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How to Manipulate People For Fun (and Profit)
Last Updated July 19th, 2012

When you’re building a website, the secret to building a large audience of readers and customers fast is all about “pulling triggers.”

Emotional “hot” triggers.

And while some people call this manipulation, the truth is that it’s just smart marketing.

That said, today I want to share with you a simple, easy-to-replicate formula for pulling the most powerful “hot trigger” of them all.

Not only can this generate a tremendous amount of attention for you and your business, it can rally your fans like nothing I’ve ever seen before… EVER.

To get started, let’s delve into some interesting research that shows you why this is all possible.

What Makes Content Go Viral?

About a year ago I revealed the secret behind what makes online content go viral.

It was based off research from Jonah Berger of Wharton Business School, and the answer was as simple as this:

After studying the “most emailed” list on the New York Times, the results indicated that content that evoked high-arousal emotions (anger, fear, awe) was the most viral type of content.

And that’s why the big secret behind building a large audience is all about pulling emotional triggers.

But the formula that I’m about to share with you leverages a specific high-arousal emotion plus a “little something else.”

A Simple, Yet Powerful Formula for Generating Traffic

Before I walk you through how this formula works, here’s the short of it:

Outrage + [the little something else] = Massive Traffic – Click to Tweet

Outrage is the specific high-arousal emotion that I believe can generate the most traffic and support for you and your business.

And the “little something else” is the key behind what makes this formula work like a charm. I’ll talk about that a bit later in this article, though.

First, let’s start with Outrage.

The Power of Outrage (and How It Works)

In Ryan Holiday’s book, “Trust Me, I’m Lying,” (affiliate) he used this Tim Ferriss quote to kick off one of his chapters:

“Study the top stories at Digg or MSN.com and you’ll notice a pattern: the top stories all polarize people. If you make it threaten people’s 3Bs—behavior, belief, or belongings—you get a huge virus-like dispersion.”

Well, do you know what also happens when you question one of those 3 Bs?

People become outraged.

Every. Single. Time.

And what happens?

People go to great lengths to let everyone know how mad they are.

And you’ll often see a huge influx of traffic.

To nail this home…

How Ryan Holiday Leveraged The Power Of Outrage For Tucker Max

A few months ago, Tucker Max—a reformed, self-proclaimed asshole—tried to donate $500,000 to Planned Parenthood.

(Yes, you read that right, $500,000)

And Planned Parenthood turned it down.

Now I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Planned Parenthood, but they’re struggling for money BAD.

They literally need every single penny they can get, and they were too proud to take Tucker Max’s money because of his reputation.

Outrage ensued.

(And as a side note, I’m sure there are going to be zealots in the comments talking about religion, contraception, politics, and Tucker Max. If they do, that’s evidence that they didn’t read this article, but instead became outraged by simply mentioning a word that pissed them off. Nothing like a good case in point, right? :-D)

Anyway, as I said, outrage ensued.

I’ll explain.

There were three different camps of people:

1. The people who were pro Planned Parenthood, and they believed they should have accepted Tucker Max’s money.

(These people were pissed at Planned Parenthood because it seemed like they were putting their pride before helping people).

2. The people who were pro Planned Parenthood, but believed associating with Tucker Max would be a huge mistake.

(These people were pissed that Tucker Max had the gall to offer money to Planned Parenthood)

3. The people who hate Planned Parenthood, for whatever reason, and were pissed at both Planned Parenthood and Tucker Max.

(These people just hated both Tucker Max and Planned Parenthood for whatever reason, and wanted everyone to know about it).

And that’s when Ryan Holiday stepped in…

Over on Forbes, Ryan Holiday wrote an inflammatory article entitled “Why wouldn’t planned parenthood take $500,000?

And what happened?

Those 3 groups of people blew the article up.

They BLEW it up.

The last I checked, there was:

  • 6,467 Facebook shares.
  • 2,528 Tweets
  • 141,146 pageviews.

Insane, right?

What’s amazing though is this:

Ryan Holiday is a self-professed media manipulator, and it’s clear that he engineered this entire thing.

He knew that Tucker attempting to donate money to Planned Parenthood was a win-win situation.

You see, I’ve read his new book (affiliate link), and it’s clear to me that Ryan knows that Outrage is one of the best sources of traffic.

(He just wrote another article over on Tim Ferriss’s blog about how he essentially used Outrage to create 5 top-performing American Apparel ads).

But after analyzing this, and I’m sure Ryan will agree with me here, I believe there was something else going on that made this PR campaign a real success.

The Secret Behind Why Ryan Holiday’s Article Went Viral

Quick question:

What happens when you have 3 groups of people with competing view points about things related to what Tim Ferriss calls the 3 Bs (behavior, belief, and belongings)?

A huge controversy. A huge fight.

What happens when there’s a huge fight?

People have vested interested in winning that fight, and they’ll do anything in their power to win it…

It just so happens that when a fight like this occurs online, people try to “win” that fight by doing two things:

1. Sharing the article on social media (alongside their opinions, whether it’s positive or negative)

2. Writing follow-up articles explaining their view point in detail.

And guess what… In both cases this is GREAT for traffic.

Now remember the formula I shared with you earlier?

Outrage + [the little something else] = Massive Traffic

Well, that “little something else” is a controversy.

So, the complete formula is this:

Outrage + Controversy = Massive Traffic – Click to Tweet

And I can say in my experience it works…

Every. Single. Time.

A Quick Personal Example…

For example, last year when I published a simple article called “The Content is King Myth Debunked” Social Triggers exploded with traffic.


