There’s something about a controversial topic that compels readers to respond, good or bad. If you’re not careful, though, you can alienate and drive your readers away instead of creating an interesting debate.
Some topics are entirely too sensitive to cover in professional content, like abuse in any form. However, whether you’re writing a blog post for yourself or a company, picking a low-level controversial topic enlivens the discussion. To decide if your topic is low-level enough, take the Toilet Paper test.
Toilet paper test
Do you put the toilet paper roll on so it spools out over or under? This is a low-level controversial topic that generates much discussion. In fact, the famous columnist Ann Landers once said that "toilet paper orientation" was the biggest controversy ever on her blog.
Everyone has an opinion on the proper way toilet paper should unspool. But the chances of alienating or damaging the relationship with your readers over this subject is very low.
Low-level doesn’t mean something ridiculous or banal. It does mean choosing something with differing opinions that you can support with facts and/or experiences. Find a topic that is timely, interesting, and relevant to your audience without being offensive.
Examples of controversial topics
Present something contradictory to what most people believe is true or right. For example, Steve Jobs didn’t focus his attention on customers; he was all about innovation first. These days, focusing on the customer is the way to do business. Steve Jobs was controversial enough to do it differently, and it worked for him.
Another example is to compare two subjects that people usually see as separate and distinct. For instance, the title "Which is better: inbound marketing or ABM?" would generate great interest among marketers. And it’s controversial enough that most will have their own opinion on which is better.
Finally, you could debunk something held as the standard. A controversial topic like "Debunking the long tail keyword myth" turns what we know is an important SEO practice on its head and presents a different side or another strategy. The key is to give data and facts to back up your opinion.
How to write with sensitivity
When your subject is touchy, you need to have your facts straight. You can lose credibility if you support something known to have adverse effects. Suicide topics like violence against minors has only one good side. You should never try to support controversial or atrocious acts that have a clear right and wrong side.
Here are a few tips to help you write with sensitivity.
Take a stand
Don’t pussy-foot around. Take a stand and be bold. Tackle your topic head on with clarity and plenty of supporting data. You can even present both sides of the argument and state which side your opinion falls on.
And make it known this is your opinion. There may be plenty of other opinions out there, and you can ask your readers to chime in with theirs.
You can tackle a sensitive topic like how much gaming is too much for teenagers with a humorous anecdote from your own experience. When you use humor to diffuse a situation, you can evoke the emotional responses you want without putting your readers on the defensive.
Find beta readers
It’s always a good idea to have at least one unbiased reader look through a controversial post before you publish. Someone without skin in the game can tell you if you’ve gone too far and need to tone it down a bit.
You want your content received as you intend it while offending no one. Get as many beta readers as possible to help you find the right balance.
Focus on only one issue
You want to present a single, key topic and cover it thoroughly. When you throw in too many controversial concerns, your post will come off as a rant and you’ll lose credibility.
Present a reasonable and organized discussion without meandering on side notes. And stick to what you know; if you can’t support your arguments properly, you’ll anger your readers.
Handle comments with care
You want to spark a discussion without alienating anyone. You should always thank your readers for contributing, even when they offer negative or dissenting comments.
Don’t get into an argument in the comments. You want your audience to come back, so don’t put them on the defensive.
How NOT to write with sensitivity
Never use a tragedy or a calamity to sell your product or service. And even worse is to use a horrific event to try to get likes on your Facebook page. Seriously, several well-known brands have tried and failed. Check out these two links for unsavory self-promotion in the midst of tragedy.
5 Corporations That Used a National Tragedy to Sell You Something
If you’re not careful, controversial topics can backfire and you’ll lose credibility. You want your readers intrigued enough to read your arguments or solution and then judge for themselves.
Controversy can help you stand out from all the other content online. If you deliver a valuable discussion on a controversial issue backed up with data and supporting evidence, you’ll likely create a viral post. And who doesn’t want to go viral?