Mar 14, 2024 - Business

At SXSW, communicators grapple with their role in the age of AI

Photo of Eleanor Hawkins and Margaret Richardson on stage at SXSW Axios House

GoFundMe chief corporate affairs officer Margaret Richardson speaks with Axios' Eleanor Hawkins at the SXSW Axios House. Photo: Cori Baker on behalf of Axios.

After a solid year of artificial intelligence dominating the conversation, folks attending SXSW are starting to focus on the human elements of an AI world.

Why it matters: Communicators remain steadfast in their role as dot connectors at a time when AI threatens a company, brand or leader's ability to capture attention.

Driving the news: Close to 300 SXSW attendees dropped by the Axios House on Monday to hear from GoFundMe chief corporate affairs officer Margaret Richardson, LinkedIn vice president and workforce expert Aneesh Raman and Jim O'Leary, North American CEO of event sponsor Weber Shandwick, about the evolution of corporate communications.

The big picture: More than 90% of online content could be generated by AI by this time next year, according to some estimates.

  • Eventually, that could lead to generative AI models being trained using data produced by other AIs rather than human beings.

What they're saying: This will make skills like communication, empathy and critical thinking even more in-demand, says Raman.

  • "We're entering what we're calling the relationship economy, where social abilities, human unique skills are going to come to the center. And what's at the center of that is communication, connection and how you collaborate with others. Those are now core skills for comms professionals."

Zoom in: GoFundMe is also prioritizing personal stories to promote its corporate brand and help users fundraise across the donation platform, Richardson told Axios.

  • "Our platform is powered by human stories — and that will never change. I think we can see ways in which AI can help people to tell their stories, but it will never replace the dignity and the authenticity with which people are sharing and connecting with stories," she added.

Plus, communication and corporate affairs professionals will continue to play a key role in helping companies, brands and leaders avoid the trapdoors of weighing in on ESG or political, social and global issues, said O'Leary.

  • "Because CEOs are dealing with all this pressure, there's probably greater demands on corporate affairs teams than ever before. But beyond the demands, there is an opportunity to demonstrate more material value to help leaders navigate through all of this complexity. Corporate affairs is required to play a role in actually making business decisions versus just, you know, executing communication — and that's a big change."

The bottom line: As AI enters the mainstream, the role of thoughtful, strategic and human-driven communications will become even more important.

Go deeper: The public relations field embraces AI

Go deeper