To bot or not to bot? Yes, that’s a question.

In December, national news sites sparked a flurry of excitement over ChatGPT (it stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer). More than a million folks tried it out in the first few days, asking the bot to write poems, essays and even some of the news stories about the bot.

One of the first groups of users jumping to take advantage of the bot are students, according to a National Public Radio interview with University of Pennsylvania professor Ethan Mollick. 

“I would challenge you to find a single school where there are not a large number of people using this in their classes, whether the teachers know it or not,” he says, warning that all the facts cited in bot-sourced essays may not be true.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about artificial storytellers. At NRECA’s 2022 Connect Conference, a speaker mentioned jasper.ai. The bot offers to write your blog, website copy, ads and more.

“He’s trained by expert marketers to write emotional, persuasive copy,” the Jasper promotional video claims.

At the same time, I’ve had to say goodbye to several amazing friends who are leaving community-owned utilities for higher pay outside our industry. As a storyteller at a communications co-op, this sparks a big question:

How will artificial storytellers impact the perceived value of utility communicators?

While my immediate reaction was something along the lines of, “Bots bad. Humans good,” being defensive doesn’t help. And, after I looked at them, I found a few bot features which could help your content. 

After a quick demo of the technology, there are four things storytellers can learn from bots — but you definitely need a steady, experienced storyteller guiding the narrative. 

1. Beat Blank Page Blues

I understand the thrill of having someone (something?) else help me get started, especially when I can’t think of a good start for a story. I tried out ChatGPT with a fun request:

Me: Write a poem about cooperatives.

ChatGPT:
Cooperatives, a force for good
Bringing people together, as they should
Working hand in hand, side by side
Towards a common goal, with hearts open wide

Together we share, the work and the gain
Equal ownership, without any chain
Decisions made by all, democracy at its best
Voices heard, with mutual respect

This was the first two of five stanzas about the power of cooperation. If you know me, you know rhyming about co-ops is the way to my heart. The poem was a bit long, so I asked ChatGPT to rewrite it as a haiku.

Cooperatives thrive
Sharing wealth, sharing the load
Together, we grow

Could it do the same, but specifically for telcos?

Telcos, the backbone
Of modern communication
Connecting us all

Now I want to give ChatGPT a hug. But all the bot did was quickly (faster than I ever could) research co-op principles and telco history, spinning facts into rhymes.

As a poet myself, I’d love to contemplate the virtues of co-ops and write something. But I never have time. The first poem took about two minutes to generate. I asked it to regenerate the poem, and a fresh five stanzas were done in less than a minute. The haiku took a few seconds. Wow.

We aren’t often tasked with writing poems. But I used the same bot to write headlines about capital credits, broadband access and — for fun — this blog post.

Me: Write a headline about artificial storytelling.

ChatGPT: “Artificial Intelligence Revolutionizes Storytelling with Realistic and Engaging Narratives”

I can definitely see this as a helpful tool when you need help thinking of a catchier way to start a story.

2. Find New Angles

After trying headlines and poems, I decided to test how far ChatGPT could go. Many utility newsletters need filler content with seasonal tips. We tend to copy and paste the content from past years’ content. Could a bot offer a new take on a familiar topic?

Me: Please write a story about winter energy efficiency tips.

ChatGPT:
Once upon a time, in a small town nestled in the mountains, the winter months brought cold temperatures and snowfall. As the temperatures dropped, the residents of the town began to notice that their energy bills were rising.

Concerned about the cost of keeping their homes warm, they began to look for ways to increase the energy efficiency of their homes.

I’m a fan of fairy tales, but not in consumer communications. The bot went on to write about fictional residents and how they approached energy efficiency. Not helpful, since the only people we’d want to highlight are your consumers. I tried again, adding a specific story style.

Me: Please rewrite this story in the style of a list of tips.

ChatGPT:
Here are some winter energy efficiency tips to help keep your home warm and your energy bills low:

  1. Seal gaps and cracks in your walls and windows: Use weatherstripping and caulk to prevent cold air from sneaking in and making your home feel colder.
  2. Invest in a programmable thermostat: Set the temperature of your home to a lower level when you’re out at work or asleep, and have it automatically warm up just before you wake up or return home. This helps to save energy and money by only heating the home when it’s actually being used.
  3. Use energy-efficient appliances: Choose LED light bulbs and Energy Star-rated appliances, which use less energy and can help save money on your energy bills.
  4. Take advantage of free energy audits: Many hardware stores offer free energy audits to help residents understand how to save energy in their homes.

