line: Although artificial intelligence (AI) may have a role in public relations, companies have become cautious about embracing the chatbot form of AI and some have abandoned the software programs. The retreat underscores challenges of implementing the still-developing technology. Chatbots and other forms of artificial intelligence may not significantly impact public relations as quickly as many predicted.

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Originally published at glean.info on March 16, 2017.