By Ann Rockley published July 14, 2016

Why Automation Is the Future of Content Creation


Editor’s note: We bring back Ann Rockley’s article on machined content that we shared last year. It originally appeared in the June 2015 Chief Content Officer. Want to hear the handcrafted-content side? Read Jay Acunzo’s original side of the debate.

What’s the future of content creation?

The future of content creation lies with intelligent content. Only by developing structured reusable content, enriched with metadata and supported by intelligent content technologies, can you hope to meet the ever-changing content needs of your customers and the proliferation of channels and devices they use to consume it.

Is scale a problem for big brands or are all content marketers struggling with it?

Everyone struggles with it. If you’re a small shop and you try to do more than simple content marketing you might find you’re overstretched. But if you incorporate intelligent content strategies to multiply the reach of your content, you can be a so-called small company with a big footprint.

Incorporate intelligent content strategies to multiply the reach of your #content says @arockley Click To Tweet


  • Host a webinar and record it for future access.
  • Automatically transcribe the webinar and turn an edited version of the narrative into a white paper or series of articles.
  • Structure the content (modularize it and add semantic tags to identify content such as quotes, questions and answers, key concepts, etc.).

Once the content is structured and tagged, the main work is done; everything else can be automated. Now you can automatically do things like:

  • Extract the questions and answers (based on tags) and turn them into blog posts.
  • Compile the blog posts into a digest post of the top “X” things you need to know.
  • Extract key quotes and tweet them.
  • Take the same questions, post them to Facebook, and start a conversation.

In some ways, big brands have a harder time scaling because they are frequently siloed and inefficient. Plus, they do not always learn from their successes and failures. Marketers should start in a small, manageable area where they can identify pain points, create an intelligent content strategy, and test their processes and technology before scaling up to a broader area. We always say, “Think big, act small.” Plan for the full scope, but start in a small, manageable area.

And don’t feel that you have to have all the new gadgets to be successful. Good content delivered in a way that resonates with your customers with a little bit of added technology will be successful.

Good #content delivered in a way that resonates w/your customers + technology will be successful via @arockley Click To Tweet
Getting Started With Structured Content

Can brands be both deeply creative and create content at scale?

Absolutely. We always say “manufacture content, don’t handcraft it.” People often cringe at the concept of manufacturing, thinking it means they are putting out boring black boxes of repetitive stuff. Absolutely not!

Think of cars. Cars come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Do you think companies redesign the spark plugs for every car, or the wheels, or the engine, etc.? They don’t. They start with all the standard parts and build them into vehicles for a multitude of customers. Car companies spend their time being creative about how cars look and perform; they don’t reinvent all the bits and pieces each time.

I often use the example of LEGO blocks. You can take those blocks and build an infinite number of things. Your content needs to be a set of LEGO building blocks. Determine an optimum way to structure all the types of content you create so that you can quickly and easily pick up a template and fill in the content.

  • Does it include a teaser?
  • How long is the teaser?
  • Can it be written so it can be tweeted as well as be part of a web page?
  • What about extracted for a campaign?

Stop rewriting; stop doing the same things over and over again. Stop wasting your time; design and develop intelligent content. Figure the structure out, pour your content into it, automatically extract content as needed, publish it everywhere! Spend your time on the part that adds value: the content (and yes, that means the creativity)!

Stop rewriting; stop doing the same things over & over again says @arockley #intelcontent Click To Tweet

Is this the end of handcrafted content?

Authors will still create (craft) the best possible content, communicating it as effectively as possible. What authors won’t do is re-create the same content over and over for each channel and each usage. Instead, they’ll optimize the content up front for use wherever it may appear.

Want to learn from Ann Rockley in person? Register today for Content Marketing World Sept. 6-9 in Cleveland. Use code BLOG100 to save $100.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Rockley

Ann Rockley (@arockley), CEO of The Rockley Group, Inc., was ranked among the top five most influential content strategists in 2010. Ann is the creator of the concept of intelligent content and founded the Intelligent Content Conference. Ann has an international reputation for developing intelligent content strategies for multichannel delivery. She has been instrumental in establishing the field in content strategy, content reuse, intelligent content strategies for multichannel delivery, and structured content management best practices. Rockley is a frequent contributor to trade and industry publications and a keynote speaker at numerous conferences around the world. Ann led Content Management Professionals, an international organization that fosters the sharing of content management information, best practices, and strategies to a prestigious eContent 100 award in 2005. Known as the mother of content strategy, she introduced the concept of content strategy with her best-selling book, Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, now in its second edition.

Other posts by Ann Rockley

  • Vamshi

    I liked the content of Intelligent.

    Best Regards,

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Thanks for taking time to comment, Vamshi.

