Want To Boost Your Content Marketing Strategy? Try Striking Up Controversy.

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There are many angles you can take in content marketing; as a general rule, businesses focus on subjects that are practical, informative, or entertaining. But in addition to these, there’s another spin you can add to up the stakes of your content’s effectiveness—controversy.

Stirring up controversy, on the surface, seems ill-advised, but there are some real benefits to creating content with a controversial angle. The question is, is it worth pursuing for your brand?

The Benefits

First, you need to know why controversy is an option in the first place. Controversy means people will be questioning your article, criticizing it, and maybe even getting upset about it. How could this possibly be beneficial?

  • Immediate attention. Controversial subjects tend to spark strong emotions in people, automatically making them stand out in the white noise of the content world. Sometimes, all it takes is a sensational headline to attract more attention to an article, giving you a distinct advantage when it comes to attracting traffic. So long as your content is strong enough, that boost in popularity should be enough to greatly increase your ROI.
  • Audience polarization. Depending on the nature of the controversy (more on that in a moment), it’s likely that your controversial work will split your audience down the middle. At first glance, polarizing your audience seems like a bad thing; why would you want to turn off half your readers from the get-go? But don’t forget the other half of the equation; the half of your audience that remains will be even more passionate about your content, and with it, your brand.
  • Lasting popularity and visibility. Controversy tends to invite more interaction, from both sides of the equation, and more interaction generally means more popularity and visibility. Those in agreement and those in disagreement will both likely react to your post and share it, and so long as you’ve set it up properly, you should set the stage for a healthy discussion in the comments section. On social media, posts with more interactions surrounding them are more popularly circulated, and you’ll earn lasting returns in traffic as a result.

The Risks

Of course, there are a few risks to the strategy that you need to be familiar with, some of which are fairly obvious.

  • Brand reputation. Think carefully about how your stance on a controversial subject may affect the reputation of your brand. For example, if you take too harsh a stance against a position that’s considered to be an industry standard, your audience may perceive you to be inferior to your competitors. Use your best judgment when it comes to topic selection and the angle you choose to take.
  • Failed execution. You’ll also want to make sure you execute the article sufficiently. Your article will only hit home if it’s high quality; that means you need to make sure it’s well-researched, well-structured, and well-written, with a thorough exploration of the subject and fair, balanced coverage given to each side. If you get the facts wrong or end up otherwise appearing disrespectful, it could have a negative effect or fail to generate any attention at all.
  • Exploitation. Depending on how you position your article, you could also be seen as exploitative by choosing a controversial topic in the first place. as a general rule, don’t pick a controversial topic just because it’s controversial; doing so can make your approach appear gimmicky or contrived. Instead, you should pick a topic that’s worth exploring, and one you truly have something to say about. This selection process can be difficult, but it’s worth taking the time to do correctly.

Types of Controversy

With that being said, there are a few different types of controversy you can go for, each with their own possibilities in virtually any industry.

  • Interesting angles in a highly polarized subject. Your first option is choosing an interesting or unique spin within subject matter that’s highly polarizing to people. For example, I recently did a piece exploring Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s respective presences on social media. Though I didn’t take any political stance, the polarizing nature of the election and unique angle of my story made it surprising enough to stand out. I was even contacted by a reporter at USAToday.com who saw my story and wanted to interview me about it for a similar story of his own, which earned me and my brand a mention and a link from USAToday.com. That’s a great example of the power of content marketing, and using controversy to stand above the noise.
  • Strong opinions. You can also strike up controversy by choosing to announce and defend a strong opinion on a given subject; the subject itself is up to you. This is even stronger if you choose an opinion that differs from the norm, especially if it directly contradicts another known influencer in the industry.
  • Debatable issues. You can also generate controversy just by mentioning debatable issues. Online, people love to argue, so all it takes is a little push to get them debating about something. Pick a good angle for a hot topic and let them go to town.

The Bottom Line: Yes, But…

Ultimately, controversy is a powerful tool in your content marketing arsenal. Using it as the foundation of your topic selection and content development, you’ll be able to generate more visibility, engagement, and popularity for your posts; however, you’ll have to be careful about your execution. Though it’s good to select polarizing topics, avoid those with a propensity to offend people, such as sensitive political issues, and those that aren’t relevant to your industry in any way. You’ll also want to explore the topic thoroughly to avoid seeming gimmicky or exploitative; and as long as you can create your controversial content respectfully and tastefully, you’ll have much to gain.

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