Blogging Tip: Controversy Spurs Discussion, but Limits Your Audience

20 March, 2012 at 1:08 am
Duty Calls

This used to be me. Every night.

I used to write controversial stuff. All the time. It was my bread and butter, and the only two topics I was unwilling to be away from were those that you’re never supposed to touch: religion and politics. And because the Internet is forever (unless you want it to be, then the websites go down and you can’t find things on the Wayback Machine) that stuff just sits out there, fermenting, waiting for you to get a job or run for office so they can dig it up and use it against you.

If you want to write that way, you’d better learn to deal with it. Even if your views change, the archives stay the same.

One of the reasons I wrote that way was because I had an inherently negative outlook, so I’d complain about something that I knew would draw the attention of other complainers and the discontented. They always feel like they’re an under-served audience, and appreciate a shout out. I also liked to pick fights. Sophistry can be an entertaining hobby when you have unresolved anger issues.

One of the biggest reasons, though, that I’d write about things that were controversial: it drove traffic and discussion. I liked nothing better than getting a heated comment box debate going. Every comment posted might as well have been a dollar in the bank for all the excitement I got from it. Somehow it was validation that what I was doing was interesting. And it would earn me comments like:

“I normally find Steve Skojec’s blogging too polemical, but….”

Badge of honor? Not really. Then, after years of this, I burned out. I stopped wanting to talk about religion and politics. I stopped feeling like arguing on the internet was such a fantastic idea. I wanted to be more constructive. And so I let a fairly significant readership drift away, while I spent the better part of two years not blogging. At all. And it was fantastic. It was peaceful. My writing was going to hell from not practicing, but I didn’t care. If I found content worth sharing, I’d post it to Facebook, or tweet it.

And then I had an idea.

I decided to change my entire model. I decided to build a whole new audience from the ground up. Instead of writing about controversial things, I would write about interesting things. Things on different topics, but mostly related to communications, tech, and social media – the sort of things that directly impact my line of work. I was reading those kinds of blogs every day, and I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t count myself among them. I hardly ever jumped into the comment boxes on anything controversial after a while – it was always a blood bath anyway, and logic had no quarter there – but I’m happy to get into a discussion about best practices or communications strategy or trends or where I think the future is taking us. That stuff is fascinating to me in a whole different way. And then there was the personal stuff, because I believe that social media is about the humanization of business, and I’m a human being, despite what some people have called me over the years. So I write about things like the weird stuff we eat, or where we live, or what I did with the kids.

And I was pretty sure there was a good chance that none of you would be interested in any of it. Since it wasn’t driven by passion anger anymore, it felt a lot less focused. Since it wasn’t honed in on a couple of very specific topics with strong niche audiences ready to go to battle, it felt less likely to succeed. And speaking of success, since I wasn’t the VP of Communications for some big firm, I didn’t know how relevant I would be. I think I have pretty good ideas about this stuff, but then again, I’m biased.

I’m happy to say, though, that since I started blogging regularly, traffic has picked up. In January of this year, I had 199 views the entire month. This week, I’ve been averaging about 130 views per day. These aren’t earth-shattering numbers, but they look good on a graph. They also tell me that what I’m doing is resonating, at least with a handful of people, and that’s a good thing. Because I don’t want to earn eyeballs simply by using cheap parlor tricks. I’m certainly not above stirring the pot now and then to get things going (no comments yet, but by far my most-read post) but that’s all part of the game.

If you’re blogging and have adopted my old strategy of using rants, public shaming of significant figures, polarizing issues and polemics to get readers, that’s your choice. But if you really want to grow your audience, I suggest you try something more original. Don’t limit your potential. It’s always easier to tear down what someone else is doing than to create something of your own. That road leads to the dark side.

Since I didn’t expect the uptick in traffic back when I was getting about 10 or 15 views a day, I set a goal for 2012 to get my daily views up to 100. Now that it’s only March and I’ve hit the mark, it sounds like it’s time to revise the goals. I think a good milestone will be 500 views per day. I hope you’ll stick around and help me get there.

And if you feel the urge, leave a comment. It’s too quiet around here!