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How to Handle Controversial Blog Topics


Controversial blog topics are definitely reader and traffic inducing, but as with all blog topics, there is a way to approach them, handle the content, and respond to feedback.

How far is crossing the line? What won't you write about? Is there anything that doesn't deserve the spotlight? How do you handle "haters" and "trolls?" What about the folks who respond and aren't so nice but they provide their name, email, and/or Facebook info: In other words, they aren't hiding their disdain to something you wrote?

Do you have a set of blogging guidelines and editorial etiquette in place? Even if you don't accept guest bloggers, is having a set of guidelines something you intuitively follow? Read on…

1. Your words can and will be copied, pasted, and shared. If you write something controversial, especially in the form of social media or blogging/microblogging, you can be nearly certain that someone, somewhere, will share it: Hence, the word "social" in "social media." Are you prepared for the attention, backlash, and commentary your post might garner?

Case in point: I wrote a blog post titled, "Five Things Your Vet Should Never Say To You," and though the post was very popular and garnered a lot of views, shares, and feedback, I kept abreast of where it was being shared. These are my words and my reputation, after all. Set a Google Alert at the very least and follow your post.

2. From a journalist standpoint, one of the steadfast rules I follow is to have solid resources in place to support a strongly worded piece. If I am tackling a controversial topic, I want to be sure I have my ducks in a row and sources in place. If the piece is an opinion, be sure to state this in your post. We recently talked about the notion of blogger vs. journalist in the BlogPaws Community, so hopefully you've followed along in that discussion.

3.  Don't get personal. In the event someone bashes me, calls me names, becames defamatory or otherwise puts me down, their comments are toast. Civil debate is encouraged, but being plain mean and offensive should never be tolerated. Watch what you put in writing, so resist the urge to blast someone with your words: they can end up splattered all over Facebook, Twitter, etc. BlogPaws has a set of community guidelines you are welcome to peruse for inspiration in your own blogging writing policy.

4. Be a fact provider and use visuals. Have a link to a study? A chart? A graph? Your own fact-based infographic? These are all tools of the trade when you want to support a controversial topic. They are not all needed but they sure help carry words. Facts help prove a point.

5. Will you alienate anyone as a result of your words? Prepare for this and have a "how far do I really want to go" element in place. I tend to follow my gut but fact check with my head. That's my job as a journalist and a blogger: To separate fact from fiction, follow my gut, but be able to substantiate my opinion with why I feel that way while providing sources for fact-based posts.

Knowing these 5 elements, do you still want to write about controversy? For me, the answer is yes. I am neither true to myself nor my readers if I stray from topics that speed the heart rate.

If you want to write about a controversial topic and have no clue where to start, consider that not all controversy has to be negative. Sometimes, controversy is merely taking a stance on a hot topic: Case in point: "How to Spot a Bad Dog Walker" makes a good headline: Just be sure to deliver.

Your readers will remember your post one way or another. You certainly do not want to alienate people by turning them off with a headline that does not deliver.

CatsssHave you tackled a controversial topic? How do you handle negative feedback? We're all ears.




