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Are You Ready For “Controversial”?

Posted by on Mar 7, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post based off a blog post I read where the person was talking about the concept of “high quality content” without actually explaining what it was, a pet peeve of mine. Well, this one isn’t quite a pet peeve, but it’s something that, once again, I see recommended often, and I think it’s a horrible recommendation.

by Enokson

That recommendation, as you have already guessed by the title, is to write controversial posts. Though I hate that as a recommendation, the truth is that I’ve written a couple of those in my day on this blog. I wrote a random thoughts post where I touched upon crime, hate, physical abuse and President Obama, among other things. I wrote a post where I said President Obama called Rush Limbaugh a racist (he didn’t, as I explained in the post). I’ve gone after writing groups like Helium, busted on a guy because he saw himself as better than everyone else and got called on it, and I’ve tackled the subject of health care a couple of times.

Still, it’s not always the best way for everyone to go. Controversy doesn’t always get the desired effect you think it might, and sometimes you just might be unleashing the demons from Pandora’s Box and not have the ability to get them back under control again. That plus you risk being labeled if you don’t get your message right the first time out and could end up with a mess like our friend Rummuser ran into, for which he wrote apology for after the fact, but possibly still lost a reader in the process.

Controversy obviously sells; look at what it’s done for Charlie Sheen and all the Twitter followers, over a million in 24 hours. But it can also take away. For instance, there’s a guy whose name I forget that used to be big on the blogosphere and even stopped by here to comment every once in awhile. His blog was very controversial, highlighted by his video posts going after this person and that person, using lots of colorful language. It was all fun and games until he suddenly started losing contracts because some of his clients discovered his blog, didn’t quite like his style, and decided to stop doing business with him. We’re talking six figure contracts suddenly drying up, and he immediately stopped blogging and removed every single video he’d produced.

Then there was a guy who supposedly built his blog on the backs of top bloggers by bashing every single one of them as harshly as he could. His blog grew greatly, and Darren Rowse, one of the people he attacked, grudgingly admitted it was an interesting strategy of success. Then one day the guy stopped, and when Darren was able to reach him to find out why, the guy said that he had hoped to get business from his blog by being seen as an expert in a particular area, yet all anyone could see was him as the angry blogger and no one wanted to work with him. So again, he shut down his blog in hopes of reinventing himself once time passed.

Even I had a brief encounter via a post on my business blog where someone thought I was writing directly about her, complained to her manager, who contacted someone I was contracted with to do work, who then called me and asked me if I’d change it. I said absolutely not, then asked him if he’d read it, to which he replied no. Then I read him the first two paragraphs and he said it wasn’t bad, and was actually true and positive, yet still asked me if I could be more circumspect when I wrote blog posts while we were actively working with a client. I told him that if it ever happened again he needed to go read the post before calling me about it because many of my posts I write in advance, and it’s not my problem if one person thinks it’s about them in that regard.

I’ve always been ready to back up my position on something I have to say. I also say my piece in non-threatening ways; I choose my words carefully, even when I’m mad. I’ve had people take something I said in the wrong way, and I’m ready to defend that as well. I don’t head lightly into controversy, and it’s not the thrust of this blog. I’d never want to make it the thrust of this blog. But I won’t step away from something if it irks me.

Still, I’d never recommend that someone be controversial just for the sake of being that way. If you have something to say, something that’s really bothering you, then by all means share it, get it off your chest like I did with my writing post and video, and move on. Otherwise, don’t make controversy your norm; you might not like how it all turns out.

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I am sure that you will be pleased – the reader is back!

March 7th, 2011 | 10:16 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

I am happy for that Rummuser; I fully understood the controversy, but I’m glad she knew your character was above that.

March 7th, 2011 | 10:28 AM

Hey Mitch,

I agree with the point you made that controversy doesn’t always get the desired effect that intended and you should never make it your norm. But on the other hand, controversy does sell and Charlie Sheen is definitely a great example of that.

I think if you can know how and when to use controversy it can be a very effective tool, but at the same time you need to know when it’s not appropriate and when you’ve taken it too far. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mitch, I agree completely.

