Content + Controversy = Buzz

6 min read

According to Wikipedia, controversy is a state of prolonged public dispute or debate, usually concerning a matter of conflicting opinion or point of view.

Can you imagine a more boring definition of such an interesting phenomenon?

The controversy is often feared and perceived as an art of brainwashing and controlling the human mind and I can’t blame anyone who says that. Thanks to mass media and the way they use controversy, it can be seen as a dirty trick to gain more readers and viewers.

But what if I told you that controversy can be something good?

That it doesn’t have to be only another marketing tool, but it can also refresh our way of thinking and writing? It can definitely help us in our content marketing efforts and, if used well, it can bring us social media buzz and recognition.

How the Controversy Works

I can’t write about the controversy without mentioning its king, George R. R. Martin.

(Don’t worry, I won’t spoil you anything if you’re not caught up with the latest episodes of Game of Thrones!)

The moment I realized how controversial the whole saga is, was when I was watching one of the latest episodes. My friend asked me who’s the father of Gilly’s child and I’ve responded: her father.

In fact, Gilly’s past is not even important for the whole plot, yet Martin added a controversial life event to her biography. He knew that the devil’s in the details. And it worked! Although my friend wasn’t watching the series, he got interested immediately.

And he wasn’t the only one to appreciate this controversial series. The 6th season was watched by over 8.9 million people! And here’s how many people were talking about Game of Thrones in the last month, according to Brand24:


That’s the point of controversy: to get people interested in your writing ,and, eventually, in your brand. The controversy can also bring you a huge recognition but only if used right.

The controversy seems to be a great way of getting the attention of an audience, but it’s only partially truth. If you choose the wrong topic, it can be a hazardous idea.

That’s why George R. R. Martin as a writer and artist can be very controversial in what he does. You, as a marketer or business owner, cannot.

Be Careful: Controversy Can Harm Your Brand’s Name

Before writing or posting about controversial matters, you need to understand what is acceptable for your audience.

In a Wharton Business School study called When, Why, and How Controversy Causes Conversation, researchers came to the conclusion that it’s not true that the more controversial the topic, the more it’s discussed by the audience.

Contrary to popular belief, controversial things are not necessarily more likely to be discussed. Data (…) show that controversy increases the likelihood of discussion at low levels, but beyond a moderate level of controversy, additional controversy actually decreases the likelihood of discussion.

It means that we should avoid topics that are very controversial, such as religion, war, politics or sexuality. Important topics involve too many negative emotions like anger, hate or frustration. That’s definitely not a correlation you’d like to make with your brand, right?

If you’re wondering what could be an example of a mildly controversial discussion, think about what are the most popular topics on the Internet: cats and dogs. People love to discuss which animal is better. That’s because everyone has an opinion about it and the topic does not involve negative emotions (since it’s not very important).

That’s exactly the level of controversy that will not harm your brand.

Acceptable Controversy

I’m working as a content writer, so the wise controversy is something I deal with from time to time. I like to use it to force people to think about problems in a different way.

Here’s an example.

One of my first jobs was working in a call center and this experience made me question the kindness of human nature. When I started to write for LiveChat about customer service, I’ve noticed that no one writes about the real face of this profession.

Everyone was focusing on the fact that the customer was always right, on how to please a customer or how to fulfill one’s needs. Not a word about how rude customers are or how badly they treat customer service agents.

The first post I wrote, was Apple Horror Story: Why the Customer Is Not Always Right. As you can imagine, it was proving that sometimes it’s good to say no to a customer. I mentioned my opinion about rude customers and yes, I was a bit harsh.

[Customers] trample over customer service reps and show a complete lack of consideration for them, and yet they are treated in the same way as polite customers.

In the end, I received a couple of negative comments and emails, but the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Although the topic was controversial (I was not sure how our customers would react!), it turned out that it was one of the most successful posts I’ve written.

Another example can be my Guide to Really Bad Customer Service (Written by Devil’s Advocate). I decided to write it because I thought that it would be a funny idea to suggest to companies to deliver terrible customer service.

I came to the conclusion that since almost every company tries to do its best to satisfy its customers, the best way to stand out from the crowd would be by creating an unforgettably bad customer experience.

Need proof?

You’ve probably heard about Comcast, the company with probably the worst customer service ever. And why you’ve heard about it? Because of their awful customer service.

That’s why in my post I was giving a bunch of tips on how to turn every customer experience into a nightmare. I was a bit afraid that I won’t be understood (it happens sometimes). Apart from that, writing about other company’s weaknesses can be risky!

But again, it turned out that it was this kind of controversy that gave me a lot of social media buzz. I was included in the Top 5 Customer Service Articles by Shep Hyken, a customer service guru, and recognized by Marsha Collier, an author and Customer Service Influencer.

On the other hand, one of the controversial moves that didn’t work out well was naming one of my posts How To Create Shitty Content. Our customer support received a couple of complaints from our readers who were outraged that they saw a swear word on a professional blog.

In the end, I’ve changed the copy to something politically correct and censored the title. The controversy can’t work every time you use it.

Don’t Cross the Line

Choosing the right topic for your controversial article or video can be challenging as it’s a double-edged sword. It can bring you the social buzz, but it may happen that it’s a black PR instead of a good word of mouth.

That’s why you should focus on the things that are not related to beliefs and strong emotions. Don’t write about politicians, gay marriages, immigrants or don’t try to prove that atheists are wrong as this is inappropriate for an e-commerce website.

Focus on the mildly controversial discussions. Writing about Indiana Jones being cooler than Han Solo might be controversial (not for me!), but won’t bring you dozens of comments from upset readers and customers. That’s the level of controversy that’s accepted for a company.

And once you use it wisely, you can be sure that it will bring you the social buzz, recognition and will help you to build your brand’s personality.

Author Bio:

Justyna Polaczyk is a content writer, marketer, and self-proclaimed philosopher. She plans to rule the Universe. While she plots the intrigue, she writes about eCommerce and customer service on LiveChat blog and hosts Business Sidekick podcast about growing startups and online businesses.

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