… and lose your credibility in the process!
I am still relatively new to the world of Internet writing, but I’m not new to the world of common sense, so it’s with great confidence that I make the following statement: If you want to build a reputation as a respectable copywriter, you need to be careful about what you say. After all, you are what you write.
It boggles my mind when writers resort to link baiting, sensationalism and misleading headlines for the sake of gaining readers. Is it worth writing these awful articles at the expense of your online reputation?
And then I started thinking: Do people even care about online reputation anymore?
To some extent, I understand why these types of antagonizing articles exist. After all, one of the most popular ways to choose topics to blog or write about is to look at what people are searching for. Popularity of keywords can influence titles and subject of pieces. But just because a keyword is popular, does that make it an acceptable topic to write about?
Case in point: Susan Adams recently wrote a piece over at Forbes.com titled “The Least Stressful Jobs of 2013.” Regardless if Adams or someone else came up with the topic, it’s clearly designed to start a conversation—but is it the right kind of conversation?
The article implies that certain occupations have it easier than the rest of us. In this case, “university professor” is the list item that most of the readers took offense to. The article makes the claim that because the demand for professors is on the rise, and since they don’t have to work during the winter and summer breaks, their occupation is less stressful than most. Many readers, however, argue that just because professors aren’t teaching classes during the winter and summer breaks, doesn’t make the job any less stressful, as their occupation requires other stressful demands, like publishing, conferences and speaking appointments.
Adams’ article opens with the hook, “University professors have a lot less stress than most of us.” Hundreds of readers wrote in to complain, and she eventually conceded and wrote an addendum; however, the damage was already done. Many readers demanded that she retract the article altogether.
But there’s no such thing as bad press, right? While obviously I don’t have access to all the analytics of Forbes.com, a quick glance on Adams’ author page reveals that this article has received nearly seven times more views than her next most popular article published recently (274,424 views vs. 39,980 views as of the time of this writing).
The way these controversial articles work is simple: the author draws a line in the sand, a reader takes offense, they post the article on their social media network, their friends read it (or ignore it, I suppose), and the cycle repeats itself over and over again. More reads, more comments, more shares. From a purely statistical standpoint, Forbes.com is rolling in the page views—which translates to more advertising money.
Adams’ case is special, however. Sites like Forbes.com enjoy a certain level of reputation and name recognition; I doubt that anyone will boycott Forbes.com because of one writer. But imagine if someone publishes an article like this on their personal blog, even a mildly successful blog. They might get attention for a few moments, but then their blog would be panned by readers (or would it?). Would their 15 minutes of Internet fame be worth it? I suppose that’s up to their discretion.
Personally, while I might not be famous by any stretch of the imagination, I would prefer to slowly build a reputation as a writer who uses controversy sparingly and with some restraint. There is a time and a place to make bold, polarizing claims, but are everyday articles the right venue? Is it worth alienating a portion of your audience to gain temporary popularity? And as a reader, do you start to take notice of sensationalist writers and avoid them?