Marketing Writing 101: How To Write About Controversial Topics
Controversy seems like the bread and butter of the internet right now.
A swirling political divide, religious indignation, and the rise of movements from #WaterisLife to #MeToo have created an atmosphere where nearly any topic becomes controversial.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Starting these conversations fosters dialogue and growth.
But handled poorly, controversial topics can devolve quickly into online shouting matches.
And even worse, in a time when more and more folks are voting with their wallets, ie boycotting companies who don’t share their views, taking a hard line on any given topic is liable to lose you, customers.
So let’s take a look at tackling controversial topics the right way… and what to do with the inevitable fallout.
Get Your Facts
This part is, without a doubt, the most important part of any controversial writing. If your facts aren’t correct, your customers will know.
The internet has made fact-checking easier than ever, and consumers today are more skeptical than ever and ready to check any claim you make, complete with articles, trusted sources, and context.
So make sure you know your facts forwards and back before ever hitting POST.
How can you make sure you have all the facts? Here are some suggestions
Use Trusted Sources
Everyone has an opinion about “the media”, but the truth is that without the press, we have no information. And in the internet age, there is information aplenty. Whether it is any good…that’s another issue.
When you are doing research, make sure you are using reliable, fact-based sources.
We tend to gravitate toward sources that fit our narrative, but doing so can be intellectually dishonest and lead to the spread of false information. Check your sources bias before you trust their facts.
Ask an Expert
We all do it. We have opinions about things with which we have no first-hand experience. And that’s fine. Opinions and noses and all that.
But if you’re talking about something with which you have little to no experience, all the facts in the world aren’t going to give you the credibility you need to talk about it.
Ask someone with first-hand experience for their take. Better, ask multiple someones. An experienced voice lends your facts context and can help you create a richer dialogue.
Check Your Narrative
Time to deal with that terrible beast, bias.
We all have one, to the right, to the left, upside down and sideways. And it’s easy to use only the “facts” and sources that support our narrative.
Being aware of your own bias is critical for good writing. Not only does it help build empathy with other viewpoints, but it forces us to look at events somewhat objectively, rather than through the same lens we are used to.
Do It In Good Faith
Before you write about a controversial topic, as yourself why.
Why is it important for you to weigh in? Sometimes, like with this website from New York, there isn’t a choice. If your industry is controversial, your content will be controversial. This goes for companies that deal with climate science, cannabis, sex work, and immigration law.
Other companies may be controversy-adjacent. Healthcare, gendered organizations (think Scouting), and non-profits may not be controversial, but often rub elbows with controversy.
If you fall into those categories, all you can really do is write as well as you can, use as many facts as you can, and hope for the best.
If, however, you aren’t strictly required to write about controversial topics, make sure you have a good reason if you decide to do so.
There is something to be said for companies taking a stand politically. Perhaps an issue hits close to home or is something you care deeply about. Those are good reasons.
Just be sure to avoid controversy for the sake of controversy.
Yes, it will get you more views and shares and comments. But, if you are being disingenuous, it will also lose you followers. Not just among folks who disagree with you, but among those who can see through your audience-building scheme.
Tap Into Your Feelings
We don’t recommend approaching controversial topics from an emotional standpoint. It can feel manipulative and disingenuous.
However, it IS recommended that you keep in mind the emotions of your readers.
Controversial topics are controversial because of the way they affect the lives of the people reading your content.
Controversial topics, religious topics, political topics…they should all be approached with sensitivity. This doesn’t mean not taking a stand or being clear about your position. It DOES mean avoiding being insulting or generalizing those who don’t agree with you.
Prepare for the Fallout
If you write about controversial topics, you’re going to get pushback. It’s not an if, but a when.
The post is likely to be shared more and commented on more than any of your other posts, and it may be polarizing.
It’s important to have a strategy. Will you be replying and arguing your case to each comment? Just letting it work itself out in the comments section? Disabling comments altogether?
Develop a thick skin here, but don’t worry too much about losing huge amounts of business. Often, those who leave are replaced by new customers who like what you have to say.
Get the Most out of Controversial Topics
When it comes to controversial topics, strategy is key. Controversial posts cannot be written off the cuff and thrown to the ether like many other post types. They require research, sensitivity, and a thick skin.
If you can pull it off though, you may be able to engage with potential customers on a deeper level and humanize yourself to your existing base. It can be a true boon to any industry if handled properly.
So before you write that rant on toilet paper orientation or whether or not peanut butter and pickles is a good combination, put your plan together, research the topic, and make sure you’re ready.
For more on making your marketing copy pop, check us out here.