In the February issue of INSIDE Public Accounting Monthly, we covered the debate over the pluses, minuses and potential of ChatGPT, the new AI-powered chat tool. Here are insights from five accounting firm marketers and consultants.
As ChatGPT has exploded into the news, growth leaders are debating the opportunities and limitations of the AI-powered chat bot that can create a social media post, webinar description or a detailed analysis of the biggest risks facing public companies. In seconds.
Is it a no-cost computerized writer with unlimited knowledge? A time- and money-saver? An unethical cheater? All of these? And what about the words it spits out – are they easy to read, engaging or even accurate? It depends.
Since OpenAI’s ChatGPT opened to the public in November, more than 1 million users have logged on, typed in prompts or questions and watched the content spill out on the screen. With additional instructions, the AI tool can refine and improve specific types of content while adopting a tone that can sound like an awestruck teenager or a seasoned CEO. If you don’t like what you get, tell it to try again.
Some estimates say 30% of American workers have already tried ChatGPT or other AI tools on the job. Students were the first to jump on board, immediately using it to write college essays and cheat on homework. And while the impact of ChatGPT was felt in education first, it’s also changed the conversation in workplaces across the nation, including at accounting firms, which rely on the written word to advance the expertise of their partners, recruit new talent and woo prospective clients.
Discussions with a handful of growth leaders and marketers across the profession revealed what they’ve discovered so far, ideas about when using ChatGPT is a good idea (or not), and thoughts about where AI is going. Two common beliefs unite them – AI is unstoppable, and anyone interested in firm growth should have a basic understanding of it, at the very least, but experimentation and research can reveal much more.
“AI is going to have the biggest impact on marketers since the rapid and widespread adoption of smartphones. Yes, it’s that big of a deal,” says Apoorv Dwivedi, founder and strategic marketing advisor at Fixyr. “There’s nothing that’s happened over the past 5-10 years that even comes remotely close in scope and magnitude of impact.”
Here are some insights from Dwivedi, Raissa Evans, who leads digital strategy at Houston-based Weaver (FY22 net revenue of $197.6 million), Aerik Radley, the one-person marketing team at Firley Moran Freer & Eassa (FMFE), a $13-million firm in Syracuse, N.Y., and consultant Katie Tolin, founder of CPA Growth Guides, and David Toth, chief growth officer and principal at Winding River Consulting.
How Can ChatGPT Help?
Asking ChatGPT to create content can, at minimum, prompt ideas if you’re stuck. It can write email text, social media posts, leader bios, summaries from an outline or webinar/podcast descriptions, to name just a few examples. Radley, who must do every marketing task at his firm, is using it to compare content written for a new website with ChatGPT copy.
“Think of the value of reducing your time spent on these activities by say 30%. Is there a business case for that? For sure,” Dwiveti says. “Marketers need to make this a priority and find their own use cases that make sense for their organizations and get in front of this.”
One necessary task at Weaver is writing copy for 15 website pages for 15 office locations, Evans says. With good instructions, ChatGPT eliminated hours of tedium and produced usable content specific to San Antonio or Houston. “The writing just seems so much better than any other AI that we’ve ever experimented with,” says Evans, who has a deep technology background. “I had been playing with Copy.AI all last year, trying to get something workable out of that, and this model is tons better at understanding language and nuance.”
ChatGPT is also a good shortcut to update or add information on internal databases. It can sort information and create columns of data for Excel.
At FMFE, Radley also uses the technology to set the right tone on internal communications for an audience that ranges from recent college graduates to partners nearing retirement. AI also helped him quickly create a template for a state-of-the firm letter sent to clients at the start of every busy season. Leaders were able to revise and customize neutral-sounding text, not the more informal text Radley would have drafted. “It was a great guide, and it made both of our lives easier and more efficient so they could get it done and get back to focusing on leading the team.”
What Are the Limitations of ChatGPT?
ChatGPT wasn’t designed to write thought leadership articles, it was designed for chat bots. “I would say in the past couple months it’s come a long way, but I still don’t think it’s there yet,” Tolin says. Even with a well-worn topic like the Employee Retention Credit, firms probably shouldn’t use the ChatGPT-created article as is. “I think it would be missing the flair and personality. You definitely don’t want to put somebody’s name on it because it doesn’t have their style.”
Some new users are hoping ChatGPT can make their firm websites more searchable on Google through search engine optimization (SEO), but the experts are skeptical. Tolin is testing SEO and researching the quality of AI-generated output with the help of firm clients and colleagues. Google rewards firms’ original content with higher search rankings, and AI detection tools and plagiarism checkers are already available.
“These AI generators mean that we’re in for a load of low-level, surface-level content. We’re going to be in a deluge like we’ve never seen, and I expect Google is going to go deeper into subject matter expertise,” Evans says. “The best advice is to write like a very knowledgeable human.”
A major flaw of ChatGPT is that it can produce flat-out wrong information, which has sparked a flurry of media attention recently. ChatGPT pulls information from the internet, but it may not be true, or even close. It can cite statistics that can’t be verified. “Absolutely under no circumstances can you rely on it solely,” Tolin says. “I think it provides you today with a good foundation that you can further tweak and refine but most importantly, double check to make sure what’s there is accurate.”
Along the same lines, ChatGPT can only pull data up to 2021. If a major piece of tax legislation passed today, all ChatGPT could do is regurgitate the few public statements on the issue. Evans adds that copywrite infringement is a danger, noting that a request for a definition of content marketing took an entire paragraph from the Content Marketing Institute without attribution.
Even without ChatGPT, firms are attaching firm leader’s names to paid copy or failing to rewrite it to the level that’s acceptable to Google. ChatGPT can make matters worse.
Impact, ROI and an Imagined Future
Toth has been using AI content tools for more than two years, with some of his go-tos being Persado, Ocoya and MarketMuse. ChatGPT is moving quickly, as it can be integrated into marketing and sales software HubSpot and a paid version is being developed now. Client experience initiatives are also supported by AI. Partners and clients will be asking questions, so marketers should be able to answer them, he says.
No one who spoke to IPA makes the case that ChatGPT can replace an employee, but accounting firms are strapped for talent and are being forced to become more efficient. Firms that can’t afford to hire someone to write original content may look to ChatGPT as a money-saving solution.
“People are going to have to figure out how to leverage these tools going forward, especially in a profession that probably isn’t investing the same dollars and resources as most other B2B and even B2C businesses,” Toth says. AI is just one part the overall strategy for firm growth, and as technology evolves so do roles in the organization. He foresees chief technical marketing officers working closely with MPs and CEOs.
The biggest unanswered question is that while ChatGPT can unquestionably save time for marketers and firm leaders alike, it’s too new to measure the payoff in terms of new clients and increased revenue. “I think the reality is it’s not going away. It is absolutely going to be used, but from an ROI perspective it’s still very much TBD.” He adds, “It’s just like the hybrid workforce, nobody has a clue on how this is all going to pan out.”
Evans view ChatGPT as a bridge between the experts and the written word. Smaller firms can be the beneficiary. “I’m an optimist,” she says. “I think that it’s going to give a path for experts who are bad writers to get to market. That’s what I’m hoping it will do, and then also streamline some drudgery that happens in marketing and other industries.”
Coming in the March issue are stories on AI implementation, fast-growing niches and outside advisory boards. IPA Monthly subscribers not only receive articles like these, but also rankings of the largest accounting firms in the nation and analysis of the IPA Practice Management Survey data. Contact us at [email protected] with questions.