You’ve probably heard the idea that controversy sells, but at the same time, controversy is scary. Branching out with a new idea or polarizing opinion makes your brand vulnerable, and runs you the risk of alienating a major section of your audience. However, there’s a distinct advantage and an enormous value to producing controversial content, especially when compared to the alternative—without controversy, you’re either sitting on the fence, or telling audiences what they already know.
The fact is, most brands could stand to offer more controversial content. Let’s take a look at the why and how.
Why Controversy Is Important
First, consider why controversy is important in the first place:
- There’s inherently less competition. Everyone is scared of controversy. Most brands will never post anything controversial simply because they don’t want to alienate their audience. This means there’s a greater quantity of non-controversial content and a smaller quantity of controversial content in circulation, which gives you the competitive edge when you aim for controversy.
- Controversy generates conversation. When one strong voice resounds, thousands of other voices will chime in. As soon as you land yourself on one side or another of an existing or budding new debate, you can bet at least a handful of people will chime in on the subject. Conversations get people invested, and make your content seem more valuable.
- Controversy gets more visibility. Thanks to less competition, greater conversation threads, and the overall “jarring” quality of controversial subjects, any controversial opinion you make will earn your content more visibility (which is almost always a good thing).
- Controversy earns loyalty. Yes, there’s a chance you’ll turn away a fraction of your audience with your stance, but anyone who remains will consider themselves more loyal to you than ever.
- Controversy wins readers’ loyalties, especially when your stance is consistently repeated.
- It’s our right. In a world where censorship is more common than liberty, but a country where liberty is a norm, it’s easy to take our rights to free expression for granted. Don’t forget that not everyone gets the opportunity to take a controversial stance—so exercise your rights!
How to Develop Controversial Content
Of course, this doesn’t mean that creating controversial content is easy, or that you can just pick a controversial topic and hope to benefit from it. No, you have to choose the controversial topics that will most appeal to your audience, and explore them in respectful, intelligent ways.
Here’s how to do it:
- Know the different forms of controversy. Racist jokes are controversial. Opinions on new technologies are also controversial. One of these is appropriate, and one isn’t. Know the different forms that “controversy” can take and plan accordingly. Your stance should be debatable, but also grounded in respect and reality.
- Stick to your expertise. Don’t make bold opinions or statements on subjects that have nothing to do with your brand. If you’re a burger chain outraged about some new agricultural development, fine—but if you’re outraged about a new gun control law, you should probably keep it to yourself.
- Don’t hide it. Don’t hide your controversial opinions deep in the body of your articles—flaunt your stance in your headlines and taglines, where everyone can see it. Get people to react to your opinions as quickly as possible, and don’t be sneaky.
- Explore both sides. In the body of your work, be sure you acknowledge and explore both sides of the argument. Give people the logical, understandable reasons you have for landing on one side or the other. It shows respect and knowledge.
- Acknowledge uncertainty. Express some humility in your work by admitting that your opinion isn’t perfect, and that it isn’t the only one. It won’t rob your work of its controversial status, but will protect you against some of the potential backlash.
- Fact check everything. The last thing you want is for your work to be called out for its inconsistency or inaccuracy. Take extra time to fact-check every detail you publish in your work. Let nothing slide.
- Be careful of your timing. Posting a controversial opinion about a recent event may strike at a time when audiences are too sensitive. Be wary of your timing, and respectful of any emotions of the people involved.
None of this is to say that all your content should be controversial, or that non-controversial content is inherently less valuable. Instead, understand that there are some inherent advantages that “boring” or neutral forms of content wouldn’t be able to achieve. Like with any other addition to your content strategy, the key here is diversity—use many forms, many angles, and many strategies cohesively together, and you’ll be able to reap the advantages of them all.