How often have you checked out someone’s Twitter profile only to find it’s actually a disclaimer, claiming their views are ‘all their own’?
It’s a popular way to stay out of trouble, but it hints at something deeper: social media marketing success is being blighted by a widespread reluctance to offend, while at the same time being provocative and controversial is one of the best ways to grab people’s attention.
Is it OK to speak your mind, step into the breach and dare to be different with your social media marketing? Or are the potential risks to your brand’s reputation too scary to contemplate?
Controversy wins social media marketing attention
As a content marketer it’s your job to generate content that attracts attention, backlinks and shares. But every time you come up with something unusual, interesting, exciting or unique you get shot down in flames by your boss because he or she is worried it might cause offence.
Even if you’re lucky enough to sneak a controversial idea through, the corporate approvals process means it ends up boring, flavour-free and watered down. In other words, highly unlikely to have the desired effect. If it happens often enough you’d be forgiven for thinking content marketing ‘doesn’t work’.
Making friends and enemies – Does enmity matter?
To get great results your content has to make a powerful impact, igniting an emotional response. Boring, samey content won’t cut the mustard. You won’t elicit any response at all by boring people stiff, but covering a polarising topic with flair and confidence makes friends and influences people.
Controversy can also make enemies, of course. But how much does it matter? If your Twitter community runs to thousands of followers, what does pissing off two of them mean? Not a lot. If a few people out of ten thousand followers express dismay but your controversial content was re-tweeted twenty times by people who appreciated its frankness and honesty, controversy wins hands down. The same goes if you get flamed. Does it matter if a bunch of people you have never met, who have diametric opposite views, pitch in and give you a hard time? Not really. You just ignore them. Or if they’re being offensive, mute or block them.
Tips for generating positive provocation
All controversy is not equal. For a start the concept should be relevant to the brand, not just random, since controversy for its own sake rarely delivers the right results. Luckily there’s almost always a way to make an intelligent, perceptive connection between stories and brands, either directly or indirectly.
It makes sense to minimise the risk to the brand, deciding up front how you’re going to deal with a negative backlash. Reacting calmly and politely with charm and intelligence does the trick. After all there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a good, healthy debate, online or offline, unless things get badly overheated.
Great writing cuts the risk of a negative response. It helps when you present the facts rather than your opinions, and include the sources of those facts. It’s important to present every side of the story rather than a one-way rant. That’s what all the best TV, radio and film documentaries do – you enhance the credibility of an argument by delivering it in a broader context. It’s also vital to remain objective.
If the topic is negative, do your best to present the positive side as well. It matters because most of us tend to share positive news rather than bad stuff. And whatever you do, don’t manipulate the data to fit your argument. You will be found out, and you will look silly. You need to be fully transparent about your methodology to avoid doubts about the data’s viability. You might even want to provide the raw data for readers to explore, generating trust and respect through transparency.
Once you’ve done all that it’s time to check your facts, and check the grammar and flow for clarity and ease of reading. Then press ‘publish’ and wait for a reaction…