Should Companies Replace Writers with Software?

Galleycat recently posted a story about 30 companies, including Forbes and The Big Ten Network, that have started using Narrative Science’s technology instead of writers to generate their content.

Narrative Science claims its software can gather data and write “sports stories, financial reports, real estate analyses, local community content, polling & elections, advertising campaign summaries, sales & operations reports, and market research.” Furthermore, they claim content can be “customized to fit a customer’s voice, style and tone.” Here’s an example of content generated by Narrative Science’s software:

While company shares have dropped 17.2% over the last three months to close at $13.72 on February 15, 2012, Barnes & Noble (BKS) is hoping it can break the slide with solid third quarter results when it releases its earnings on Tuesday, February 21, 2012.

What to Expect: The Wall Street consensus is $1.01 per share, up 1% from a year ago when Barnes & Noble reported earnings of $1 per share.

The consensus estimate is down from three months ago when it was $1.42, but is unchanged over the past month. Analysts are projecting a loss of $1.09 per share for the fiscal year.

Should companies replace writers with software when it comes to content generation? While it might make sense from a cost-savings perspective, I wonder if some companies might damage their reputation in the long term. Look at the sample text above. It’s easy to read, and it conveys information. But this sort of communication is one-way, from company to customer. If that is all your customers want, this sort of software might benefit your company.

But what if your customers want more than information? What if they are looking for a relationship with your company? Many customers today expect to see a company interact with its customers through two-way communication. Whether that interaction takes the form of tweets, blog posts (and responses to those posts), or other content, that interaction will require more than simply providing information. Such internations will require critical thinking, empathy, and emotion. It’s a human connection. And that human connection will require writers.

So think carefully before relying solely on software instead of writers for your content. Consider not only what you are communicating, but also how you are communicating. If your customers expect two-way communication, but your company does not provide it, those customers will leave you for a competitor.

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