The Power of Provocation – Hit THEM with YOUR Thoughts

You know what really sucks? Bad writing. But bad writing doesn’t necessarily mean that your style is bad. You can write a bad post in wonderful style, and it is still bad. Why is it bad? Because it is boring.

There is almost nothing less helpful to your content marketing success than boring content. And „boring“ can have many faces:

  • Topics everybody else has already covered
  • Lack of own voice/opinion
  • Uninteresting topics
  • Boring writing
  • Written for Google instead of people (yes, that is very boring)
  • You get the point :)

It is sometimes not so easy to really offer something new and to inspire a conversation. Especially when you cover a field where a lot of competition is going on and tons of good content is flying around.

To make your content really interesting, to make it stand out from all the other content out there and inspire interaction with, you can use a variety of tricks to spice up your content. Several of them have to do with provocation.

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Provocation – when done well – means you think up an argument that questions or seems to question common believe. If this is well developed it will hook your readers, leave them stunned and taken by surprise and make them want to share your post. (To be fair – this is not an excuse to write articles with provocative assumptions but no arguments at all! They might work for a while but will mess up your reputation in the end.)

Coming up with provocative posts is also very good practice – it teaches you to provide original thought in your posts. And that is what you really want to provide. It puts you en route to become a thought leader. It makes you think about what you yourself took as a given. It has the power to make you yourself the person you would like to follow. And that is what you want, isn’t it?Provocation has the power to give a new angle to old stories, open up the conversation and helps you to connect to your audience.

(Ok, if you are one of those who just write for themselves that’s not what you want… but the: why are you reading this anyway?)

To give you an idea, here are some examples:

1. Contradict a good piece of content with a strong argument

Take a good piece of content with a strong point and write your own take contradicting the original piece. Invite the original author to comment on your content. (Jonathan did this with his reaction to an article by Jay Bear). You should have a good point on your side, otherwise the discussion is dead before it started.

2. Use humor

There are many ways humor can work. One is to take the opposite stand of what you really want to say and make it clear you are mocking your own point. When we were marketing exploreB2B, Jonathan wrote an article: “Bad marketing for exploreB2B – 7 reasons to run away now”. It was one of the best pieces for marketing exploreB2B we have ever published. The article is not online any more, but I guess you get the point.

3. Use provocative language

This can be language you would normally not use. This F&*&ing Sh&t can work (if used as an emphasis)! I would recommend to make sure you are not overly offending your audience with your language. I would probably not have recommended to use this with my grandmother who was a really grand old lady.

(There is another thing you need to keep in mind with provocative language: Your content could be rated offensive by either google or one of the social networks, if you are using some of the trigger words. This can result in less visibility.)

4. Use negative arguments

When everybody is giving advice on “how to do something” writing about “how NOT to do something” often works. This might not sound like a huge provocation but it works the same way. It even works better if you contradict some commonly given advice.

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5. Tell the truth

(I am not joking, telling the truth can be a provocation – especially if no one else dares to). I guess most of us know how hard it can sometimes be to face the truth. If everyone shies away from speaking up, it might be worth a try to be the one putting the truth into words. Sometimes… other times people will rather shoot the messenger than listen to hard facts (but even then you will make an impact). With content marketing, you might have the advantage that your audience will face the truth in their own quiet office and do not need to admit to it publicly. If you push the right buttons you have a chance of being the knight on the white horse who brings salvation in form of truth.

6. Uncover a widely spread scam

Recently it seemed to be a favorable half truth to complain about Facebook reach being dead. These posts all got a lot of attention. But in the end this “provocation” was so overused that it was not really a provocation any more. Jon Loomer turned this around using the unveiling of this scam as a provocation in itself with his article “No, Facebook Organic Page Reach Is Not Dead”.

Final words

The power of provocation lies in its ability to capture interest and to start a conversation. Your provocation needs to keep that in mind. No one joins a discussion that does not have some strong points, and you do not want to be labeled an asshole or idiot in the process. Your provocation has to leave room for arguments and it has to take a stand on its own. Simply to follow everyone else around is not a provocation – even if the argument was one when it started. Repeating the same provocation over and over again, turns it from a provocation into an echo that gets more quiet with each repetition.

Also there is a thin line between “good” provocation and being annoying and pissing off people. Always keep in mind, you are going for discussion it is not your purpose be a troll.

If you play your cards right, provocation has the power to not only provide a new angle to old stories, by opening the conversation and allowing new points of view our provocation also has the power to engage your audience and start the conversation – no better way to build connections.

This article was proofread and edited by myself with the help of Grammarly. If you are blogging in English and cannot afford a professional editor, Try Grammarly Now! It rocks.

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  • Joe535

    Excellent article. However, our culture, society, in most arenas has their minds made up, meaning its generally closed. Anything involving pivotal issues of government, public paychecks, foreign and domestic policies and even laws there is no interest in our mainstream media in challenging anything. They are all wedded to the same monetary spike, directly or indirectly. We have the advent of bipartisan failed government and declining country.

  • Aaron Leigh Horton

    And you have to spell your tweets correctly if you want people to share them! :) I hate when I make that mistake… come back! I mean’t I am not I ate! Grrr.

  • Ideas 2 Apply

    Several good points. Even when a piece has minimal passive sentences and good Flesch-Kincaid scores, it can still be a bad piece if it’s not interesting in the eyes of the intended targeted group.

  • Robyn Williams

    OMG !! There is hope for my blog. Haha.

    Great piece Susanna. You demonstrate that it is OK to have an alternative opinion. But, we need to measure and balance that opinion be giving people an opening to contradict your views safely.

    My blog is very new, I am an opinion writer, and I keep worrying that I may put people off by being provocative. Especially given that sooooo many successful blogs are all about helping people and all feel-good-sy. I am not mean, or unfriendly, but I like to tackle topics that most would shy away from.

    Granted, I will probably have few readers but that’s life.

    Your blog has given me hope that perhaps people will engage, purely because they will want to contradict my opinion, and that is wonderful.

    Again, great post.

    Robyn Williams

  • David McCarthy (dmccarthyfamil

    Just because something seems boring to you does not mean it is boring. You might think something is uninteresting but not everyone is interested in the same thing. Basically what I am saying is that if you yourself think a post is boring or uninteresting does not mean that it is a “Bad Post” it just means that you are not interested in that topic. Maybe the author will write a post on something that you are interested in and then all of a sudden the post would be a good post. But then to the person who though that you previous post was good, might think that post is bad. Hell, you can please some of the people some of the time but you can’t please all of the people all of the time…..