As a marketer or content creator, there are only three things that should matter to you: content, traffic, and revenue. All other metrics are secondary. Fortunately, these three factors are intertwined, as the more valuable the content you post, the greater the chances of growing your traffic and revenue.
Both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) companies are creating more content. So, it is becoming increasingly important to develop a richer experience for your audience to establish yourself as an industry leader. Your content should be strategically planned so it answers the relevant questions and impacts their lives.
One way to increase organic traffic and build engagement is by writing controversial content while backing up your opinions. Your readers want to take part in your ideas, so you cannot simply contradict what everyone else is saying without proper arguments and expect them to pay attention or even share your content. You need to support your arguments with accurate sources and data.
Yet, when you provide controversial content, people are eager to listen and respond, regardless of whether or not they agree with you.
In fact, research shows that controversy boosts the likelihood of discussion at low levels, but up to a certain level, where additional controversy begins to decrease engagement.
Many content marketers don’t expect this, but it should be a rational deduction considering that highly controversial topics like politics, religion, war, and tragedies are considerably risky in most social situations. These highly controversial topics make even worse subjects for business blogs, so it is best to rule them out for content.
So, what exactly do the “low levels” of controversy refer to?
The “Toilet Paper” Strategy
When Jonah Berger, an expert on virility, sat down to hold discussion with marketing publications to discuss how to promote his new book “Contagious”, he came up with the conversation of “inner remarkability of black toilet paper” that was later featured in a podcast. The discussion revolved around how toilet paper should be oriented, which is why Jonah referred to it as “low” controversy content.
Despite the fact that it is a trivial topic, there are a few people with strong opinions on the matter. In fact, a celebrated blogger, Ann Landers, once stated that the discussion of “toilet paper orientation” had raised the biggest controversy ever on her blog.
Similarly, successful controversial content for business blogs should, ideally, stir up a debate that people are passionate about, but whose process or outcome will not hurt people’s feelings. It should inspire people to share and leave their opinions; avoid offensive topics, and get the audience genuinely upset.
But low controversy does not mean that you should start a debate over something silly or stupid, like arguing about how to put toilet paper. The “Toilet Paper Strategy” is intended to draw content creators away from highly sensitive topics that take things too far. You should keep in mind that a business blog is not as objective as the news, and you can’t risk dividing your target audience into political or religious orientations.
Here are a few tips when writing controversial content:
1 Use your judgment
As discussed above, writing about controversial subjects should be approached with caution and taste. It is irrational to rant about your religious or political leanings on your business blog just for the sake of arousing controversy. There are lots of benign controversial topics to consider, so find something that is timely, interesting, and relevant to your niche without being offensive or argumentative.
Examples of good controversial content include:
A Riding Coattails
Consider this title:
This title “rides the coat-tail” of another popular topic. For starters, Steve Jobs is a very popular subject, and people are automatically drawn to articles of his viewpoints. For seconds, every marketer knows the importance of listening to your customers to enhance their experience, yet Steve Jobs was extremely successful.
Such an article would go ahead to illustrate the brilliance of Steve Jobs in innovation, marketing, and other areas that made his iOS device sales remarkable while quoting the thoughts of other industry leaders on how Steve conducted business. It is a trustworthy piece that could get more shares than one with the title: “Why Innovation is more important than customer feedback”
B This versus That
Consider this title:
This is a great way to stir up the debate between which marketing technique is better, especially since many content marketers believe that social media marketing is one of the best ways to promote content. Direct comparisons between two great items can considerably boost engagement.
C Being the messenger
Consider this title:
The best way to present controversial content is by citing research and “presenting” your readers with evidence for your arguments. Keywords are obviously important for content promotion and SEO. So, why should marketers focus less on keywords? And where should their focus be?
These are three great strategies for discussing controversial topics in just about any industry, provided you have enough data to back up your arguments and protect you from the rage of people who would like to state otherwise. Let anyone who opposes your content produce numbers or research or experiences to support their arguments.
2 Present your facts clearly
When writing about a touchy topic, you must ensure that you get your facts straight. Supporting things that are known to have adverse effects can cause you to lose your credibility and traffic. While your arguments may not be as widely supported as the counter-arguments for most controversial topics, it is still important to ensure that all the information provided is factual, and not just emotional responses to events.