By following these tips, you can keep your home warm and cozy all winter long, while also saving money on your energy bills.

This kind of bot writing might be helpful, but you must fact check each tip (there are lots of energy myths out there). Use a trusted source like your team at Efficiency Services Group, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website or someone at your utility who regularly conducts energy audits.

I recorded the full exchange with ChatGPT, to give you an idea of how it works.

 

3. Amplify Your Story 

I don’t naturally think in terms of SEO, but bots do. That’s a plus. I asked ChatGPT how artificial intelligence can make your content easier for search engines (and the people searching) to find.

ChatGPT:

  1. Keyword optimization: AI can help identify the most relevant and popular keywords to include in content, improving its search visibility.
  2. Content generation: AI can generate unique and high-quality content that is optimized for SEO, freeing up time and resources for businesses.
  3. Content analysis: AI can analyze existing content and suggest improvements to make it more SEO-friendly, such as adding internal and external links, optimizing titles and headings, and ensuring that the content is easy to read and understand.
  4. User experience optimization: AI can help optimize content for a better user experience, which is an important factor in SEO. This can include optimizing page load times, formatting content for different devices, and using visuals and other multimedia to improve engagement

We’ve written about the steps utility communicators should take, especially with Google Business Profile, to make content easier to find. You can’t ask ChatGPT to analyze a website. I asked it to rewrite a paragraph with SEO in mind, and it offered five tips for strengthening content for SEO. So that wasn’t great. But anything the bot generates automatically taps powerful keywords.

Is it the perfect tool? No. But it helps keep SEO in mind.

4. Balance Speed with Strategy

When I started using ChatGPT, I got a warning.

“The system may occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information and produce offensive or biased content,” OpenAI warns. It is not intended to give advice.”

When CNET.com reviewed the bot, they pointed out the warning, noting “ChatGPT doesn’t exactly know anything.”

This isn’t a new challenge. I might be dating myself a bit, but I remember when Google introduced search; it changed everything. Reporting became MUCH easier, but you had to be careful which websites you trusted. As a journalist, I only used trusted online sources. (I constantly sent folks to snopes.com, especially after my mom proudly baked cookies from an infamous Neiman Marcus recipe.)

Bots can help you brainstorm story ideas and turns of phrase. But AI needs a real storyteller holding the reins, or bots will drive a utility brand off course.

At the end of the day, YOU are the trusted energy and broadband provider. An artificial storyteller might create a stronger, more clickable headline, but it can’t replace your mind, your expertise or the strategy you’ve developed behind your storytelling. 

You know your community. You know your programs. While it’s nice to have a second opinion on writing style and ledes, you will always be the best storyteller for your utility.

But of course, that’s my opinion. Let’s ask the bot what it thinks. 

Me: Can AI replace marketing writers? Answer as a short poem.

ChatGPT:
AI may assist, it’s true
But it can’t replace a human crew
Creativity and culture it may lack
A marketing writer it cannot hack

Data it may analyze with ease
But unique perspectives it cannot seize
Marketing writing is more than facts
It requires a human touch with tact

So while AI may have its place
It cannot replace the human race
Marketing writers bring the flair
That makes campaigns truly rare

I’ll end with another haiku, this time by me:

Co-ops pioneer
Innovate, connect, spark joy
Telling our story.

What’s Your Take?

Have you had any experience with Jasper, ChatGPT or other AI programs? Does the idea of artificial storytelling keep you up at night, or are you excited about the possibilities?

We’re planning to write a follow-up blog post with insights from all of you! Please send us your thoughts on bots and their impact on utility storytelling.

Tell us What You Think

ChatGPT  

The company that created the bot is looking for help to train it. For a limited time you can get access for free at chat.openai.com. I signed up in mid-December to try it out. It asks for your email, name and a phone number. 

Jasper.ai 

Your first 10,000 words are free; after that access to Jasper costs between $50 to $100 a month.