ChatGPT’s hallucinations could be costing your small business (and what to do about it)

by | Feb 16, 2023

chatgpt hallucinates

ChatGPT hallucinates. No kidding, that’s the technical term for when ChatGPT makes up facts and lies to your face. So what good is it to us if it’s tripping out half the time we ask it for answers?

I asked ChatGPT for an effective marketing strategy for small businesses, and specified “please only use reputable sources and cite all references.” It gave me credible sounding references such as this URL from the Small Business Administration:

Only problem is there’s no such page on that website. ChatGPT is only trained on internet material up to 2021, so maybe the page was deleted since then. But I checked the WayBack Machine and there’s no sign of that page ever having existed. 

In another test, ChatGPT referenced four books. Two were real. Two were very convincing sounding titles by real authors, but were completely made up. 

It’s a known problem with this kind of AI. 

Meta shut down public access to Galactica AI after 2 days – it was meant to organise scientific information and make it more accessible, but instead it hallucinated wildly and presented convincingly scientific sounding rubbish.

Google recently released a promotional video of its ChatGPT rival “Bard”, I guess nobody checked if Bard was sober coz the video showed the system hallucinating and the error ended up costing Google more than $100 billion in market value. 

A woman running away from a robot

Should you stay away from ChatGPT?

If ChatGPT and other AI text generators hallucinate facts, should you just stay away from them? You might not lose $100 billion on your share price, but content riddled with hallucinations and factual errors is still going to have a very real cost to your business. 

ChatGPT and similar tools are too powerful to ignore, so rather than avoiding them, it’s worth figuring out how to make them useful to your business.

The key is in being aware of the limitations, and using the tools for the most appropriate tasks to speed up your workflow. 

Once you’re aware of weaknesses like the hallucination problem, you can figure out how to play to its best strengths. Just be on your guard, and make absolutely certain you’re not being lied to.

Use ChatGPT to develop content in areas you’re expert in, so that you can easily spot errors – and if there’s information in the content that’s new to you, be sure and fact check rigorously. 

The beauty of these tools is their flexibility, so there are a myriad ways you could apply them to your business – but here are some super simple tips to get you started using ChatGPT for some content-related tasks…

A robot eating content

The best way to use ChatGPT right now

My absolute favourite use of ChatGPT is to feed it my own content and get it to create from that. That way, I can see immediately when there’s a problem. 

I also like to keep things simple. Sometimes you have to stagger your prompts, so as not to overwhelm ChatGPT with instruction, but I love having a single prompt I know will get good results. 

Here’s an example prompt I have found reliable:

Please identify the 3 most practical, useful and unusual points made in this article and write a 75 word social media post for each point in the same style and tone as the original content. Please use the problem, agitate, solution copywriting framework for each one, but without the solution – encourage people to read the article for the solution:  <PASTE ENTIRE BLOG POST HERE>

This is brilliant for developing social posts for repurposing existing content, you now have three different ways to post a link to your blog post. And you can easily ask ChatGPT to provide more. 

Now you can quickly and easily go back over your old posts and start scheduling them into your social media calendar, with the most time consuming bit taken care of. 

A robot chatting

Developing zero-click content

Maybe you don’t want to link to posts – for example maybe you’re on LinkedIn and you find the reach of link posts is pretty dismal. Well, you could use ChatGPT to examine your blog posts for stand-alone points to extract. Also known as zero-click content. 

Here’s a prompt you could try:

Please identify the top 3 most practical, useful and unusual stand-alone points made in this article. Write a 75 word social media post for each point. Use the same style and tone as the original content. Make the opening line highly emotional and attention-grabbing. Please use the problem, agitate, solution copywriting framework for each social media post: <PASTE ENTIRE BLOG POST HERE>

With this one, I have often found the openings aren’t great, so I follow up with this prompt:

Please strengthen the opening line of each post by making it more emotional.

This usually gets good results, and then I can tweak and polish before posting. 

A robot tearing a book up into smaller pieces

What if your content is too long?

If ChatGPT tells you the prompt is too long, and you can’t feed it your entire blog post, there is a neat trick I learned from Joeri Billast. Feed your content to ChatGPT in parts, and have ChatGPT put the parts together in its memory. 

Joeri shared this tip in this post on Mark Schaefer’s blog ‘20 Non-Obvious Uses of ChatGPT for Marketing‘ (you’ll find a tip from me in there too!). You should read Joeri’s full tip in the post, it’s about generating show notes for a podcast, so again feeding ChatGPT your own content and getting it to do some grunt work for you.

I don’t currently have a podcast, but I’ve used the tip to work with some of my longer blog posts. Here’s the exact prompts I use to do it. First I break my content into chunks of roughly 1000 – 1500 words. Then I feed it into ChatGPT in chunks like this:

Please memorise the following content and name it PART1, respond with the word ‘yes’ when complete: <insert first section of content>

I repeated this for as many chunks as I have, calling them PART2, PART3 and so on. And then finally I ask ChatGPT to combine the parts in its memory. 

Please combine PART1 plus PART2 plus PART3 and refer to the whole combined text as THEPOST, respond with just the word ‘yes’ when complete

Then I can ask it to create content based on the long form content with prompts like this:

Please select 3 exact quotes from THEPOST, do not edit or change the text of the quote in any way.

It’s worth noting that I couldn’t get this technique to work until I got the paid version of ChatGPT, and also it seems like the longer the text the more likely ChatGPT is to hallucinate. 

A robot writing a long text

What about asking ChatGPT to write blog posts?

So far, I’ve not been happy with anything ChatGPT has written for me from scratch. As in, I wouldn’t publish them on my blog straight out of ChatGPT. But Marci has used ChatGPT to drastically reduce her writing time by having it write a first draft for her.

The first draft had great structure, really good info (fact checked to the Nth degree by Marci), but no flair whatsoever – it was extremely bland, and pretty obvious it was AI generated.  

But with Marci working on the subsequent drafts, I would never have guessed AI was involved anywhere. 

The key was in being really specific in the prompts, and requesting that ChatGPT use the problem, agitate, solution copywriting framework. 

A hallucinating robot

Congratulations! ChatGPT is now your tripped out junior copywriter

Lots of people are hopping onto ChatGPT, prompting things like “Write a blog post on digital marketing”, getting generic blabber back, and giving up. The secret is in knowing that ChatGPT is not your new head of marketing – it’s your LSD-loving junior copywriter. 

That means it’s not reliable, it might hallucinate and write some craaaaazy content. And, let’s face it, it’s just not the best writer in the world. 

But it can take specific instructions well. So tell it exactly what you want, and keep the instructions simple and structured. When you get content from it, fact check it rigorously, and assume you’ll need to do subsequent drafts to polish the work. 

And every now and then you’ll be surprised when it turns in something amazing. 

Let me know how you get on.

Frank Prendergast

Frank Prendergast

I've over two decades of experience helping businesses with their online presence. I'm also the owner of the most-talked-about moustache in the marketing world and I'm the Frank half of the award-winning digital marketing team Frank and Marci. Follow on LinkedIn