Provoking Content: What’s It All About & Why Does It Matter?

On an average day WordPress.com users produce about 500,000 new posts and 400,000 new comments.  At the same time over 325 million people view more than 2.5 billion WordPress pages each month.  For just one publishing platform that’s an awful lot of content being created and digested.

And My Point Is?

My point is that I believe absolutely everyone has something to share with the world. Thanks to the World Wide Web there is a free flow of sharing, and expression of thoughts, and emotions with words written in content, art and images manifested, and the comments and feedback we leave.  The beauty of it is that we can share practically anything; may it be a twisted, dark controversial to something off the beaten path such as the life and times of Esmerelda the Iguana (someone out there desperately wants YOU to know more about her life). 

Regardless of what is being posted and shared, the bigger picture behind expressing ourselves online is that we not only want our voice to be heard, but we want it to be heard by many. Did you ever hear the story about the guy who didn’t want to be listened to? No? Point proven. The hard hitting truth is however, that very few of us are able to our point of view and information heard by the masses.

Most People’s Problem

Most publishers fall short on having their voice heard for the following reasons:

  • You have never been interesting enough to ever have an audience
  • Your content is low quality and not written with the end user experience in mind
  • Your content is good quality but it doesn’t really provoke your audience to take action

Now the first one, I can’t really help you with. If you choose to blog, and post information a subject that only you are interested in reading, then so be it. You can give yourself a pat on the back for hitting a niche, but don’t expect to be overrun with traffic, and comments on your blog complimenting you on how great your content is.  Now let me throw a little disclaimer in here: this is not to say that you cannot, or should not write about the most boring subject in the world and really enjoy it. I implore all writers to write about what they are truly interested in.  At the same time, don’t get your hopes up that your content is going to take off like Kony 2012.

For the second bullet point problem: if your content is low quality because you’re not blessed with the gift of penmanship or you’re producing content with only SEO in mind then you’re really missing the point. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing, white text – white background tricks, and focusing on one main keyword. Today, content not written for the reader is, and will be as much use as a chocolate teapot.

If your content is good quality but it doesn’t provoke your audience to take action then I’d like to introduce you to Plutchik and his Wheel of Emotions:

Plutchik was a chap who created a wheel of emotions showing 8 basic emotions. In the middle of the three circles of the wheel you will see fear, anger, surprise etc.  These occur at different levels of intensity for all of us and as you see the less intense emotions are in the outer circle and the most intense in the center.

Why should you care?

Ultimately the more toward the center of the wheel we go emotionally, the more likely we will be provoked to take action. Example, how often do you directly react to something that makes you feel bored? Yeah you might whine and moan about it a little, but after that we typically go in pursuit of something else that will bring forth a different emotion. 

This also applies to the content you post on your website. If a reader finds your content boring they simply move on. Yet if your content is disgusting or even evokes the emotion of loathing, the chances are your audience is going to want to let everyone else know about it: a provoked action based on a strong emotion.

The psych behind it all

Actions, thoughts and feelings will not occur unless there is a stimulus to provoke an action, thought or feeling.  When presented with a stimuli (content, images etc.) if fuels our thoughts in one way or another, our thoughts then turn into a feeling, and since we are emotion based creatures, our feelings tend to dictate how we act.

What does this mean for Writers & Publishers?

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, if you are looking to actively engage your audience, get content shared, and maybe one day “go viral” it’s important to create content with the purpose of generating emotions towards the center of the wheel. The closer to the center of the wheel, the greater of a reaction you will provoke.

A Few Words of Advice

Controversy can do wonders for SEO, traffic, links, and notoriety. But what about your reputation? Do you really want to be known as that writer, that publisher or that person who tells dead baby jokes?  The argument that “all publicity is good publicity,” is by far from watertight. In all likelihood an overly controversial approach may harm your brand, reputation, and relationships.

So before you go in ‘keyboards blazing’ and start posting controversial content and ideas that are sure to raise the eyebrows of your audience, STOP and remember that human emotions can be highly volatile. Although getting under your reader’s skin and “picking a fight” might seem like a quick and easy way to provoke stronger actions, you must consider the consequences of such behavior.

The Balance

Finding the right balance and level of emotions to evoke and the level of controversy around a subject is a bit of an art form. Choosing the wrong emotion to pursue can taint your brand voice and too little of the appropriate emotions your content is no more engaging than filler content or fluff.  There’s no rule book or guide to which emotions to pursue – strategy needs to be handled on a case by case basis.

The key to any successful content strategy is to know your audience and hone in on their wants and needs. Discover what makes them tick and then push their buttons to provoke the actions that you want.

About the author

Lizzie Seedhouse