This guest post is by Joe Bunting of The Write Practice.
You’ve been told that controversy sells. You’ve heard you need to use hyperbole in your headlines. You’ve tried to create polarizing content that gets comments rolling in like crazy. You’ve heard that being a jerk is the key to effectively drawing people to interact with your blog.
But I’m here to tell you there is a better way.
A way to generate more traffic. A method to write more meaningful content. A secret to building a more passionate community.
I’m here to teach you how to be a better jerk.
We’ll call it Jerk +.
Three secrets to starting controversy
Before you can be a Jerk +, you have to learn how to be a jerk. You can’t transcend jerkdom without first understanding it. You can’t break the rules before knowing what they are.
Here are three effective ways to be a jerk and create controversy:
1. Use satire
Remember, Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal? During Ireland’s potato famine of the 1720s, Swift argued that starving parents should eat their children. Of course, he wasn’t serious, but by satirizing the heartless rich, he helped convince them to take better care of their poor countrymen.
Satire is simple. Satire is like saying the opposite of what you believe as offensively as possible. You write a blog about social media? Write a post about three ways to piss off your twitter followers. Or for your photography blog? Write a post called the 5 Best Ways To Take a Terrible Picture.
2. Question dogma
What recent author wrote a book about heaven and hell was so controversial that one leader basically excommunicated him and many others called him a heretic? Ann Coulter? No! Rob Bell and his book Love Wins took a commonly held belief and said, simply, “Is this really true?”
What’s a widespread assumption in your field? Something everyone subscribes to? Start asking questions. Is this really true? What if it isn’t? What if the opposite is true? The best thing is, you don’t necessarily have to disagree with the dogma. You just have to raise a few doubts.
3. Be irreverent
Note: Do this at your own risk.
In April 2011, four young men walked into an art museum in France. They threatened the security guards with a hammer (one of them had hidden it in their sock). Then, they used the hammer to pry the plexiglass case off Andres Serrano’s photograph “Piss Christ,” and slashed it with an ice-pick.
Serrano’s picture is considered by many—including those who defaced it—to be one of the most irreverent photographs of all time. It is also one of the most popular. Or, rather, it was.
It’s easy to be irreverent. Do the equivalent of drawing a mustache on a picture of a dead president. Channel Eminem. What are the values of your field? Who are the leaders and celebrities? Make fun of them. It’s as simple as that.
How to be better than a jerk
Acting like a jerk will bring you traffic. There’s no doubt about that. There are consequences though. The traffic is shallow. They’ll visit your blog, but will they come back again and again? You also run the risk of annoying everyone who could help you. Do you want to get attention at the cost of being hated?
Several years ago, I wrote the ultimate jerk post. It combined satire, iconoclasm, and irreverence like a giant middle finger. Before posting it I sent it to a friend and mentor who teaches art. She told me something that changed my life, not just in my writing, but everything I do.
Don’t settle for cynicism. Always strive to create meaning.
It’s easy to tear people, ideas, even whole communities down. Creating meaning, building something that is beautiful, starting a revolution, these require more effort. They also offer greater relational, financial, and personal rewards.
To be a Jerk + you have to find a way to build meaning with your controversy. Cheap hits are easy, but tomorrow those page views will be gone and you’ll have to start over. Instead, create controversy around something that’s bigger than yourself, something inspiring, something that could change the world.
Get beyond cynicism. Don’t stop at criticism. Build something new that will last for years.
What do you think? Do girls (and blog readers) only fall for jerks? Is it okay to be a jerk if you’re able to create meaning? Or is it better to just play nice?
Joe Bunting is the head Jerk + over at The Write Practice, where he is questioning the dogma of the written word, satirizing his old English professors, and drawing mustaches on Edgar Allen Poe. Don’t you want to subscribe?
This is a phenomenal thought. I’ve tried satire before, but to almost no response…from either of my readers. Maybe it’s time to build people up, bring solutions to the table and give people hope.
Thanks for the reminder that we are here to build up, not tear down.
Absolutely David. If you can build people up, you can be a part of something, their lives at the very least.
If anyone is having trouble visiting my blog, the Write Practice, you can Copy + Paste this link:
Very amusing! I find Forums are also rife for stirring up a bit of emotion, the more established the better, but it’s good to have different viewpoints (wouldn’t life be boring if we agreed all the time).
I love controversy as much as the next guy.
I think it´s better to play nice. Definitely the controversy tends to attract people to read something, people like to read controversial things about several topics and even smile and laugh about it, but many people also get angry. I guess if you want to be controversial you need to know how to do it, otherwise people won´t come back to read your articles again in the future.
I think you want to go past nice. I think you should want to be good, regardless of whether people agree with you or not. Who cares if people get angry and don’t come back?
“To be a Jerk + you have to find a way to build meaning with your controversy.”
This post is full of gold, but this line stood out big time.
Definitely advice that needs to be headed for any bloggers with “big” personalities, to put it nicely ;).
Thanks Gregory. Agreed!
I’m often fond of snark, but not usually of Snark for Snark’s Sake. Some blogs I follow use satire or cynicism fairly regularly. It can be incredibly entertaining for a while, but at some point, unless they’re offering insight, too, it just seems cheap and easy. For me the difference is whether I find myself saying at the end of a post, “Congratulations, you’re good with a barb,” or “Oh my gosh, that’s so true.” If they’ve shown me the world through a different perspective that somehow makes living on this planet more interesting or beautiful or poignant, then their snarkiness has served its purpose.
Really good post–thank you.
