Ryan Baum was as skeptical as anyone when AI arrived on the scene, but he has since become a believer. Even as many marketers grew disappointed with ChatGPT’s ability to do actual tasks and became skeptical of genAI’s potential use cases, Ryan wasn’t so quick to write it off.
A friend who was leading content for Copy.ai helped Ryan surprise himself at what AI can do with prompt chaining and workflows. “Up until that point, I had only seen prompts like, ‘Give me a blog post for this keyword,’ and, of course, that didn’t produce anything worth reading,” he says.
“Imagine giving an intern that instruction fresh out of university. Neither the AI nor the intern knows what you actually want,” he continues. “But mega-prompts (also called super-prompts) change that. Suddenly, you’re providing enough context for a real attempt, and those experiments are far more interesting to me.”
Ryan’s been a content lead at Gorgias and other firms. Now, in his work as a growth consultant, he encourages other content leaders to proactively adopt AI by educating them about how AI (and emerging tech) can make your content programs more sustainable.
“People forget this is the worst AI will ever be,” he says. “By the time it’s at a point where you can just ask a question and get the response you were hoping for, people who have figured it out will be running circles around your program.”
The Best Use Cases for AI
So, how can we maximize our use of AI in content marketing? Hint: Not by leaning on AI for your thought leadership.
“People will say, ‘AI can’t write thought leadership,’ like that’s a ‘gotcha,'” Ryan emphasizes. “Sorry, but most content marketers can’t write proper thought leadership! That doesn’t make either the AI or those marketers useless. Writing quality content is the least interesting use case for AI.”
What is interesting, however, is using AI to streamline the rest of the editorial process — as Ryan calls it, “the connective tissue between each step.” That way, we’re spending as much time as possible on the thinking and the writing, which are arguably the most important parts of any creative task.
When working with content leaders, Ryan shows them how AI can help with ideation, synthesis and summary, as well as providing different options throughout the process. He works to make the technology feel less scary. Some people are so threatened by AI that they refuse to even try it
“I understand why it feels risky and emotional,” he says. “I feel it, too, and I have no guarantee on what the future holds. But it’s still a missed opportunity. If we don’t figure it out, it’s not like your marketing leader will just say, ‘OK, fine.’ They’ll go get a growth hacker to run it instead.”
The Importance of Good Inputs
Just like AI, marketers depend on strong inputs. And, like many of us currently working in content, Ryan found his way to his own trusted inputs in a roundabout way.
Ryan started his career in PR by pitching reporters, whom he calls his “toughest audience to date.” After realizing that agency PR was not for him, he had the good fortune of being recruited by Helixa to start and run its content program.
“I didn’t fully know what the job entailed, and I never considered writing a top strength or interest,” Ryan says. “But the hiring manager saw something in me from my test project, which I’m eternally grateful for. I needed something new and wasn’t sure what was next.”
Ryan started off as one of three marketers — and the only one focused on marketing communications. This meant he didn’t have anyone to learn from at work, a trend that continued throughout his career and forced him to look to peers, direct reports and industry connections to continue learning.
Ryan’s breakthrough moment was discovering Jimmy Daly’s work. “I read everything marketing-related he had published on the internet,” he recalls, “from his blog to guest posts, social posts — everything. I quickly realized the other resources I was reading were surface-level and almost useless.”
From there, he followed Jimmy on LinkedIn, then followed everyone Jimmy interacted with and started reading their content, too. “That’s when I started learning the first principles I needed to build and run a content program,” Ryan says. “I could write a pillar post on the importance and strategy of finding good inputs, and probably should — it still is the biggest unlock of my career.”
Systems Thinking ≠ Scaling for Scaling’s Sake
Ryan is optimistic about the next few years for content marketing. He’s excited about the industry’s rapid changes and excited to continue experimenting as a consultant.
“I’m very interested in challenging existing assumptions we seem to have as an industry,” he says, “even if my experiments ultimately prove me wrong.”
He’s also anticipating an increased focus on systems thinking. The concept “is already underrated in most programs, but will become even more important with all the new tools and emerging technology we’re seeing,” he says. “Both in using each workflow and stitching them together.”
Lest you roll your eyes, when Ryan talks about systems and AI, he doesn’t just mean driving scale and demanding more and more output.
“I’m far more interested in how those systems can empower more time for content that drives results through high-quality thinking and resonance with the target audience,” he says. “That’s the focus of my upcoming newsletter, Robots in the Garden, which I’m developing and hoping to launch soon.”
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