A blog post about Twitter for professionals, entitled “Why I’m quitting Twitter (and you should too)” , is a great example of the law of unintended consequences in social media marketing. The commentary on the post’s content and the SEO strategy behind it is far more interesting and insightful than the original (Check out Samantha Collier’s and Adrian Dayton’s thoughtful treatments of the kerfuffle), and the author has been pilloried and likely suffered damage to her reputation in the process.
What the author, forensic accountant Tracy Coenen, did is not new nor particularly controversial. Executed with prudence and skill, “linkbaiting” and taking contrarian and controversial positions on your blog can be extremely effective for driving word-of-mouth traffic and building influence. Top-tier bloggers do it all the time.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here. But we can learn from Coenen’s mistakes.
How to Win Friends and Influence People with Challenging Blog Posts
- Don’t play dumb: If you promote yourself as one of the most successful online marketers in your field as Coenen does, it’s either disingenuous or dishonest to act surprised and affronted when called out for behaving like it. An obvious linkbaiting headline, provocative content, cross-linking the post on other online properties (it was cross-promoted and continues to be discussed on a LinkedIn group), and responding to commentary about it on other blogs demonstrate an intentional strategy for creating “buzz.”
- Don’t be prescriptive: Especially if the “data” you’re using is just the anecdotal opinions of you and your friends. Just because something hasn’t worked for you (or, as in Tracy’s case, she’s doing it wrong in the first place), don’t presume your position is definitive for entire classes of people.
- Leave yourself some outs: When it looks like the tide of opinion has turned decidedly against you, there’s nothing to be gained by doubling down to prove you’re right. People forgive a little hyperbole and polemic license as long as you acknowledge that you might have overstated your case a smidge. Which leads me to my final point…
- Don’t play the victim — or demonize people who challenge what you wrote: If you’re going to make bold, provocative statements, then your skin should be thick enough (and your rhetoric smooth enough) to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous opinion. In her comments on the LinkedIn thread, instead of addressing the merits of their arguments, Coenen attempts to discredit her detractors by labelling them as social media “cool kids” in the thrall of latest fads, or as professional marketers out to dupe unsuspecting lawyers and accountants. What would Dale Carnegie say about that?
Notwithstanding, Coenen’s done professional services marketing a great service (albeit unintentionally) by demonstrating how provocative commentary can generate interesting and insightful discussion, but that it can also backfire on the author if not executed well.
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