Media monitoring is a core public relations service centered on tracking and analyzing news, commentary, and public conversations to inform and enhance strategic communications.
The rise of generative AI tools complicates the process.
Why monitor the media?
Ideally, media monitoring identifies who is talking about what, where, and why. For public relations purposes, this information helps drive decisions on how to communicate with appropriate audiences for maximum impact.
A variety of digital tools are typically used for media monitoring, ranging from simple Google alerts and social media dashboards to sophisticated public relations management (PRM) systems with vast media databases and features for exploring journalist profiles and beats, domain authority, social media trends, audience metrics, and more.
Sterling uses lots of these tools to deliver media monitoring services that combine quantitative and qualitative analysis depending on client needs and scopes of work. The goal may be calculating press release pickup, reach, and key messaging throughput. Or scouting new opportunities to contribute to topical industry conversations. Or assessing brand reputation, public perception, and competitor share of voice. It may be all of the above!
Good media monitoring is a kinetic process. We’re always reading, watching, listening, and learning. We continuously tabulate coverage, evaluate outlets, track reporters, wade through channels, check leaderboards, and explore shifts in language and sentiment and focus as we execute our duties. This helps us separate signal from noise.
And we’ve noticed a lot more “noise” lately. Generative AI is amplifying it.
Does generative AI count as “media”?
Sensible use of generative AI tools can be enormously productive. But any new technology can and will be misused. Generative AI is no exception.
And sadly, generative AI is very easy to abuse at scale. While content farms are nothing new, NewsGuard research shows “turbocharged plagiarism” in escalating crops of SEO-bait websites driven by generative AI technology. Legitimate media coverage on Sterling clients was recently “regenerated” on two such sites, complete with bylines by individuals we are pretty sure do not actually exist.
These insidious types of “outlets” are designed to scam programmatic advertising dollars — run by bots for bots. Though some humans somewhere obviously profit (and lose) from the existence of these sites, they deliver no communications value. They really don’t even pass as news aggregators and we do not categorize them as media coverage. In fact, we flag them to search engines, our PRM services, and legitimate outlets and reporters we suspect are being plagiarized. It may do little to stem the automated flood of fakery, but we try.
We’ve also run across brand reputation issues generated by injudicious use of generative AI. Earlier this year, a well-respected technology service’s corporate blog ran a long explanatory post on ChatGPT. It stated that a Sterling client “harnesses the power of GPT models to transform the healthcare industry,” and detailed how they supposedly do so.
None of it was true!
The post was obviously AI generated and included a hodgepodge of keywords related to our client’s real work, which were erroneously woven together for a preposterous and utterly false description delivered in an utterly authoritative tone.
Naturally, we discovered the post while media monitoring. And naturally, we contacted the company and were able to get them to remove the offending material. But this type of automated garbage prose is by no means restricted to corporate blogs. And the rapid surge in generative AI use introduces threats beyond assaults on veracity. MIT Technology Review reporter Melissa Heikkilä recently lamented all the ways new generative AI technologies are “sending us hurtling toward a glitchy, spammy, scammy, AI-powered internet.”
Strange days have found us
At the moment, the proliferation of generative AI tools, their magnificent speed in producing vast quantities of human-sounding text, and the lack of care with which they are being employed certainly introduces new layers of complexity to media monitoring and communications in general. But we’re always up for a challenge!
Our mission at Sterling is to actually connect people and ideas — regardless of the tools and processes used to do so. And make no mistake, both media monitoring and generative AI are simply tools. Professional communication fundamentally requires human interaction. That has not changed.