Controversial Conversations – Is All Publicity Good?


Established newspapers and magazines have long had a hard-nosed and unsentimental perspective on developing controversial stories to boost circulation: “If it bleeds, it leads.” As unlovely as that sentiment may be, it has a kernel of truth to it. Controversy draws traffic. Just ask the writers at sites like Gawker and Buzzfeed; these mastheads and the click-bait titles they give their articles are designed to provoke a response. Whether that response is positive or negative almost doesn’t matter – people will discuss and share something they disparage almost as much as something they love.

For B2B companies, the landscape is different. Gawker, TMZ and Buzzfeed rely on traffic to make money directly through ad revenue while businesses not in the publishing sector see traffic as lead generation. The last thing a well-established company wants is to be controversial if controversy could cost business.

Some of the lessons controversial content teaches are applicable to B2B industries. Snappy titles that ask a question – “Is all publicity good,” for instance – encourage thought and conversation. The format of controversy, of taking a bit of common wisdom and writing a post that takes an opposing view, also works for B2B content. Other aspects of click-bait writing don’t translate as well; it’s unlikely that B2B industries are going to generate the kind of controversy that drives op-ed columns in national newspapers or draws viewers to any story that has the name “Kardashian” in it, for example.

How, then, do you find controversy in B2B content? Stirring the pot is easy when the subject matter is a common topic of discussion in the news, but when your main goal is to sell job tracking software to construction companies, finding the controversy is more of a challenge. Most industries have truisms that deserve to be turned on their heads or at least analyzed more closely. If industry-specific questions don’t work for your niche or audience, it’s all right to think generally and investigate the validity of common business truisms. Is the customer always right? Does it always take money to make money? Let your content team tell your readers why the answer might be “no.”

In business content, a little controversy goes a long way. Readers will tire of any format you use too often, and that includes oppositional position pieces. Taking a contrarian position occasionally shows that you’re a free thinker; you and your company aren’t afraid to examine some of your industry’s established myths to find truths within them. Treating every day as opposite day pushes you toward the fringes and will eventually reduce your traffic instead of boosting it.

To answer this article’s original question, no, not all publicity is good. Understand the line between mild controversy that generates discussion and social sharing and an all-out declaration of war. Leave direct assaults on competitors out of your content; it rarely works and often winds up showering the publisher, not the target, in negative fallout. Another mistake is creating controversy where there is none. Contrarians can only be contrary if they’re taking a position that others don’t yet see or are too timid to voice aloud; if they’re another voice decrying an industry standard that’s already on its way out, they’re just one of the crowd.

Most important, controversy should never be hateful. Businesses have been forced to fire personnel over content that tried to generate controversy and instead veered into viciousness. Keep disagreements civil and respectful at all times.

The key to successful controversy is realizing that even those who disagree with your position will want to talk about it. They leave meaningful, compelling comments on your blog instead of giving you a quick pat on the back for confirming their own ideas. Social media channels hum with activity when people have a bold pronouncement to share. Go ahead and give them something to talk about with a bit of controversy to spice up your content.

© Business Content, Inc. 2014 All Rights Reserved.

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