Courting Controversy: Should Your B2B Content Touch Hot Topics?

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Earlier today, I read a blog post advising marketers to avoid controversial topics like politics and religion. The author, David Meerman Scott, makes a valid point: Some topics are too hot – and too toxic – for a business setting.

The problem is that there’s no hard line between “bad” controversies and “good” ones. Sure, we know that a business blog pushing a political or religious agenda is almost always a terrible idea. Very few marketers are foolish enough to make a mistake like that.describe the image

But once you move away from the most obvious and extreme examples, this really isn’t a black and white issue. It’s more like a million shades of grey. Every industry, and every business, deals with potentially controversial issues. Some are more relevant than others, and some are more likely to upset people than others.

Sure, you can create content that avoids even the slightest whiff of controversy. That’s the safest alternative.

In other cases, staking out a position – a reasonable, well argued, sincerely held position – is a valid way to establish thought leadership and create a real dialogue with potential customers.

This was actually a key issue back when I managed a blog for a major IT hardware vendor. Our mandate was to explore the kinds of topics that often incite strong feelings among tech professionals. I’m not talking sex or politics here, but it was still – in that particular context – controversial stuff.

Should your company court controversy with its blog or other content? Here are a few things to consider:

1. Is the controversy central to your industry? Every business deals with issues that are open to spirited – or even heated – debate. It’s often better to tackle these controversies, or at least to acknowledge them, rather than pretending they don’t exist.

2. Are you putting your customers’ needs first? Staking out a blatantly self-serving position is a lousy way to build a rapport with your customers. If you decide to address a controversial topic, always frame the debate in terms of how best to serve your customers’ interests.

3. Can you leave room for disagreement? There’s a big difference between sharing an opinion and hitting people over the head with it. Do this right, and you’ll get an opportunity to start a meaningful conversation with your customers.

4. Can you offer an individual point of view? It’s often easier to deal with controversial topics when individual contributors – bloggers, webinar presenters or video hosts, for example – take the lead. Better yet, find two contributors to take opposite positions on an issue, and let them frame the debate for your customers.

Dealing with controversial topics will always be a judgment call. Don’t be afraid to make those calls; just use common sense, and always put your customers first when you express a point of view.

-Matthew McKenzie

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