IF you’ve ever read an article about coming up with ideas for content, you may have come across the advice to use – or stay away from – controversy. It’s a risky move. A business relies on its online reputation. Publishing something that could inflame your audience or insult some prominent group can have drastic negative consequences. It makes the news when a big company suffers such a hit; a smaller company might not survive.
On the other hand, if you manage to publish something on the edge of controversy, enough to rile people up but not enough to cause a backlash, you can rake in a huge amount of traffic. Such posts are often shared around Facebook and other social media, and reposted on other blogs with commentary. One controversial statement can be the foundation of a storm of media attention that can boost your reputation significantly.
The key is in the word used in the title. “Edgy” content can be very valuable, but it stands on the edge of a cliff. Taking one step too far, crossing over that edge, is very dangerous.
How can you make use of edgy content, why should you risk the consequences and what should you avoid?
Being Boring Sucks
When you’re running a business online, you’re using modern tools with an audience largely composed of people under 50. These people have tuned their attention and their tastes to what the Internet can provide. Your business is competing against other businesses using the same tools, so it all comes down to character.
As a brand, you need to build a persona, a character. Every month there’s a new example of a brand using social media in an unexpectedly casual way, whether it’s an airline responding to individual comments on Twitter or Oreo poking fun at the NFL. If your brand is posting nothing but boring, dry statistics and press releases, no one is going to care.
Being edgy means being witty, being incisive and being colorful. It builds your brand persona and makes people feel more like you’re a group of humans providing a product, not a faceless corporation driven solely by maximizing profits.
Interesting Content is Shared
When you post something interesting, it’s more likely to be shared. Common sense, right? Well, what happens when you post something divisive? Something a little controversial?
Take, for example, one of the simplest examples of edgy content; a sports rivalry. All you need to do is take sides and poke a little lighthearted fun at the other side to get people riled up. Fans of the side you take will rally under your banner to hail you for your good taste. Fans of the other side will leave comments decrying your decision. Sparks will fly and debates will heat up. The post will be shared so followers can bring their friends in on the discussion, hoping to shout down the other side. It can easily turn into chaos.
Sure, a few of the most die-hard fans of the opposing side will probably declare that they will never shop at your store again, and some of them might even follow up with it. The added exposure, however, has the potential to bring in far more traffic.
The key to this situation, of course, is the word “lighthearted.” One excellent example of this is when Denny’s drew a map of the route a losing team would take going home, and pointed out all of their locations on the way home. It’s cheap, it’s funny and it pokes fun without being insulting.
Tips for Using Edgy Content
1. Take sides, but not too strongly. The higher the emotions behind a controversy, the more dangerous it is to take sides. It’s one thing to say the Jets should win the Superbowl. It’s quite another to take sides in the Israel/Palestine conflict.
2. If you’re adamantly going to take sides for a social cause you believe in, make sure it doesn’t come across as pandering. If you’re highly in support of gay marriage, for example, avoid tying it into bridal product sales.
3. Don’t attempt to be edgy around disasters. American Apparel tried to run a coupon around Hurricane Sandy, which was incredibly insensitive to the people watching their homes be destroyed.
4. To avoid politically or socially charged issues, look for topics that are commonly held beliefs and question them. If you stick within your industry, people will trust that you know what you’re talking about.
Recovering From a Step Too Far
When you’re experimenting with edgy content, you’re playing with fire. Worse, what you’re doing can’t be undone. Once you post something on social media, you can’t take it back. You can remove the original tweet or Facebook post, but someone, somewhere will have seen it. Someone, somewhere will have cached and archived it or taken a screenshot. It will haunt you.
If you try to cover it up, it will come back to bite you. Declaring that the post you made never happened and trying to delete or take down evidence is like trying to stop a tidal wave with a towel.
If you make a mistake, the first thing you need to do is analyze the severity of the backlash. Don’t get defensive, don’t deny it and don’t cover it up. Determine if what you said was mildly inflammatory or majorly divisive. Make amends! One recent example might be Weird Al’s new album, where he uses the term “Spastic” in a song. He – and most Americans – was unaware that the term is deeply offensive in some areas. He apologized as soon as he found out, and he has received quite a bit of goodwill for doing so.
The moral of the story is to follow a few basic tips.
• Don’t be afraid to use edgy content, particularly with a compelling headline.
• Don’t use edgy content too often, lest you fatigue users and drive them away.
• If you make a mistake – and you probably will – own up to it, apologize, make amends and move on.
Done properly, edgy content with linkbait headlines can be an amazing influx of traffic. Done incorrectly, it can be devastating to your social reputation. Do your research before you post and you should be fine.