Is your content marketing strategy vulnerable to summary bots?

summary bots

By Kiki Schirr, {grow} Contributing Columnist

To marketers, Reddit is a bit like a genie’s lamp. It’s a powerful tool and can drive huge waves of readers to a website. On the other hand, if your intentions in using Reddit aren’t pure, punishment can rain upon you in the form of user censure.

Whether you love Reddit or fear it, no marketer can ignore it.

From 2018, the ranking of Internet traffic has dropped the site from third in the United States to sixth. However, in this time adoption of Reddit’s mobile app has grown like wildfire. Reddit’s blog boasted 30% YoY growth in 2019 — bringing them to 430 million monthly active users. For reference, that’s about 100 million more visitors per month than Twitter.

If you’ve used Reddit before, you probably have seen their slang term: tl;dr. Tl;dr is an acronym for “too long; didn’t read,” that originated when users (known as the original poster or OP) started proceeding long explanations with a 1 sentence summary. Tl;drs helped Redditors decide if a post was worth the effort to read.

But, in the 15 years of Reddit’s tenure, technical innovation was bound to occur—and sure enough, intrepid Reddit users are creating summary bots to make tl;dr automatic.

The most ubiquitous bot, the one that runs through every link post by default, is called AutoTDLR. It runs on the SMMRY algorithm. SMMRY is a 7-step program to summarize and prioritize important sentences within text in order to shorten the overall piece.

By calling SMMRY’s API, AutoTLDR feeds the content of every link posted to Reddit through SMMRY to see if it deserves to be shortened. When the algorithm can shorten the article or post by 70%, the bot posts the result to the comments section of the OP’s link.

Should content strategists fear the uprising of summary bots?

First, just to clear all that jargon up: when someone shares your content on Reddit now, it is automatically summarized. Whether you like it or not, without any human action, the bones of your text will be posted to their page.

While this might seem bad to a marketer because it decreases traffic to a site by providing its content without a page view, this is actually a wonderful innovation for Reddit.

Redditors had always suspected that a large percentage of users were reading comments or otherwise interacting with articles without reading them. But in 2017, Reddit was shocked and dismayed when Notre Dame extrapolated that 73% of posts on Reddit have been upvoted or downvoted by users who never opened the content.

AutoTDLR bot improves Reddit by lowering the amount of users who never read beyond the headline of an article. So while you might miss the page visit, if your post is run through summary bots, the message might very well reach a larger audience than if it hadn’t.

How should content strategists respond to summary bots?

The first step to being responsive to AutoTDLR is to run your content through summary bots before publishing, every time. You can copy-paste the text into and see how it would be summarized as 6 sentences, 7, 8, or more. I’d guess 6 would be the median number of sentences AutoTDLR generates on Reddit, so keep that in mind.

The first thing I noticed when I started running my past {grow} posts through SMMRY was that my obsessive habit of using 3 examples to support my statements was hurting me. The last of SMMRY’s five stated goals is to “remove excessive examples,” and it seems that I was repeatedly offending the algorithm with my writing style.

But experienced copywriters will adjust quickly. SMMRY prioritizes sentences by the number and variety of topic-related keywords prior to the ending punctuation. Marketers who are already used to writing with discreet keyword usage won’t have trouble taking the algorithm in stride.

Writing for Robots 101

If a particular important point hasn’t made the 6 chosen sentences of AutoTDLR’s summary, you can probably force it in with good editing.

First reread the piece to determine which single sentence is the most vital. Then reduce unnecessary words within that sentence. Transitions and stop words will hurt your sentence’s importance. Finally, try to make sure that there are a variety of keywords within that sentence.

Here’s a cheat code, though. You can sneak additional ideas into SMMRY’s concept of a single sentence by using punctuation other than a period. For example:

Why would you use punctuation other than a period? Gaming SMMRY’s algorithm! Because SMMRY has only been programmed to recognize the period as the end of a thought, this entire paragraph would be counted as only one sentence.

There are a few other best practices. Don’t have any information only represented within images or hyperlinks. Pictures are never included and links are not a priority. Also be aware of your use of lists as they can trigger SMMRY’s shears, too.

What are the greater implications of AI in content strategy?

AutoTDLR’s function is currently limited to Reddit. Therefore it is only a minor consideration for most marketers today. After all, Reddit’s 400 million monthly active users are only a fraction of Facebook’s 1.5 billion MAU. Unless your target audience uses Reddit, like tech users or fitness buffs do, you might have other sites prioritized.

However, you don’t need to be Michio Kaku or Ray Kurzweil to see the writing on the wall. Marketing AI in general and in particular auto summarization will become more common over time.

How will your marketing strategy respond?

You could provide a quick summary paragraph at the beginning of longer posts yourself. This executive summary would help establish the salient points in when readers were only skimming. One added benefit is that summaries will increase the frequency of your most important keywords.

Another strategy would be to use the inverted pyramid structure of newspaper journalists. First load the most important content at the top. Then be sure to sprinkle keywords throughout the rest of the piece.

To fight the robots, you must talk to humans

However, the most important thing to do when facing any rapid innovation is to talk with your customers directly.

You might already be surprised how your readers are engaging with your content. Some readers might only quickly skim through on mobile, others might autogenerate compilations of articles into e-reader files to ingest and annotate during commutes.

Summary bots and marketing AI are still fluid technologies. You will need to keep a thumb on your reader’s pulse to stay on top of trends.

Approach people that you see liking, commenting on, or sharing your articles, and before asking any personal questions be sure to thank them for their support. If they respond positively, that’s when it would be appropriate to ask if they would mind explaining how they are most likely to consume your content. Be sure to thank them again after they share their insight.

KikiSchirrKiki Schirr is a freelance marketer who enjoys absorbing new trends within the tech scene. Her favorite subreddit is r/ICanDrawThat, but she thinks new Redditors should also check out r/ShowerThoughts and r/AnimalsBeingDerps. She is most easily reached via Twitter.

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