Whether you intend to or not, one day you might offend someone with what you have to say. Embrace the dialog and welcome the different opinions!
Writing about marketing ideas for CPAs isn’t exactly sitting on a powder keg loaded with hot-button issues while smoking a cigar and playing with sparklers. Even so, occasionally I manage to inadvertently offend a few readers. In a recent post I examined the success of the Daily Show to find content marketing strategies that could apply more broadly. The idea wasn’t mine, though I wish it had been, but I found enough merit in it to want to share the parallels for marketing accounting firms. We immediately received a polite email from a reader and friend of the firm, clearly upset, who found Mr. Stewart offensive enough to think it showed questionable judgment on my part to suggest anyone use him as a model for a marketing strategy. I was stunned, but after our critic explained her point of view I could see her point. He is a very polarizing figure, and those who don’t find his antics amusing often find him deeply offensive. I certainly don’t wish to offend readers or even touch on controversial areas that invite dissension. I never saw it coming.
This kind of thing may or may not have happened to you, but if you’ve got an active online presence where you share commentary it might one day, even if you’re careful. Her unexpected response got me thinking about the art of writing for your audience, ways to avoid alienating viewers and making a point at the risk of losing readers. The fact is, there are wiser and more experienced writers than I who might have anticipated mixed reviews from that particular post, but sooner or later most of us cross that line without any intention at all. Is there a way to avoid it? Probably not, and therein lies the beauty of the online conversation.
Most of us surround ourselves, accidentally and on purpose, with others who think more or less the same way. We all know to share different things in different ways based on our surroundings, and to limit professional conversation to those areas that don’t typically lead to major controversy. Online, however, we don’t see who we are with and thus may not have as much internal guidance about the sensibilities of our audience. We are surprised, then, to find that a reader had a completely different take on what we had to say. This can be awkward, but in general it’s a great boon to your business. How else would you get a chance to see such a foreign perspective? Hearing from the reader I offended gave me insights to the ways someone else perceived what I said, which is important. I appreciate that she took the time to explain her umbrage, as well. She could have made a rude comment and left it at that, or worse yet, simply stopped reading and gone away in a fit of pique. By sharing what she disliked and why, she gave me the gift of understanding a viewpoint I’d never have come to without her email.
Know your audience and write for their interests. Don’t dive headfirst into what you know will lead to wildly divergent strong opinions unless you really want to and are prepared for the fallout. Have someone else read your work for errors as well as to point out where you may be unintentionally inciting riot. Beyond that, you simply have to expect some surprises and consider them a good thing. If you’re the offended party, go ahead and share that in a respectful manner. Aside from inflammatory sites, chances are good that the person who said whatever it is had no idea it would lead to offense. If you’re the writer, be prepared to offend accidentally and welcome the response as educational.
Learning how other people think and react is good for your perspective, good for your ability to market to diverse audiences and ultimately good for your business. While you may never share a point of view, realizing it exists allows you to avoid further offense. Besides that, the more you are able to learn other people’s views and reactions, the better you as a service provider will be able to understand and meet their needs. The online conversation isn’t all hearts and flowers, but taking part in it is a great opportunity to broaden your horizons as you teach and learn from others. Be prepared for surprises.
Before we added this article, we sent it to our friend who wrote to us originally to get her response. She made some great additional points, so we asked if we could include it here too. Enjoy!
“Thanks very much to both of you for your consideration. A few points of clarification:
I think Sarah is assigning emotions that aren’t there. “Intrigued” is very different than “clearly upset.” I wasn’t upset. I was offended, but not by the article. My offense is with Stewart’s recent video. For me, using him as an example distracted from what was otherwise very good guidance for marketers.
You use the word “antics” to describe what he did. I think that term belittles what the video portrayed and makes it sound as though I’m easily offended by any of his comedy, and I’m not. The rest of his comedy, though usually political, is totally fair game and your summation that he is does content marketing well is quite true. He attracts the audience he wants and he does it consistently – an extremely difficult thing to do in this day and age.
In addition to the article stressing the lesson of knowing your audience, I’d add the lesson of knowing the latest on your subject – especially if they’re media and/or political! Things change in minutes these days.”