The following is a guest piece by Bully Pulpit Interactive (BPI) Partners Robert Gibbs and Jeff Nussbaum. Opinions are the authors’ own.
Artificial intelligence (AI), which is already changing our world in ways large and small — and dominating every conversation we have — is, itself, changing, bringing with it updates that are particularly significant for today’s corporate communicators.
With the announcement that OpenAI’s ChatGPT will be searching the web for current information (a feature already present in Microsoft’s Bing Chat and Google’s Bard), it’s clearer than ever that AI is seeking to replace search.
Why does this matter to you, a communicator?
Because AI only tells one story. Definitively. Authoritatively. And often not in the way that you would want. In a world where you only get to tell one story, you need that story told correctly.
Take, for example, when we asked some of the leading AIs about: The performance of a major CEO, and the main takeaway is that he continued to receive increasingly lavish compensation while the company notched its worst performance in a decade; the pros and cons of working at a major tech company, and the “cutthroat culture, long hours, and high stress” were the main focus of the answer; or a reason to choose one rideshare service over another, and you get told that one pays and treats its drivers less well.
These aren’t the “AI hallucinations” you’ve heard so much about. These answers are all true in some form. But they are not the stories these people and organizations want told about themselves.
That’s because AI responses differ from standard search in several meaningful ways:
- AI delivers synthesis over discovery: Previously, you could look for information and make your own judgment about which information, from which sources, felt most authoritative and relevant to you. Today, AI models present responses in clear, declarative prose. Responses are pre-synthesized, presented as fact and offer little opportunity to discover a dissenting opinion. Information presented this way is much more likely to be taken at face value.
- AI delivers summary over recency: At present, AI models seem to deprioritize recent news stories in favor of longer-term narrative consistency. For communicators, that means there are fewer “quick fixes” available. A deeply-reported positive profile article is no longer a reputational silver bullet, because there’s no guarantee it will get top billing or even sufficient visibility under the new AI regime.
- AI is drawing from surprising sources: AI generates authoritative statements from websites you’ve never heard of; it’s as likely to pull from outside of what we might consider mainstream news sources, including and especially Wikipedia, as they are from anything else. For example, on an inquiry about GM CEO Mary Barra, Bing was just as likely to lift from the blog gmauthority.com as it was from Forbes. Expect a lot more of this as these AIs seek “real time” responses.
For corporate communicators, it’s less about fearing the lie that can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on, it’s that in the age of AI, someone (or something) else’s narrative can get all the way around the world before you can write your own.
As we’ve seen the Federal Trade Commission is already investigating whether AIs violate consumer protection laws by putting reputations at risk. Until recently, this risk was mitigated by the fact that your stakeholders were somewhat siloed: you could have a different reputation (and tell a different story) to different audiences: employees, investors, regulators, the media, and so on.
If ever that was the case, it is no longer. All of those audiences have merged and overlapped, and the business of change means moving them all.
What does this mean for corporate communicators?
You’ll have to tell your story more clearly, more definitively and in more places than you ever have previously.
We’ve worked with leaders for whom no news is good news and no reputation (beyond a key group of stakeholders) was a good reputation. That strategy isn’t sustainable, because in the age of AI, nobody has the luxury of being a blank canvas.
If you’re not filling a news void, somebody — or AI — will.
To be clear, this strategy isn’t about vanity. It’s about authority. For years, companies and individuals have worked — and paid — to have their company web page rank at the top of search results. The nearly total overlap between SEO and Google meant that you had the ability to make your preferred material the most prominent part of your story, which in turn gave you greater control of your reputation.
That’s no longer the case. As we write this, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of AI tools generating content about you, your brand or your issue. If you don’t feed the beast, AI will paint the picture and tell the story.
So, what’s a communicator to do?
- Be in the big places, but also in the places you might not consider. The blog post you’ve been putting off ghostwriting for your CEO? Write it. That conference invitation you were considering? Book it, then post about it.
- Wikipedia matters more than you realize. As top-tier news outlets and other content platforms like Reddit and X have started closing their online doors and content creators have started suing to enforce their copyrights, Wikipedia matters more than ever. So the Wikipedia article inaccuracy that you hoped nobody would notice? Fix it.
As AI becomes more mainstream at lightning speed, we find ourselves increasingly referring to it in human terms. Perhaps, as we approach AI, it’s better to think of it less as human and more as an animal. Help AI tell the story, and it’s a lot less likely to bite the hand that feeds it.