Mmm… I like that. A key difference.
Definitely bookmarking this one. Couldn’t resist tweeting 3 of the juiciest quotations, either. Great post. I love the message – “Don’t settle for cynicism. Always strive to create meaning.”
Oh, but having been a girl (I’m all grown up now) who did fall for a jerk (damn those emotionally abusive relationships to hell) but who’s now married to an awesome man (yay happy endings), I can say with some authority, No. Girls don’t always fall for jerks. It’s just that jerks make them think they have no other option. The moral, as applied to this blog post? Educate the metaphorical “girls” in your audience to do better for themselves than the many “jerks” of the blogosphere, wherever the chance arises.
Making my day Elisabeth. Thanks for the tweets.
I love your moral. You’re in charge with writing THAT post.
Joe, great post! I loved the topic and even found myself laughing out loud a couple of times.
It’s a confusing world out there, and while the typical piece of advice is to become a jerk to get ahead, your idea of becoming a jerk+ is much more valuable.
As you say, questioning ideas, poking fun of stigmas and creating controversy here and there are all acceptable, jerkish things to do as long as you aren’t doing them just to be a jerk. Create meaning in your blog posts (and your work in general). Strive to change things in a positive way. Be a jerk+!
Go team go!
Great post. It seems that almost everything we write can create controversy, even when we don’t mean to. Because we write from our own opinions and there are bound to be those who disagree with us (and probably think we are jerks!) Using satire to create controversy on purpose is an interesting concept. And I love that you go one step further to “build meaning with your controversy”. I try to build meaning with everything I write but I hadn’t thought about it quite like this before. Thanks,
I tried your links at the top and bottom of the post and they aren’t working.
Shootskis. Here’s the URL for The Write Practice:
Thanks for letting me know!
T knew these tricks as this was suggested by some seo expert to get a lots of backlink, But all the time you come up with such an interesting title that even a jerk like me will try to know what special is behind this article title.
Nice! Thanks Rakesh!
People get tired of jerks after a while or only shallow people are attracted to jerks. I definitely like controversial posts but the author can still maintain some self-respect while writing it.
That’s right. Sometimes people do take serious jobs when you do it in a cynical way like satire. Indirect advises and tips sometimes helps, but not all the time.
Humor and flattery are certainly resurrected arts, especially in today’s unfunny world. I’m definitely looking at reviews for EVERYTHING these days to make sure we go with the highest rated, most customer friendly product or service.
I agree that being a jerk can bring traffic to your blog, but is that traffic going to stick around? Is it the kind of traffic you are looking for in the first place? I know I am not.
I cannot pretend to be a jerk either. Believe it or not, people can see right through you if it is an act, be it being a jerk or being nice. Many sales and marketing people get a bad rap precisely for this reason – they often pretend to be somebody they are not. They are only being nice to you for a reason – they are after something. Niceness is about being gracious without expecting anything in return.
I say be true to yourself, be it jerk or nice. You will attract the same kind of people too. Cheers.
Being a jerk is a short term way to make controversy and get traffic. But not long term.
Absolutely. You need to be a jerk +.
oh ho it is all jerk just stupidity
Creative tips here.
Jerky posts always get a karmic backlash. Sure you attract a few with a similar jerky mindset but you also draw plenty of folks with radically different, charged mindsets. Who you fight all day long in the comments section, or who piss you off with their take.
It’s like a giant negative energy bomb, and even if it doesn’t explode, it’s going to sit poorly with you and many readers.
Why not write a dazzling post, with an attention-grabbing headline and immensely useful content? These posts draw in loads of traffic too, along with a prospering karmic boost.
Thanks for sharing your insight!
I think satire and cynicism should be used in normal proportions. They should be the funny part on a blog but they shouldn’t come in the first place before the content.
They are powerful tool to keep readers interested, especially in the longer posts. But if satire and cynicism prevail then the whole purpose of a post gets lost.
“The satirist who writes nothing but satire should write but little – or it will seem that his satire springs rather from his own caustic nature than from the sins of the world in which he lives.”
Great call man. It’s all about creating meaning.
Looks like I have to try that technique too.. Hmm, let’s see how I would look like when I’m in my jerk+ look..
Interesting. You missed when in doubt stereotype half the population as perfectly demonstrated with ” Do girls (and blog readers) only fall for jerks?”.
Of course being a jerk in the comments does you no favours at all, as the Dragon’s say.. I’m out.
Love this comment, and next time I’ll add that in the list. Thanks for calling me (and all the jerks out there) out, Sarah. Hopefully we can all rise above being a jerk, in the comments and otherwise.
For some reason I rather avoid controversy. I prefer to do what i do best and get popular known for my work.
why be better than a jerk if we can be as smart as the geniuses? well it’s fine to have this kind of outlook in life.
– Jack Leak
Meaty post, Joe—and I’m a carnivore, so please take that as a compliment. I like satirical posts with insight. It’s a risk to write one, because you’ll always have readers who rush to the wrong conclusion — satire flies right over their heads. Then it becomes a dreary job to disentangle the mess. It’s not a job I care to take on as a blogger. If you come to my blog with limited intellectual resources to begin with, you’ll leave as ill-equipped as you came, because you are not my target reader, and I am not trying to help you get smarter. Sorry.
For women bloggers, there is additional risk of the nastiness bleeding into personal lives. Consider the death threats against Naomi Dunford of Ittybittybiz:
Ironically, one of the female bloggers she mentions started being hated “for being too nice.” Sometimes you just can’t win.