  • aboer

    Doesn’t feel right to me. Reminds me of that Dr. Bronner’s mint soap where the label says it can be used for like 160 things from toothpaste to laundry detergent. That is wonderful for say, a hiker, who can only pack one soap. But in a crowded marketplace, if you are going to choose a toothpaste– you are going to pick the one that is custom made for that use– with exactly the features you want. The content that wins will be organically appropriate for each channel, and hard to reuse.

    • Julia McCoy

      Agree completely. Everytime I create for a different channel, it isn’t just blanket repurposing, it’s always something unique for the platform and audience I’m writing for. There’s SO much more at stake today when you deliver content to your targeted niche. And today’s crowd is SMART. If they sniff out automation = they’re gone.

      • Marcia Riefer Johnston

        Julia, I can understand a negative take on the term “content automation” if we were talking about a content mill spewing out a bunch of mindless, repetitive content, or “blanket repurposing,” as you say. As I interpret Ann Rockley’s significant contribution to the automation of content, she comes from a quite different place.

        For decades, Ann has looked at situations in which companies have spewed out inconsistent content that was uncoordinated across departmental silos, resulting in confusion and frustration for customers (and content-maintenance headaches for companies). Ann encourages companies to invest in taking a strategic look at the content they’re producing, coordinating it so that the content that SHOULD be the same (and isn’t) can get aligned for everyone’s benefit. The only way that can happen at scale is with some form of automation.

    • Deborah Lynne Killion

      Absolutely, right on, Aboer!

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Hi, Andrew. I like your analogy as a way of showing that a piece of content (like a bar of Dr. Bronner’s soap) can’t be all things to all people. As I understand Ann Rockley’s arguments, she would agree with you. I’ve never known her to advocate for a piece content to be forced to fill 160 (or any other number of) purposes that it wasn’t fit to fill.

      Ann has spent decades advocating for content that, wherever possible, can be strategically reused or reconfigured to the company’s – and the customer’s – benefit. Often, when no one takes a strategic view of content opportunities across an organization, needless content variations accrue, sometimes resulting in terrible customer experiences and intractable content messes. That’s the kind of thing Ann helps companies address. As I see it, the approach she suggests is quite different from promoting “one size fits all” content.

  • AndyG

    Great examples of how to re-purpose and create content from a central asset. Another big advantage of this approach is a common them or topics for multiple pieces of content. In addition, I will now have similar content across different modalities.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Thanks for this comment, Andy. It sounds like your team has discovered ways to use automation in ways that support smart repurposing of your content so that you’re freed up to focus on creating more good stuff.

  • Deborah Lynne Killion

    There will always be a need for hand-crafted, original content. No amount of machines, technology, or automation processes can equal the value of a living, thinking person to engage readers. You may automate some processes but writing can only be done by human beings that will create original content for your site. I am a full-time content writer and digital media technology business owner, so I’ve worked both sides of it. Believe me, this automation thing for content will not last. Only great writing will.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Deborah, I couldn’t agree more about the importance of great writing and handcrafted, original content. As I interpret Ann’s messages – not just in this blog post but also throughout her books and articles and conference talks, not to mention our conversations over the years – she agrees, too. The kind of automation she’s talking about is the kind that frees up writers to do MORE development of creative, quality content and less of the inefficient (and error-prone) copying and pasting that many writers end of doing when strategic automation is not part of the mix.

  • Deborah Lynne Killion

    Some day people are going to wake up and realize, ‘Holy Joe! Some things just can NOT be automated!’ Then the world will make sense again.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Right on, Deborah. Some things can’t be automated. Having known Ann for years, I can’t help thinking that she would agree with you. She doesn’t argue for automating every aspect of content creation. I especially like her answer to the last question above, where she advocates for authors to keep crafting the best possible content, communicating it as effectively as possible: “What authors won’t do,” she says, “is re-create the same content over and over for each channel and each usage.”

  • Lauren

    This article contradicts itself. It argues for “automating content” while saying you should design and develop intelligent pieces. In my experience, content with a more creative and specific angle grabs more views and shares than “manufactured” pieces with superficial quotes and curated links. The question shouldn’t be whether companies can scale content production – I think it’s better to ask, should they even scale? Why clog the web with 10 pieces of shallow “manufactured content” when 1 well-researched, carefully crafted piece help your audience solve their problems more effectively?

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Thanks for your comment, Lauren. I appreciate that you would balk at the idea of “superficial” or “shallow” content. I do, too, and I’m confident – from having read Ann Rockley’s books and having had many conversations with her over the years – that she is not advocating for superficial, shallow content. Her analogy to manufacturing has nothing to do with the kind of content farms that give content marketing a bad name.

