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November 5, 2009

Don’t Be Controversial! (And Other Inflammatory Statements to Entice You to Read This Mild-Mannered Advice)

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They say different people learn different ways. Some people learn by seeing. Some learn by hearing. Some learn by doing. In truth, it takes a little bit of everything to become a subject master.

Let’s take blogging, for example. When I took over the position of BCI blogger, I couldn’t get my feet wet fast enough. The bar so high and the shoes I was slated to fill were so big. I wanted to prepare myself with as much knowledge as possible. Copyblogger, ProBlogger and Lisa’s volumes of writing made up my blogger workbook, and I tried to soak it all in.

After I started writing for the blog, I learned a lot from the process of doing. And my brain overloaded frequently as I listened to the Internet marketing advice shared in interviews on SEM Synergy and attended SEO training and industry conferences. Basically, no sense was off the hook when it came to getting me up to SEO snuff.

boxing match
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One of the techniques I hoped to master quickly was the art of attaining blog comments. How does one earn the engagement of blog readers via comments? Luckily there are many good resources on the subject, but there was one recurring recommendation that didn’t sit right with me: be controversial.

Take a strong stand. Share an unpopular opinion. Challenge the status quo. Whenever a writer takes a controversial stand, it’s always accompanied by a raging waterfall of comments. The technique works, no doubt.

But at what expense?

Avoiding Extremism

As a defender of language’s honor, I do my best to adhere to the rules of the English language and to respect the rich history of our language. I try to stay away from the realm of the nagger and focus on using my words carefully and deliberately to communicate my inner thoughts with respect and sensitivity.

I’ve witnessed the ways that language can hurt people, even stirring up arguments where no conflict exists. When I began to pay attention to debates between two opposing viewpoints, you know what I often realized? There was a false dichotomy built up around two points of view that weren’t mutually exclusive. Far too frequently we like to talk about “one or the other” when in truth it’s really more like “a little of this and a little of that.”

You have to be involved in social media marketing!

No, you have to be implementing search engine optimization!

You’re both wrong! PPC is the real money maker!

Imagine this same conversation string without the “no” and the “you’re wrong”, because really, all of the above offer something uniquely valuable to the marketing mix, complementing one another and strengthening the overall reach and resonance of the message.

Life’s not black and white. And neither are marketing or blogging.

On the Flip Side…

coin flip
CC BY 2.0

Now, before you think I’m not listening to my own advice (yes, I realize that an admonition against polarizing language is a black-and-white statement in itself) there’s another side to the coin worth discussing here.

The upside of polarization is that it may actually add to the development of a discussion. And that’s in the way strongly worded statements force us to reevaluate our own beliefs.

In defense of the devil’s advocate, Dave Fleet explains that by considering an opinion that doesn’t match your instinct, you’re pushing yourself to better understand why you believe what you do. By considering and sharing a contrarian point of view, you can:

1. Decide if you really believe what you think you believe.
2. Consider an alternative that might shape your thinking.
3. Invite others to decide what they believe.

Open yourself up to the possibility that someone else is right, and realize that that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong. And considering the fast pace of change in online marketing, understand that great advice today could be harmfully misleading next week. Steering clear of extremism is usually a good way to avoid strategies that backfire when the rules change.

Which brings us back full circle! Take care when sharing strong opinions — I don’t mean you should censor yourself, but think through the potential consequences. And be willing to embark on a journey of self discovery when you do share your opinions as well as when you come across the opinions of others. All anyone has is their experience to guide them, after all. And no one knows all the answers.

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One response to “Don’t Be Controversial! (And Other Inflammatory Statements to Entice You to Read This Mild-Mannered Advice)”

  1. Todd Mintz writes:

    Perhaps offering commenters Pubcon drinks on the BC tab will do the trick?



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