March 7th, 2011 | 5:33 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Hey John, look at what’s happened to Charlie Sheen; lost his job, most people think he’s a train wreck, and other than as a curiosity factor do you really think he’ll end up getting anything substantial again, not that he needs it? In his case everyone’s making money off him instead of him, and that’s kind of the point. He couldn’t control it now if he was mentally capable of attempting to do so because it’s not his story anymore, but the media’s story.

And that’s the risk of being a controversial blogger; one might think they control the message, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. But every once in awhile people should take a position on something and be ready to back it up, and in that case it could be deemed as controversial for sure.

March 7th, 2011 | 10:18 PM

I try to avoid alienating or offending any readers, but I don’t mind touching upon certain elements of controversy either. When I have it’s been usually within the framework of a debate day where I give readers a chance to express their opinions. I will either present different sides of an argument or defend the side that I feel will garner the greatest reaction from readers whether I agree with that side or not. I have sometimes had to go back an explain myself to some readers who have taken things wrong, but usually everybody seems to enjoy the forum and it’s fun to hear the various opinions.

I try to always be kind and tactful to anyone who comments on my blog. After all, I don’t blog to make enemies or hurt anyone’s feelings. That’s not what my blog is about.

Tossing It Out

March 8th, 2011 | 1:11 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

That’s not a bad way to go at it, Arlee. You allow diverse points of view, which isn’t a bad thing, and I guess you’re able to control it. Sometimes, though, some folks do find that they just can’t control what happens, so I figure it was time to put out a warning for those who really might not be ready for it.

March 8th, 2011 | 1:56 AM

I think controversy in articles can be a good in terms of traffic. I would like to give an example with “negative” keywords which were introduced by Google a couple of years ago, I have tested this for one of my customers website and actually we gained very good level of extra traffic. Again I will agree with you that this needs leverage and must not be the main strategy and must be applied rarely.

March 8th, 2011 | 7:22 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

One of the issues I’ve seen with some of your client sites, Carl, is that they don’t accept comments. In the end, that’s going to hurt them because they lose out on potential return visitors. I have to admit that I’m not checking out any of the links anymore because of that. So, generating controversy in that fashion, when one isn’t accepting comments, might give a spark, but otherwise it’s kind of useless.

March 8th, 2011 | 9:24 AM

Hello Mitch,

I too saw some people trying to tackle controversial subjects and even make their own by attacking other people in order to make them more popular and be mentioned in a lot of blogs (aka gaining popularity). But I think this will always be a short term strategy, you can’t actually keep it going long enough to make something off of it.

Some subjects which are controversial, can be beneficial for someone’s blog by attacking links, readers and increase that blog’s overhaul exposure, but all things must be taking with moderation and going to far can hurt.

Also, when you start throwing mud you should always make sure you have rock solid information.

March 8th, 2011 | 11:52 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Exactly Alex. Truthfully, I think overall it’s distasteful, and only if a person really has something they just have to get off their chest should they broach the subjects. In general, I see it as getting people irritated and riled up, which I’d rather not do on a consistent basis, though I have my moments here and there. But being controversial just to be that way… nope, not for me.

March 9th, 2011 | 1:00 AM

I agree, Mitch, and with most of the comments as well. Employing controversy simply to attract attention will work in the short term, but if you’re not willing to do a lot of in-depth research and follow-through, people will quickly move on to the next exciting thing. Establishing credibility takes time and effort, and that process is rarely profitable right away.

March 10th, 2011 | 9:19 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Thanks for your comment, Charles. I think it really takes a lot of research, then a little bit of lying, to be controversial all the time. It seems to work for the Limbarf’s of this world, but not for everyone.

March 10th, 2011 | 10:35 PM

Great post Mitch,

Got here from the comment you made on 9 ways to attract attention and more comments. Indeed controversial topics is not a best way to go about, especially when someone continues to do so all the time, they would seem like someone who isn’t happy about everything Lol.

I personally think there is a different to attack people and to have an opinion, most of my blogs are opinion based and I do get “bashed” from people disagrees with me. i am alright with that. We’re all entitled to an opinion just like how someone thought you were writing about her, and he thought it was ok.

Moreover this is a controversial topics LoL! I think everything we write are controversial in a way. Just that some are more.

great post.