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  1. This is such a helpful post, Carol. Thank you. I have to admit that the times I’ve had to deal with controvery, I haven’t handled it well. I allowed my feelings to be hurt and I wanted to stop blogging.
    Today, I understand that everyone has an opinion. I received an email recently giving me feedback on how someone perceived my character. I was stunned, but then I wondered – is this really about me? Why would I get so upset if I know that the person they’re describing isn’t who I am?
    So I returned to a tried and true tool to keep me grounded and focused when it comes to my blogging…The Four Agreements.
    Be Impeccable with Your Word – which I think you described eloquently when you mentioned that you link to sources. I remember you saying this in the discussion about bloggers v journalists and it’s really stuck with me.
    Don’t Make Assumptions – when someone is attacking me or my blog, I’m assuming that it’s because they don’t like me; how can I know that? When I started doing research on no kill shelters, I got a very harsh email from a woman who is a proponent of open intake shelters – instead of assuming that she was attacking me, I replied explaining what I was doing and asked her for feedback. We had an amazing 2 day conversation via email and I learned a lot.
    Don’t Take it Personally – this is the hardest one for me, because when someone calls me a name or judges my character negatively, how can I NOT take it personally? My dad always said that when people do this, they’re actually facing a mirror and I’m the mirror. They’re attack is a way to make them feel better about their own behavior, failures, and trials, so we should be patient with them and not attack back. It’s a tough one thought.
    Always Do Your Best – if my intention isn’t to offend or hurt anyone, then I have to let it go. I love blogging and I love my blog and have so many lofty goals with it; I wouldn’t taint my blog by being controversial just because; I will always put my best into my blog and I believe I’ll always get the best out of it.
    Once again, a great (and timely) post, Carol. Thank you.

  2. Given the funny entertainment nature of my blog, I don’t go near anything controversial. In fact, I won’t even review food (except for treats.) I never knew how heated the conversation can get when what you feed your cat becomes the topic. Besides, there’s just no way to review food and be true to the personality of my blog.
    The only controversial “bullying” I’ve encountered was when I photographed my cat wearing some of the clothes from the Bret Michaels collection from PetSmart and shared it on Facebook. A couple of very negative & judgmental comments appeared, but I just left them alone. Those that know me and know my cats came to my defense.
    Still, that incident has influenced me and I now shy away from those sorts of photos.
    I’ve only banned 1 or 2 people from either my Facebook page or blog for leaving inappropriate comments. …it was usually something completely unrelated to my post or status update. They were just trying to get their cause, opinion and link out there.

  3. Very interesting and I am glad to read these comments. It’s a dicey topic but one that is oh-so-real, especially for pet bloggers! 😉
    Great advice, Kimberly.

  4. These are excellent tips, Carol – thanks for sharing. This is something I still think about all the time. I’m still learning where I stand and what things I’m willing to post about on my blog. I read the article you mentioned above as well as many of the comments. There were a lot!
    Anyways, I did try writing a controversial blog post once about the topic of dreaded pet food… it was mostly just about how controversial the topic can be and talks about how it’s a good way to start a debate with someone else. It got a lot of views and I did learn a lot by writing it.

  5. I’ve been very fortunate. Even when I think a topic will stir up controversy, such as a post on why we call some animals pets and some animals dinner: http://www.somethingwagging.com/why-do-we-call-some-animals-pets-and-some-animals-dinner-a-flexitarian-considers-meat/, my regular readers respond with grace and insight.
    And that’s what I think is key. My blog isn’t huge but it has a very faithful following of people who leave smart and thoughtful comments. People don’t come to Something Wagging expecting a fight because they already know the atmosphere.
    I suspect that blogs that attract a lot of SEO traffic are the ones more likely to attract trolls and negativity. And that’s a shame.
    The other thing that I think helps is that i resist the urge to be snarky to get a rise out of people. Sometimes a topic is so close to our hearts that it’s hard to keep the venom back.
    But a snarky title that gets a lot of attention may not be worth it if it shuts the conversation down before it even begins.
    Great post, Carol. This could be its own session at BlogPaws too.

  6. I don’t tend to post many controversial topics, but – coincidentally – I’ve had two in the last two months. I state up front that I encourage a lively discussion in the comments but that I won’t hesitate to delete mean/nasty/trolly comments that don’t contribute to the conversation. So far, that’s worked well… I think because I follow your point 2 so closely. Every statement I made was backed up with a source. The discussion, then, was evidence based rather than emotionally driven, which helps eliminate nastiness I think.

  7. This is a great post! I’ve only done one potentially controversial post about e-collars but it ended up being a funny situation because the veterinarian readers thought I was talking about Elizabethan collars instead of electronic collars! But I’m happy to have this resource for the future since I’ll certainly write some controversial posts at some point.

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