3 Be bold
If you decide to write about a heated topic, there is no need for you to circumnavigate your arguments and use a lot of meaningless words to get the word count. You should tackle the topic boldly, using clear sentences. You can even present arguments for both sides while making sure that the side you pick is clear.
There is no need to apologize when going against the norm. However, you should leave yourself a back door to stop you from inadvertently offending your readers. For instance, you can indicate in your article that your opinion is just one of the many views on the topic; that you are portraying a side that is often overlooked; or go ahead and state that you are playing devil’s advocate to engage the readers.
4 Add some humor
Some controversial topics are best handled in a humorous way to avoid upsetting the readers. This is particularly true when inventing controversy so your readers have something to argue about. But when the topics have genuine controversy, adding humor can reduce the intended impact of the message.
Satire is a great way to portray a clearer picture on real issues, but be careful of readers who take things too seriously. For instance, you can satirize the “supposed” dangers of the latest technology for teens, while still stating that there is, indeed, a possibility for adverse changes.
Depending on how you use humor in controversy, you can tackle any hot topic with a light touch to evoke emotional responses.
5 Get someone (editor/colleague/friend) to read the post before publishing
When writing about something that could be contentious, it is a good idea to get the opinions of one or more people before publishing it. A second pair of eyes will let you know if you have gone too far, and when your article is offensive. This will ensure that your content gets across the way you intend it to without overdoing it.
Actually, you should always have someone read or review your articles before publishing, but it is particularly important for controversial posts.
6 Use third person editorial writing
The best style to use when writing on controversial subjects is editorial. Most editorial work involves reporting factual information in the third person. Since your article is likely to upset a lot of people, it is best to distance yourself from the post so it doesn’t appear as if the content reflects your opinions.
You don’t want to turn the readers against you. You want to engage with them, and even negative comments are engagement, and you will probably find a few readers that agree with you and argue in your favor.
7 Focus on one issue
When writing about a contentious topic, it is important that the debate will be over a single, key issue. It is not a good idea to address multiple concerns in a controversial blog as you risk losing credibility and making your work look like a rant.
Reasonable and well-organized content will spark the right kind of discussion without getting side-tracked. Also, it is best that you stick to your expertise. Creating an upset with bold statements on topics that have nothing to do with your industry is just likely to infuriate people because you can’t support your arguments properly.
8 Watch out for suicide topics
There are some subjects that can only be discussed from one perspective to avoid sparking righteous indignation against it. Topics like violence against minors, abuse, and other controversial and atrocious acts only have one good side and are unlikely to be received well if you try to propose other arguments.
9 Time your posts
Be careful of your timing and try to be respectful of the sentiments of people involves. It is best that you avoid posting controversial content for trending topics or recent events as the readers are likely to be too sensitive. Wait just long enough for people to think about all the possible sides of the topic, and then present them with factual information to support or oppose their thoughts.
10 Handle blowback responsibly
You should be prepared to handle a lot of negative comments. And since you want readers, not enemies, find ways to politely defend your arguments when responding to negative comments and thank your readers for contributing. It is important that you don’t engage in an argumentative series of comments as this is likely to divide your readership, and many won’t be willing to return.
Caution when writing Controversial Content
If you are not careful when writing controversial content, it can backfire – bringing you the wrong kind of attention and driving traffic from your site. Here are two examples of sensitive topics:
A post about “why going to college is a waste of time” – Such a post is obviously contradicting general wisdom, so you must provide lots of proof and examples to get your point across.
A post advising people to “quit their jobs for business” is also unlikely to be received well unless you can satisfactorily justify your claims.
The two topic examples are rather interesting and are likely to get people intrigued enough to read your content so they can see your arguments and solutions, and then judge for themselves. If you deliver value and meet their expectations, you will have gained fans for life. But if you fail at it, you will likely lose your credibility.
Being controversial can help improve your brand in an unexpected way, causing you to stand out from your competition. Picking the right topics can evoke emotions and increase your chances of going viral. People will want to respond put across their ideas as well, making both the content and comments attractive to visitors.
In the final paragraph, you may choose to indicate why you chose to support a particular side, and perhaps include a clear call to action. Use an appropriate tone, be direct, and don’t apologize for seeing things differently. Remember to get someone to read your article before publishing to ensure that you’re not misunderstood.