Why AI isn’t ready for the spotlight in PR—yet

Machine learning and neural networks offer huge potential for PR pros to learn about their audiences and respond decisively. However, humans are still needed to guide these systems.

Artificial Intelligence represents a revolution for public relations.

With social listening and monitoring tools, not to mention machine intelligence and unstructured data, artificial intelligence promises to identify trends, track issues, generate sentiment analysis and produce reports in ways that are faster and better than what humans alone can deliver.

Should we sit back, wait for the insights to come to us and distill the best bits for our clients and leadership teams? Is technology alone “good enough” for what communications professionals need now?

Industry insiders and academics predict a radical change in how we define a communications professional. They forecast that 38% of PR skills will be taken over by enhanced artificial intelligence over the next 5 years.

Are machines taking over PR?

 Like any tool, artificial intelligence, machine learning and automated platforms enable human expertise to execute more with less, for less and in less time. Like any tool, the technology is limited by the vision, expertise and skill of the person who manages the tool and the job at hand.

“The measurement of PR and communications has come a long way from the ‘thud factor’ of clippings books and piles of cuttings,” says Orla Graham, UK Cision insights manager and AMEC member. “More and more, technology alone can do a lot of heavy lifting—data ingestion and content sourcing that previously required expensive human resources.

In the hands of the right experts, technology can do more than ever before. But simply saying that machines are taking over isn’t right.

“The amount of change that people expect is accurate,” Leon Rausch, director of Client IT at PRIME Research in Germany, explains, “but people are overestimating the speed with which it happens.” This overestimation of how much work is still left is dangerous if businesses fall into the trap of replacing humans with technology without recognizing its limitations and the need for human expertise to set up, “train” and manage technology over time to refine and improve performance, accuracy and ROI.

 The need for human input

Human involvement remains essential when using AI and machine learning. Since technology requires human expertise to create algorithms, accurately process information and transform data into insights, the progression towards true artificial intelligence in public relations is only as good as the technological, financial and human resources in which you invest to establish and manage the system.

There is still a long way to go before PR achieves artificial intelligence nirvana, Graham explains.

Talking about the Alexa/ Google home devices and autonomous cars, she continues: “These are employing machine learning to improve performance by analyzing and incorporating the data that they receive, but they aren’t exactly flawless and they employ many thousands of data scientists (along with millions of every day users) to inform and refine the technology.”

In today’s competitive market, communicators must continue investing in AI. However, Rausch advises organizations to stay safe by remaining operational without depending on artificial intelligence promises and by taking advantage of how technology has proven itself to empower the PR process.

Computers can act very decisively within seconds when they find evidence that something is happening. This shouldn’t mean that we can fully trust automated insights.

“Hesitation is a very human thing to do. Computers don’t hesitate…they are absolutely literal,” explains Rausch.

Measurement matters

 The greatest potential for artificial intelligence resides within its data management, forecasting and analysis abilities. It is set to become a valuable tool for risk management, community identification and reputation audits. It will free up communicators’ time so the focus of their work can be put on the creative, strategic and organizational functions which land squarely in PR’s wheelhouse.

Don’t expect to get rid of humans. In Graham’s words: “Technology can help make us better, faster, stronger—but it can’t replace us.”

For now, the guiding question for technology and PR is “What can be done reliably now, and how far can we go without adding unnecessary risk?”  Over time, technology will meet more of our requirements for speed, consistency and accessibility.

Jennifer Sanchis is a policy account Manager at PRIME Research, a Cision company.

A version of this article originally appeared on her blog.

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