Opinion: Programmatic PR is here

Adrian Ma, Fanclub PR’s founder, explains programmatic PR and why the PR industry needs to embrace it and understand its media impact.

Adrian Ma

Daniel John Sobieski is a 68-year-old retiree who lives in Chicago. His eyesight is so poor, he needs a magnifying glass to read his computer screen. And yet, this unlikely person offers a glimpse of what could be the future of our jobs.

Sobieski came to the world’s attention when the Washington Post published an article about the work of Jonathan Albright, a professor at Elon University in North Carolina.

Albright studied the most active and prolific Twitter accounts in the final two weeks of the American election. He discovered that the top 20 supported Trump, and that two of the top three belonged to Sobieski.

How was it that this man was so influential in the Trump campaign? He created an automated Twitter bot that pumped out niche, often dubious, news, flooding these stories into the mainstream.

Samuel Woolley, from the Computational Propaganda project at Oxford University, described the goal of these efforts as being to ‘hack public opinion and hack free speech’. He discovered that this Twitter advantage helped pro-Trump and anti-Clinton stories trend online, making them more likely to be discovered on Facebook feeds or on Google News.

One thing is clear: artificial intelligence is having a massive impact on how we do our work. Like it or not, programmatic PR has landed, with which we can automate actions based on data. And those who understand it have a huge advantage over their competitors.

It’s been a long time coming. First there were editors, now there are algorithms. Algorithms on Google and Facebook determine whether your content gets discovered or shared, and that’s why you’ve been busy learning about a whole new set of analytics in order to decipher the effect of PR on these channels.

From the publisher’s perspective, there are already automated WordPress blogs and YouTube videos, which use pre-existing clips to generate fresh stories. The Press Association even announced that it was starting to use robot reporters for sports, election and business stories.

Outside of the PR world, one of our clients, an HR company called Reward Gateway, has developed a chatbot for Amazon’s Alexa to help with reporting. Clients simply ask Alexa a question about performance of an employee benefits package, and the chatbot gives them an answer. Wouldn’t it be lovely for our clients if they were able to get their questions answered as easily?

By 2035, around one-third of marketing jobs will be taken by robots, according to a study by Oxford University and Deloitte. Some people will argue that PR is protected from this risk because of the need for judgement and consultancy, and I’d agree with them, to a point.

In our work, we’re generating buckets of valuable performance data. Sentiment, site domain authorities, follow and no-follow links, social media shares and comments on stories. Optimising work and generating stories based on these data sets is now a part of our job. Sobieski has just taken the next step and automated this process with bots, and that is a world that we need to understand.


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