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In content marketing, competition is fierce, and the best way to prevail is to find an edge. Sometimes, that amounts to only a degree of differentiation and making yourself just different enough to stand out.

Another approach might involve a degree of quality in which you give users something better than what your competitors can offer.

But there’s another way to do it that loosely taps into both, and that’s by finding topics that naturally stand out on their own: controversial ones.

Why Controversy Works

There are several reasons controversy works. First, it naturally draws more attention than non-controversial items. For one reason or another, controversial topics are emotionally charged, which makes them stand out in a newsfeed that’s brimming with white noise.

They also tend to arouse more conversation, as debaters and sharers flood in to comment. This, in turn, makes the article even more popular and visible and draws more people into the fold.

It’s also true that controversial topics tend to be risky for a brand, but that risk also comes with the potential reward of a reputation boost. For example, if you take a strong stand on an issue, you might alienate some of your customers on the other side, but you should draw your main customers even closer to your brand.



Types of Controversial Topics

“Controversy” is a somewhat general term, so let’s get more specific about the types of controversial posts you can create:

  • Shocking or unexpected topics. These often include charged language or taboo subjects that attract greater visibility. For example, consider the bold headline, “Is Timothy Sykes a Millionaire Douchebag?” which features a pejorative term that piques reader interest.
  • Debatable topics. Debatable topics are ones that, by their nature, encourage an audience to argue (whether with you or among one another). These may be issues with a strong emotional charge or of particular contemporary relevance.
  • Opinionated topics. Opinion pieces in journalism tend to be highly shared and linked to. For these posts, choose a topic and present a strong opinion about it, preferably backing up your argument with logic and supporting evidence. This could stir a debate, but it’s primarily intended to polarize an audience.
  • Norm violations. You can also stir up controversy by violating some kind of norm — such as a standard in your industry — by posting about a topic that’s usually avoided.

Tips for Successful Implementation

You can employ any of these types, but when you do, bear the following in mind:

  • Remain respectful. Controversial posts often demand that you take a side on a debatable issue, so feel free to debate with your followers. However, remain respectful and acknowledge that other opinions exist and are valid. Keep your language polite and professional in your content as well as your conversations.
  • Offer information, not sensationalism. Your goal here may be to evoke strong emotions in your audience, but don’t let that push you into the territory of sensationalism. Feel free to tweak your headlines, but try not to pander to hotly emotional crowds or appear unprofessional by introducing a topic that’s too risky or too taboo for a healthy discussion. For example, religious and political topics are probably best avoided, unless they relate very directly to your brand.
  • Follow up and engage with your users. One of the greatest advantages of a controversial piece is the discussion it generates. Keep that conversation going by getting involved yourself. Back up your points, listen to others’ opinions and keep people talking. It will make your piece ever more visible.
  • Limit yourself. There’s a fine line between a well-written headline and clickbait. There’s a similarly fine line between producing posts to stir up a healthy debate and producing them merely to rack up numbers. Maintain your reputation and your brand image by limiting yourself to rare controversial posts only.

Controversial topics are practically a must for content marketing campaigns, as long as you follow the above tips for success. Stirring up controversy will make your brand seem more authoritative and reputable, it will make your headlines stand out, and perhaps most important, it should make your users more engaged and involved with your content.


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