      Ann is in favor of enabling authors to have MORE time to create “well-researched, carefully crafted pieces that will deliver value to your audience.” (Along these lines, I especially like her answer to the last question above.) What she encourages people to do is look for places where content should be the same and isn’t.

      As a simple example, take a company’s contact-us information. You wouldn’t want hundreds of staff writers to copy and paste (or retype) a company’s contact info into all kinds of deliverables only to result in a giant mess of variations on that info – a mess that’s inconsistent, sometimes incorrect, sometimes incomplete, and impossible to update efficiently. Instead, you would want your contact information on one web page that everything else points to. Or you might want that content in a footer that lives in one place and gets pulled into all the places it’s needed.

      That’s just a tiny example of the kind of content “manufacturing” Ann’s talking about. She encourages companies to look for opportunities to standardize, single source, and reuse chunks of content for scalability. Where it makes sense. That’s where the strategy comes in.

      Hope that helps. Thanks again for taking time to share your thoughts.

  • Brian Driggs

    Maybe I’m the exception. I’m not seeing this so much as a call to thoughtlessly automate thin value re-runs as I do a call to develop systems for strengthening the long tail over time.

    For example, I’ve got a website with over 500 articles published. Are they all exceptional? Hardly. But there’s a good baker’s dozen pieces that really illustrate the mission. Plenty of links point to them, but the main talking points come up often enough that having a system in place to simplify access and re-use would be more than a little valuable.

    To get more detailed, we toured a world class motorsport facility in England. The post easily had 50 high-res pictures of race cars in various states of assembly and repair, to include detailed shots of professional grade components and systems. Instead of pausing mid-paragraph on a new piece of content to search for the article and scroll up and down through dozens of images and captions for just the right one, maybe I could refer to something like the content examples spreadsheet Michele Linn shared back in October.

    Beyond that, I think having workflows in place where the individual forms of content are broken down into re-usable pieces in a variety of formats like the webinar-to-white-paper example back at the beginning of this piece.

    I guess it all feels like it boils down to something like a deck of evidence cards we used to carry with us in debate. Content is a very nuanced craft. The conversation changes based on a number of variables. Having quick, efficient access to facts and proven effective talking points seems like it would only make our lives easier.

    Then again, I could be *completely* off-base on this one. Haha. Made me think, though.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Brian, Thank you for sharing your insights. You are getting to the essence of the kind of efficiencies Ann has been talking about for decades. I find your examples especially helpful, especially this line: “the main talking points come up often enough that having a system in place to simplify access and re-use would be more than a little valuable.”

      • Brian Driggs

        No problem, Marcia. I’ve started my own version of the spreadsheet Michele mentioned in the other article as a start. Time will tell how often it gets used. We’re still pretty small over here.

        • Marcia Riefer Johnston

          Brian, Everything starts out small…

  • Liz Goodwin

    Scaling is a touchy subject because it can become synonymous with content farming. Personally, I think we’ve come to the point of creating TOO much content. Lately, I’m seeing the same uninspiring posts from brands that are too caught up in the quantitative side of the process. Before long, we’ll start reacting to content the same way we do advertising–by ignoring it.

    Quality content and smart distribution plans should be our top focus. Creativity isn’t dead.

    • Marcia Riefer Johnston

      Liz, Agreed. In practice, scaling can amount to producing more uninspiring content. I like that Ann talks about automation that frees up content developers to “spend [more] time on the part that adds value: the content (and yes, that means the creativity)!”

  • Steve Shaw

    The scope for automating the content creation itself is actually very limited. For example, automatically extracting questions and answers from a webinar’s transcript to create a blog post, as suggested above, would create sub-standard content on its own. You’d still need an editor to bring it all together.

    Rather than automating the content itself, the efficiencies needed to scale up effectively should come from automating the processes involved in a systemized approach to content repurposing.

    For example, each time a new blog post is published, someone is automatically tasked with creating multiple social updates from it across multiple networks. Someone else is automatically tasked with converting it to a SlideShare presentation following the company’s guidelines and developed processes. Someone else rewrites it to suit publication on Medium, LinkedIn’s long-form publishing system, Quora blogging, etc. Someone’s tasked with using the information to answer relevant questions on Quora. Once the SlideShare itself is published, another task is assigned for more social updates, and for someone to record it, produce a voiceover and add to YouTube. More tasks are added to incorporate that video or SlideShare back into the blog post… and so the process continues, scaling up as required, and all managed from a central control.

    With these types of efficiencies, you can achieve scale without needing to automate any of the content side itself, which would at best compromise the achievable results, at worst cause lasting damage to a company’s brand.