The Algorithm Will Be the Editor—and the Marketer


This post originally appeared on the Upriver Solutions blog.

If Roger Wood and Evelyn Robbrecht’s hypothesis is correct, the future of media consumption might involve a computer algorithm that processes your data to curate content specifically to your interests. Companies like Google, Apple and Facebook have been working on this sort of thing for years, and apps like Flipboard and Pulse have improved upon the idea using the ubiquitous nature of (and our seemingly endless connection to) mobile devices. In the future, Wood and Robbrecht say, this algorithm-driven “intelligent content” will know us even better than we know ourselves.

Publications can show you content that is related to something you’re currently reading. But will the process ever be good enough to completely replace the human touch? Might there be a day, for instance, when your computer will be better at recommending personalized content to you than your own best friends or colleagues?

This concept probably sounds familiar to marketers. After all, it’s the next evolutionary step in what the marketing industry has been doing for more than a century: using research, data and a bit of creativity to better understand what consumers want—sometimes even before the consumers know it themselves.


And if an algorithm can replace the traditional editor, then it can also replace the traditional marketer. In both cases, it’s about creating content that attracts attention.

Google certainly knows a thing or two about algorithms and hyper-target marketing, and Facebook last year introduced its own version of ads based on real-time conversations. Might there be a day when computers can recommend—and even craft—personalized ads better than professional marketers?

As CBC Radio broadcaster and former ad copywriter Terry O’Reilly notes in a recent episode of his program Under the Influence, “It’s no longer the Mad Men you have to look out for; it’s the Math Men”—i.e., the programmers and analysts.

O’Reilly also points out that, while “‘Erosion of personal privacy’ was the number two concern in a recent survey of consumers,” many are still “fine with giving away personal information on the Internet … it’s the price of a free Google and Facebook.” In other words, people like it when sites suggest content but are more wary when those same sites suggest ads.

Still, the algorithm that unlocks our deepest editorial content desires will be a close relative of the one that unlocks our deepest consumer secrets. The first social media network, tablet app, or content provider that figures out the editorial algorithm likely will hold the key to the marketing algorithm, as well.

Young, aspiring marketers might want to tack on a few statistics and software engineering classes to their coursework, because the future of marketing might be more Menlo Park than Madison Avenue.