Are controversial pieces right for you and your audience?

I once read a blog post about the tactic of writing a contrary or controversial opinion about a topic. I can’t remember where I read it, but the idea stuck with me. It’s an interesting tactic, but there are some factors you have to consider before you take that step.

Writing a piece that expresses your opinion on something (particularly if it’s potentially controversial) is like diving into pitch black water. You don’t know what you’ll find. It could be tadpoles or it could be sharks. You might even find yourself in over your head. This is reality if you jump in the water of opinion/controversy. There’s no escaping it.

Before you decide to jump in, there are several things you should consider:

Not everyone will agree with you

No one has the luxury of everyone agreeing with them 100% of the time online or off. However, people are more apt to express their disagreement online. There is also the potential that some will be curt, rude, or even cruel. It’s not right, but it’s reality. If you aren’t ready to hear perspectives that are different (and often polar opposite) of your own, you should not use this tactic. If you aren’t ready to potentially incite strong feelings in people (and, subsequently, deal with their reactions), you should not use this tactic. If you want to avoid any possibility of confrontation, don’t use this tactic.

The topic and your opinion need to align with your brand

Writing an opinion piece on a personal blog isn’t too off-brand for most bloggers since they blog about topics they care about. However, for a business, it’s critical to think about how your audience may perceive the stance you take. You don’t want to inadvertently alienate the people who support your business. More than that, you want to be consistent with how you are perceived as a brand. If the topic isn’t relevant or goes too far off course, it may not be a good fit. This aspect isn’t straightforward, though. Sometimes, even as a brand, it is worth the gamble to get a message out there. If, as a brand, you don’t want to court controversy of any kind, this tactic probably isn’t right for you.

Know that anything or nothing may happen

You could end up with interview requests from media outlets, hundreds of comments, thousands of hits. Or you may feel like you’re screaming into a vacuum, wondering why the world doesn’t see how brilliant your views on this issue are. It’s hard to predict the impact that a piece will have. It’s easier not to try. If your goal is to share your message, go for it. If your goal is to change the world to your way of thinking, it’s a guarantee that you won’t succeed.

Be certain that you have all the relevant facts

Have you ever jumped up on your high horse with righteous indignation and then found out you didn’t have the whole story? I did this not too long ago. It wasn’t on my blog (whew), but I did post something to Facebook. I later found out that I was wrong. In this instance, I was glad to be wrong. However, if I had written out a big rant and hit publish on my blog, I would have been mortified. One of the worst hits to your credibility as a business would be to post a controversial opinion piece without adequate research. It can be easier to recover from the hit to your pride than to recover that lost credibility.

You need to have a thick skin

It can be intense to get comments and replies that criticize or disagree with your views. Are you emotionally and mentally prepared to understand that it is part of a larger conversation? Or will you begin to fear that people see you in a negative light or question your motives and message? Feeling passionate about a subject can create an emotional involvement that you might not have with other topics related to your area of expertise. It can also make it harder to take criticism of your logic or differing perspectives. Of everything on this list, this one is the second most important (brand consistency beats thick skin). It can be very stressful if your post gets picked up by a large audience when you aren’t prepared for the potential for feedback that goes against your views, even if it isn’t negative or critical.

Always take time to decompress

I rarely ever publish a post as soon as I’m through writing it. For one, I prefer to publish first thing in the morning and I don’t write first thing in the morning. While Lara tries to read all my posts before they’re published (as I do hers), we sometimes have to edit our own content due to time constraints. So, I walk away from my writing for a minimum of an hour (a day is much better if I have enough time) and then re-read for editing before I publish. If you feel like ranting about an issue, taking time to breathe and let it settle can help focus your words and message so that it has clarity and reason that can get lost in a passionate plea.

Not every business should or can get involved in controversial debates. Starting such a debate is even trickier. It’s essential to consider the ramifications before you decide to proceed. If even the worst-case scenarios don’t dissuade you, it might be worth trying. Just remember that once it’s out there, you can’t take it back.

Have you or would you ever consider writing a controversial piece for your business blog?