Being controversial is certainly one way of getting attention from the media and social networks. But, as our guest blogger Mickie Kennedy points out, you have to strike a balance to ensure it doesn’t backfire on you and your brand. Read on to learn how. ~ Elena Verlee
Have you ever scrolled through your Twitter feed and found a post or headline that so unnerved you, that set your teeth so on edge that in spite of your better judgement you just had to react?
Like many people do, you might have looked through the comments and follow-ups to see what others thought, hoping to find other people that saw just how ridiculously offensive the original post was. And, if you’re like most of the web, you likely clicked + shared the post, attaching your own editorial to the top.
In any case, you gave their article your time and attention; and what’s more, the link wound up being shared and clicked that much more because you found it so disagreeable.
Ironic, no? Despite the content grating at your better sensibilities, you wound up sharing and commenting on it, increasing its social clout — all because it grabbed your attention.
Let’s face it: you need a reason to stand out. If you sit down to write a blog, press release, or even just a solid headline, you immediately face a problem: it’s very easy to blend in with everyone else.
This is especially true if you’re writing about a popular, already well-covered subject. When searching for ‘content marketing’, for example, Google is going to spit out 359 million results – so why should anyone pick yours out of the bunch?
The reality is the average person is going to find the most popular result and not even bother looking for anything else. A 2014 study by Moz tells us that the top 10 results in Google score over 71% of organic search clicks.
In other words, even if you happen to have a slightly more detailed story, the chances are you won’t get seen as much as the story that’s already spreading around.
While it may be tempting to blame this on laziness or a “follow-the-leader” mentality, perhaps there’s a more pernicious reason behind the prevalence of already-popular content – sameness. If all the headlines and content appear to be roughly the same, why not just go with the most popular one? What difference does it make?
Anything to Stand Out
Going against the grain or offering strong, even controversial opinions is a strategy that will likely help you stand out to bloggers and reporters, and may earn you some social media collateral. Consider the following headlines from around the web:
“Even Obama’s allies in the press are calling his tax hike proposals a political ploy” ~ HotAir.com
“Is a Climate Disaster Inevitable?” ~ NY Times
“Is nervous Obama White House holding Bergdahl report hostage?” ~ Fox News
If the aim was to capture someone’s attention, these three headlines could have done much worse. All of them broach popular topics, but in such a way as to immediately offer a very strong position, a position that I’m sure they know will be almost immediately divisive and therefore fascinating.
The Fox News headline, for example, immediately stands out by describing the Obama administration as “nervous” – so nervous, in fact, that they’ve even taken a “hostage.” Place that headline next to one that reads: Obama White House Silent on Bergdahl Report. Which one evokes more of a reaction?
While everyone else is talking objectively or, at least, calmly about climate change, for instance, The NY Times seizes your eye with the proclamation that a climate “disaster” is perhaps “inevitable.” Their chances of getting some clicks and read-throughs are, in my opinion, higher than if they had safely titled their article Plausible Climate Events in the Near Future.
Does this mean that it’s a great idea to go out of your way to write news releases, blog and social media posts that contain contrarian/provocative language and opinions?
Please Be Careful
While, sure, it may briefly earn you some clicks or a call from a reporter, it’s important to make sure both you and your organization are behind such stances 100%, and, more importantly, that it’s contextual to your niche.
Remember Barilla Pasta CEO Guido Barilla’s homophobic comments on Italian radio? That sure did earn Barilla quite a bit of attention – but for a company that (a) is famous for its penne and not its politics, and (b) had previously expressed no opinion on matters more controversial than the proper diameter of campanelle, the attention wound up seriously injuring the company. So be careful.
Seeing Both Sides
Recent studies are proving that the Internet, and especially social media, isn’t the echo chamber we once assumed it to be. People read and share news from not only very like-minded sources, but from voices of differing opinion, too. This only emphasizes the need to create and disseminate material that offers fresh, perhaps even controversial opinions. Reporters and bloggers are always in search of them (hence the explosion of Help a Reporter Out).
On top of that, choosing a different side to represent could actually help grow your own perspective on the world. You may never have thought about whether or not Beyonce is an outspoken feminist until you sat down to write the piece detailing just that. Upon doing research you may find out you actually agree with this new point of view.
While typically being classified as “yellow journalism” or “click bait,” there’s a lot to learn from places like Upworthy. Their methods of offering up new, undeniably magnetic points of view have earned them many imitators and an incredible amount of Internet traffic.
Obviously, it isn’t easy to score the interest of reporters and bloggers. If you’re writing a press release you’re competing with thousands upon thousands of other releases also demanding attention, and it’s much the same if you’re pushing online-only content.
In my nearly 20 years of handling news releases and writing my own blog, I can tell you that extraordinary content too often gets overlooked for being “safe,” for trying to please everyone, for blending in just a bit too much. If you really want to stand out and earn some media/online buzz, sometimes it’s best to ruffle a few feathers.
Have you ever written an intentionally contrarian blog, press release, or other piece?