How To Create Content That Sparks a Conversation

  • Controversy Drives a Brand

Marketing’s job to get people to engage with the brand we represent. We want people to like the company and products, to talk about them, to tell others about them.

To do this, you need to spark conversations that increase brand or product awareness that attracts attention.

To do this, you have to do things that bring extra valuable, exceptional service or are even considered controversial to get the attention you want and need.

With so many brands trying to do the same thing, how do you accomplish this?

The following steps outline a plan how to use creative and responsible controversy, to start conversations that spread the word about your brand without damaging the company, product or brand reputation.

Step 1: The Power of Controversy

Most brands avoid controversy at any cost, sometimes to their demise.

Most of us can understand why brands avoid controversy at any price.  No one wants to be the receiving end of bad press or angry consumers spreading a bad image on the internet.

However, you have to wonder if all press is good press?  Or does all good press result in a lacking experience?  Controversy can be uncertain. Yet, it does have its benefits.

Controversy is a powerful tool for content marketing.

Controversy results in people talking about and sharing a story, it increases word of mouth, sharing on social media, and social mentions.

Controversy drives traffic.  It creates an uptick in backlinks as news outlets, bloggers, and other media outlets pick up the story.

Press coverage is a good way for a brand to get noticed.

Developing a piece of content that incites an emotional reaction or discusses a polarizing topic can bring valuable attention back to your brand when managed correctly.

A controversy is a powerful tool, with this power comes great responsibility.

Planning and having a strategy in place will drive your plan to start the conversation to spread word of mouth discussions get people talking without making your brand appear out of touch or socially irresponsible.

Let’s dive in.

Step 2: Hot Topic and Trends that are Controversial are Great Ways to Drive Brand Awareness

So how, do you develop content that gets people talking, sharing it on social media and garnering social mentions without putting your brand at risk?  No brand wants adverse PR.

To do this pick a controversial hot topic and tie the content to it, not your brand.

I am in the process of doing this for a client in a campaign called When is Enough, Enough.

Carol Forden How To Create Content That Sparks a Conversation

To do this effectively, you need to research topics that are at the core of heated debates, news stories, and social media.

Looking at gun control for example, which is frequently in the news and online one can easily focus on this hot and topical issue.

This is a sensitive topic that elicits strong emotional responses; you must commit yourself and not shy away.  The key is to find a way to discuss the controversy without making the brand or product the center of the conversation or source of controversy.

Instead, focus on the data to drive the conversation.

Step 3: How to Find a Way to Share Data Related to the Topic

When approaching a controversial issue, sharing data is better than an opinion about the issue.

Attach your content to the subject without connecting your brand directly to a particular position or standpoint.

Once the topic has been identified, you now must collect public data, and I would strongly recommend incorporating social media data points.  For example, for this project, I will be using Twitter to analyze the way people talk about gun control online.

Using 10-12 million tweets from January 2017 through October 2017 to tell a story about the language US Citizens use to discuss the tragedy in Las Vegas, gun control, and pending legislation.

This data will them be used in custom visuals – video and custom created charts and infographics to show how Twitter users in different cities and states along with the annual number of deaths by guns.

Carol Forden How To Create Content That Sparks a Conversation

The subject matter and data will be backed up with other news source data to drive the brand commitment to education and awareness.

Carol Forden How To Create Content That Sparks a Conversation

While gun control is a touchy topic, presenting it from a data standpoint removes the brand from the center of the issue but allows a conversation to be started.

The brand needs to stay objective, not infuse their opinion and avoid becoming part of the debate.

Step 4: Be Objective

The critical aspect when engaging on a controversial subject is to remain impartial and not chose a side.  When doing research, you cannot have a goal of proving a point. This needs to be agnostic and unbiased.

The research needs to fair and show the subject matter objectively.  Let the data speak for itself.

Using data distances your brand from taking a stand on the topic and minimizes any possibility of an adverse backlash.  Your brand is not making a statement on the issue, just raising awareness.

For the gun control campaign, we will not take a side, or present a particular perspective; the data will talk for itself.  The story is to shed light on a critical story in the public domain.

Carol Forden How To Create Content That Sparks a Conversation

The next step is to create custom graphics that illustrate data positioned to help people make sound decisions based on facts, not rumor or alternative facts.

While the topic is controversial, it wasn’t positioned to show the brand or company leaderships opinion or stance on the issue.

Step 5: Balance is Provided by Showing Both Sides

When creating content that includes a contentious or negative topic, don’t focus the entire piece on the negative angle.

Create balance by looking at the lighter side of the story.

Showing two sides adds balance and credibility. It prevents the story from being too cynical and helps distance your brand from taking a stance on the topic.

Studies on the emotions behind viral content demonstrated that content is more likely to be shared when it’s not 100% negative. Pairing negative content with elements that result in positive emotions and surprise are more widely shared.

To add balance to this campaign will be accomplished by sharing data on other developed the countries that limited gun access and countries that have tougher gun laws to show balance.

Carol Forden How To Create Content That Sparks a Conversation  Carol Forden How To Create Content That Sparks a Conversation  Carol Forden How To Create Content That Sparks a Conversation

Step 6: How Did You Get Here: Methodology

Trust is based on open, honest, authentic communication. To prevent backlash, it is essential to explain how you arrived at the data points and conclusion.  Providing a detailed explanation of your methodology is a must.

Explaining the approach to your research, limits the potential criticism that is a result of sharing skewed or biased data.

A good methodology shows the following:

  • How the data was collected
  • How much data were used in the study
  • Where the audience can review sources (with links, when possible)
  • What methods were used for analyzing the data
  • How the terms used in the study were defined

This provided credibility for publishers so that they can confidently cover it. It also showed readers that we responsibly, truthfully, and fairly gathered the data.

I would suggest that you include a link to a downloadable PDF that includes the exact methodology and provided sources for all data.

Step 7: Reactions Good and Bad will Come, Anticipate Them

Significant conversations about the content your brand produced is a good thing; it will also be nerve-wracking.

If the content hits a nerve, it will be both positive and negative reactions.

Don’t be surprised, worried, or upset if your controversial content triggers comments that aren’t all positive.

In advance of the release of your content, take the time to create a plan on how to and if you will respond to comments.

The entire team has to be on the same page to ensure that there are no panicked reactions or mishandling of brand responses.

Prepare yourself for the conversations to come, some with be harsh.  Never respond when angry, walk away, calm down and respond with a well thought out and logical thought process.

Step 8: When You can Measure it, Measure What Matters.  Measure the Results

Let things settle down then take a look at your campaign to see if you were able to create the intended results.

Metrics to consider:

  • News outlets, bloggers and others that covered the campaign
  • Backlinks that were created
  • Social shares and mentions

If your content isn’t controversial enough and you decided to tone it down, your metrics for success will suffer.

Controversial and contentious topics need to be what they are; playing it safely reduces the ability to have the content do its job to catch attention and create emotional connections and reactions.

Good, controversial content that draws out a reaction can easily result in other opportunities including strategic partnerships.

Wrapping It Up…

Bringing this full circle, as marketers, it is our job to get people to engage our brand. We want people to like our company and products, to talk about us, to tell others about us.

Using controversial topics to start a conversation can be intimidating. However, the results can be powerful and leave a lasting impact.

When you strategically create content that results in emotional reactions, you’ll find that controversial content is a useful way to increase traffic, garner press coverage, build backlinks, and attract social shares and mentions.

Ready to jump-start conversations using controversy, contact us today.

Let’s Get Started


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