Should you cook up controversy in your blog posts?
When I published our annual list of female bloggers to follow, I wasn’t expecting controversy to come my way. It wasn’t a controversial blog post. One person on the list took umbrage to what she thought was the wrong one of her sites being listed.
She’s decided to be on that list was a bad thing as the post only mentioned one of her sites. Instead of seeing it as a tribute, she saw it as a slur and trashed me across social media.
Her one-woman moral outrage sent me another 2,000 visitors and 200 new subscribers.
Controversy gets attention, there’s no doubt about it
It fires up conversation on a normally quiet topic and generates conversation all over social media. Your shares of that particular post go through the roof and you’ll be tempted to write a controversial post again.
According to Neil Patel when you create a controversial blog post you’ll also increase your unsubscribe rate, and the amount of negative email responses from your reader.
The good news is your open rate will remain the same if your blog posts are delivered by email, this indicates to me, you’re only alienating a percentage of your regular readers.
This means your controversial blog post may attract in a bunch of new people to your blog and your email list. What’s not to love about that?
So what is controversy?
Controversy = difference of opinion + emotional investment.
You can see how easy is it is to write a controversial blog post using the above formula. It’s almost too easy to write one and that’s where it becomes dangerous.
You don’t want to be known as “that controversial blogger” by only writing that style of post. It will be hard to monetise a site like this, and the novelty will wear off quickly. That said, Katie Hopkins seems to be able to make a living at saying things that get people’s backs up and gets paid to say controversial things, so perhaps I shouldn’t dismiss it?
Can controversy actually win you business?
Smart pharmaceutical marketer, Dr Sally Church, proves that it can. Dr Church published a controversial interview with another doctor. What was controversial about it? No one else had considered the drug might fail, and if they had they weren’t saying it.
The post generated a lot of intensely negative responses and flack from investors and the company in question. Everyone else was hailing a wonder drug, and they were flying into controversy by daring to say something different (editors note: the post has since been removed).
Ultimately the Doctors were proved correct in their analysis.
What does Dr Church have to say about the controversial post? “What I learned is that you have to be true to your opinion and not go with the herd just because everyone else does.” The post although controversial meant that hedge fund investors and other experts now have increased trust in what Dr Church shares.
Can controversy cost you business?
It will most certainly cost you friends and generate a lot of comments on your post. The backlash can be intense as Kimberley Hall found out when she publicly shamed teenage girls for their posing and pouting in photos on social media. Unfortunately the original post has been removed.
The post generated outrage as Hall’s blog allegedly contained photos of her sons shirtless and doing similar things to the girls.
Looking back on it a week later Hall says “I heard the frustration and the hurt of some readers who felt unfairly judged. They were not wrong to point out the self-righteous tone of my post, the log in my own eye. There was too much assumed on my part, and not nearly enough explained to the world with care.”
Hall is clearly a well-balanced person who saw the impact of her words, reflected upon them and saw the need to put things right in the form of another post (here). You’ll note there’s no apology, just reflection and understanding that comes with hindsight.
What are the ingredients for a controversial blog post?
First things first. If you’re an employee, you might like to find out your employer’s policy on this type of content and run it by them before you hit publish.
Yes, you can add a “these are my own thoughts and mine alone” style disclaimer, but if the fallout goes global and the company doesn’t share your views, then you’ll be fired. Getting fired may launch your career into the stratosphere or you may never work again.
If you’re an entrepreneur seeking investment, you should also be similarly cautious. With the be careful out of the way, let’s look at what the actual post needs.
The best controversial posts are polarising in their view
There’s no sitting on the fence, it’s an all out show of your position. There’s no playing of the “Devil’s Advocate”, it’s emotional and connects with a certain type of reader, ideally the one that’s your perfect customer.
It’s going to contain controversial information or opinions and you’re going to have go out on a limb and say that your post is all opinion or you’ll have to find facts and fingers to support your opinion. Opinions can be inflammatory as Kimberly Hall found, and burn your blog to the ground.
Or it can generate a buzz and spark hundreds of conversations as Mark Schaeffer’s Content Shock did earlier this year.
If you say something and say it in a way that isn’t clear, like Matt Cutts did in January, that too will create controversy. You’ll see at the end of the post (link), there’s clarification of specifics, but not before hundreds of blogging experts declared guest blogging was dead.
Evidence and supporting statements further what you’re saying
If you’ve taken a look at Matt Cutts’ post above, you’ll see how the post has several videos in it. The videos are evidence to support what he’s saying in the post; Guest blogging for SEO purposes is dead. When you support your statements you add an extra dimension to the post.
In Dr Sally Church’s interview the post is backed up with analysis with another doctor, it doesn’t just look at the clinical evidence. In Mark Schaeffer’s post he shares his own anecdotal evidence.
Know that the controversial blog post will never be forgotten
For the post to be truly controversial you need to leave room for the opposition to argue their case. You need to know who this post is for, and it isn’t always your regular readers.
You need to leave some breathing space for the fire to take hold. Without the breathing space you’ll just be another crazy ranting on the internet.
Oh and just so you know, I’ve never ever mentioned that person in my first paragraph anywhere on any of my sites again. I stopped visiting the sites where she whined about me, and I no longer send potential clients to her. I doubt she’s even noticed, or even remembers. But as the author of that so called controversial blog post I’ve never forgotten. The comments that are left behind will always remind me that to be controversial takes courage.
About the author: Sarah Arrow types about blogging for small biz owners with a dash of social media at sarkemedia.com. This post is part of her 30 Biz Blogging Challenge and you can join it here. Email subscribers will have a worksheet with today’s email.