March 11th, 2011 | 11:15 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Thanks for stopping by, Aaron. I tend to think that when most people see the word “controversy” they think the worst of things. Your post about whether Facebook will die out or not is interesting, possibly controversial on the outside, but it’s harmless. A post about abortion or religion or race is a different story, especially if you take a position that many others don’t like and you don’t choose your words carefully. When people really start fighting then it’s an ugly mess that no one wants to deal with long term. Sure, it might get someone a bounce, but as you read in my post it can also make you seem polarizing and many people will stay away.

I see this post as king of a warning to those who might not have thought things through before doing it. If one is prepared for all consequences, then go for it.

March 11th, 2011 | 11:49 PM

I guess I’m not ready for controversy. I don’t have the energy to argue so I don’t want to bait folks. I agree with Aaron about the differences; unfortunately, too many people state their opinions in the form of personal attacks.

The closest I’ve come is my recent stance on Social Media Done Wrong. However, that’s not even my own opinion; it’s just an observation that many people are just now beginning to realize. (And, it’s backed up by the founder of Twitter, no less.)

I admire your take-no-prisoners attitude. It does make for interesting reading. 🙂



March 13th, 2011 | 6:14 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Well Mitch, I wouldn’t say I “take no prisoners” as much as if I really feel the need to say something, then I say it, and most of the time I believe I’m not controversial at all. Most of the time, that is. lol

March 13th, 2011 | 9:57 AM

Phew! I’d not seen that post of Ramana’s before. I’m not surprised he had some flack from it, but I think he’s just got a ‘blokey’ sense of humour and (obviously) can’t see things from a woman’s point of view. And he did have the grace to apologise.

Myself, I’ve never been impressed by the recommendations of so many of the ‘how to blog’ advisers to write controversial topics to stir up their readers (which is presumably what they’re intended to do) as, for a start, I don’t like the falsity of writing anything that isn’t felt by the blog author (as you’ve said yourself in this post, in different words).

And yes, I do know what you mean about “you just might be unleashing the demons from Pandora’s Box and not have the ability to get them back under control again” because I’m feeling like I’m in a bit of that situation myself right now (although I am, to be fair, getting some astonishingly supportive comments from people. Astonishing to me,as my confidence was hit to start with – though it’s my own fault, really). A few people have unsubscribed… I hope they’ll return in time, but I suspect they won’t. I was out of order and did something I promised myself I would not do again, and I wrote a post when I was too braindead to think properly, even though the message I wanted to convey, did come across to some people, thankfully.

Anyway, yes… I agree with you on this. Even though I fell into the trap of being controversial myself, albeit not deliberately. Thanks Mitch for this post.

March 13th, 2011 | 8:57 PM
Mitch Mitchell:

Thanks for your comment, Val. You really point out the thing about controversy in general. Sometimes one doesn’t know something’s going to be controversial. I posted a video on this blog that hasn’t garnered any controversy whatsoever, yet when I’d posted the same video years earlier on my business blog controversy was all over the place. And it was a motivational blog, nothing wrong with it whatsoever, except people wanted to debate whether it was a real story or not. On that blog I had to care; on this one, I was ready for the challenge, and no one took me up on it. So, you just never know.

March 13th, 2011 | 9:12 PM

It sounds that the controversial can really become a dangerous one. Therefore we must be very prepare before decide to publish a controversial post.

March 17th, 2011 | 2:28 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Definitely Dana. If you’re afraid to back it up, don’t say it.

March 17th, 2011 | 11:17 AM

Mitch, what I’ve noticed over the years is that it’s when I least expect it that people are offended by something I’ve said, but when I expect it, they aren’t. LIfe’s weird!
I’ve dropped by from your post on Arlee’s blog. The controversial aspect of blogging interests me as what I’m writing about for the A-Z challenge next year is seen by some people to be controversial (climate change) and I’m not sure how I’ll manage if I get personal attacks or insults. However, given my past experience, maybe nothing much will happen – maybe even some encouragement! After I’ve finished reading these posts, I’m going to settle down (sometime) and do the year in review – I hadn’t thought of doing it quite so extensively.

December 13th, 2011 | 5:26 PM

It’s not a bad idea to try Sue. I have to admit that sometimes I go back, look at something and say “Wow, I wrote this?” That’s when it seems really special.

As to being controversial about climate change, on a blog it’s not really a controversial topic unless you go after people who disagree that something is changing. I doubt you’ll get any personal attacks unless it’s a troll, and you just deal with trolls however you do.

December 14th, 2011 | 9:02 AM