Controversy is a great way to become active and engaged in your market, particularly if you are offering a new way of doing things, or you want to be perceived as such.
If you know that your customers have a gripe or distaste for how things are usually done in your industry, siding with them to stand against the established players can build affinity and trust.
As an example, I’ve come to hate most Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) companies who aren’t transparent about the strategies they are using. By continuing to do what they used to do to promote websites in 2009, they are getting their innocent clients penalised.
The good news is that most of the world’s businesses also hate this lack of transparency. So by arming them with the knowledge and strategies to fight this ‘enemy’ (rubbish SEO companies), we can show how we’re different and position ourselves in a way that makes us stand out.
If we were in a position to need more clients and confrontation was consistent with our values, we could start calling out some of the cowboys over social media. If I am happy to wave my arms around and kick up enough of a fuss, this ‘war’ will be played out in public and generate publicity for Exposure Ninja. We can write press releases, make videos, do live Q&As about the situation and knock on the door of industry magazines and blogs to generate even more publicity.
If the enemy is smart they’ll play along because they’ll also be generating publicity for themselves. With good damage limitation and smart strategy even the ‘victim’ in these sorts of stunts can quite easily come out on the other side with their reputation unscathed but profile raised.
Successful Social Media “Controversies”
If you look at Donald Trump’s very public “war” with Rosie O’Donnell, for example (which incidentally was timed carefully to coincide with the new series of The Apprentice), both parties benefitted from a profile boost and saw their TV and print exposure increase as a result. Stories about the feud spread over social media and continue to do so every time either of them needs a bit of publicity. While this is a high profile example, the tactic can be useful to businesses of any size that don’t mind a little public argy-bargy.
In my opinion, the ultimate master of courting controversy to boost his own profile and grow his business is @KimDotcom, the founder of Megaupload and its new incarnation Mega.
His services are used by internet users around the world, but his primary and most profitable target audience are those who upload and download pirated software, games, and music using his sites. Kim is absolutely magnetic to this market with his unique mixture of part underdog, part pirate, part obnoxiously rich troublemaker. He’s all too happy to speak out publicly against any establishment from the US government to Hollywood rights holders, and a good dose of his outrageous “you can’t catch me” personality makes for extremely entertaining viewing.
Managing to strike this fine balance between power (his Megaupload site was estimated to be responsible for 4% of all internet traffic at its peak) and victimisation (he lives in New Zealand and is constantly fighting extradition attempts), his audience regards him as a demi-god.
By posting pictures of his massive house, helicopters, jets — even one of him holding a gun in front of a Mercedes with the numberplate ‘Guilty’ — each of his new online businesses generates a phenomenal amount of publicity and awareness. It’s a brilliant strategy that costs him nothing — aside from the legal fees for his sites, obviously!
Controversy Without Ruffling Feathers
Some readers will feel uneasy at the idea of courting controversy because they’re naturally averse to confrontation. But not all controversy is created equal, and not all of it actually requires confrontation. Much like Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate, a lot of apparent controversy can be generated by picking a fight against an enemy that can’t or won’t fight back, or even that doesn’t exist. This strategy can also be summed up as ‘finding a parade to stand in front of’.
If we take a look at the outpouring of emotion against SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act) which resulted in online protests from thousands of websites and millions of web users, the object of this mammoth focus of public hate was US legislators. It became clear quite early on that online public support was heavily in favour of blocking SOPA and that the legislators weren’t going to launch a meaningful resistance. By choosing an enemy like this to ‘campaign’ against, many savvy social media users used the STOP SOPA movement to raise their own profile and build authority. They stood in front of an existing parade against an enemy that refused to defend itself.
Every industry has a common enemy in some shape, whether it’s the ‘old guard’, legislation, trends or fashions, snobbery, elitism, vulgarity or ignorance. If you’re stuck for ideas, ask yourself ‘what would you end up complaining about if you and your ideal customer started drinking together?’
By positioning yourself against this enemy you can tap into the conversation your audience is already having in their heads. If your message resonates with how your audience already thinks about something they feel strongly, about you’ll get shares, likes and plenty of supportive comments.
Is It Safe?
Only if all of the risks have been calculated, reviewed, and checked over several times by others within the business. If you have legal counsel be sure to pass it by them, if not then a little common sense and paying a mindful thought to the examples above should be enough to make a clear judgement if using controversy for your business is going to have a positive outcome.
What controversies have you seen on social media recently?
You can find more details on how to get the best out of your social media marketing via our new book Profitable Social Media Marketing: How To Grow Your Business