A commonly held belief at the time was that “Content is King” and I challenged it.

Outrage ensued.

I then reached out to web designers… people who I knew would agree with me… and told them about this new data I found that suggested “design is king.”

Naturally, they loved it, and supported me.

I then reached out to writers… people who I knew who would disagree with me… and they were pissed because I challenged their commonly held belief.

What ended up happening next was that there was a controversy between writers and designers, and I was able to generate tens of thousands of hits to a brand-new blog.

All because of the simple formula: Outrage + Controversy = Massive traffic.

That aside…

How Can You Start Using Tactics Just Like This To Generate Traffic?

First, you should write down the simple formula “Outrage + Controversy = Massive Traffic” and remember it forever.

I’ve personally used this formula over the last 6.5 years across many different blogs, and I’m pretty sure Ryan Holiday uses it too.

But more important, I highly suggest you pick up Ryan Holiday’s new book “Trust Me, I’m Lying.”

Even though many of the strategies he shares will fall into the “Dark Arts of Media Manipulation” you can often adapt his strategies while maintaining the high ground.

(I’ve used many similar strategies during my time as a marketer, and I’ve never compromised my ethical standards).

Plus, you should arm yourself with the knowledge of these dark arts so you can protect you and your business from people trying to take advantage of you in the future.

Go grab Ryan Holiday’s book right here (that’s an Amazon affiliate link).

And then, do me a favor and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

(Or, if you’ve already bought his book, share your opinion about it thus far in the comments. One person on Amazon said “I love the news and consider myself a fairly knowledgeable consumer of the internet, and the stuff in this book about sites like Gawker and TechCrunch made me choke.”)

If you’re still on the fence about investing less than 20 bucks in a book that will change the way you think about driving traffic online, watch this awesome book trailer that was created by Simplifilm for Trust Me, I’m Lying.

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192 comments Leave a comment

Fascinating article in applied psychology of web sharing and trafficking. Ryan’s book does a deep dive on this and provides many insights into how journalism works in the internet age.

My question, regarding the formula Outrage + Controversy = Massive Traffic, is if I’m will to substitute something else for outrage (and accept lower rates of virality), what would that something else be? Surprise? Humor? I’m trying to stay above the line here.


Hi Derek,

I did something similar to what you have said, it created a stir for sure and JC has to clear his stand on this:


Thanks for this one.



I totally agree with you Derek. I think politicians are the best example of people who have mastered the art of: Outrage + Controversy = Massive Popularity


Frankly I don’t give a crap about creating controversy if its sole purpose is to create controversy. I don’t write just to stir empty emotions that go nowhere. I write to contribute to the good of this world. I may not always accomplish that, but that’s my focus. This world needs truth and encouragement and love, not more anger about nothing.


Marketing used to be doing your homework as far as what people want/need and trying to provide a solution. Advertising was the process of getting the availability out to people so they could access the product/service of improvement. This is simple humanitarian manipulation and a VERY sad find. You clearly have a level of intellect that could make not only your left hemisphere proud of you but your heart (empathy) and right hemisphere (creativity) as well. Hopefully you dont spend your whole life using your smarts to find new and deceitful ways to take short cuts. May you get all the experiences in life that you need to make yourself whole in this life.


I believe you have just presented the “how to” that is the seed of human failure. Shame on you. The positive responses explain why it works. Shame on them.


I think the key to making this work in almost any field or market is finding out the core values of your demographic and then find an instance of outrage attacking those values and report.

For example, I’m a musician, and I’m attempting to use the things I learn here to get more people to my site, join my e-mail list, and ultimately buy my album.

When I started a new band, I asked one of my childhood friends (and excellent drummer) to join, but he wasn’t allowed because of his wife. Her exact words on the subject were “Rock bands are for high schoolers that want to get attention.”

Now, if I wrote a blog post using THAT as the title, I’m sure I would get a swarm of traffic to my site – probably from both fans sticking up for me AND from fellow musicians. And may even capture a few e-mails in the process.

Unfortunately, I can’t use it because my friend is still married.

But I’m glad I’ve gained more perspective on this topic and can leverage controversial music news to my benefit because of it.

Great post Derek! – new reader here 🙂


Wow, Derek, this is awesome. Few days ago I wrote a post that attracted lots of comments (both positive and negative), but I didn’t understood why, until I read this post.

Now that I know the reason, I will defiantly focus more on this formula in my future posts.

Thanks again.

Smith C

So I had no idea any of this was even possible Thanks for the tips!!


Thanks Derek,
Happened upon your post by way of Spencer at Niche Pursuits. Couldn’t have come at a better time. I am in the process of building an ecommerce site with blog. I will be selling scented candles with dog themed containers and labels, with profits going to animal rescue groups. We were in the candle biz for 10 years and built a nationally successful business, so I know that aspect of it well. I’m just not sure of the marketing angle and how to get the recognition and traffic for sales.
I will be buying this book through your link. Turns out I was looking for an item to add to another book I want to get the super saver shipping. This worked out perfectly for multiple reasons.

Any thoughts on promoting my business angle?

Thanks, Kate

Alan | Life's Too Good

Hey Derek,

yet another awesome article. I loved your original ‘What makes content go viral’ article, and this is another great actionable article with solid examples.

I agree with some of the comments already made that it’s one thing to understand these strategies and another to implement them, and I think you explained also somewhere that’s why you like to give on great example at a time rather than ‘lists’ – so that people can do just that.

Still – Ryan and yourself seem to have that special something that enables you to take these simple yet powerful concepts and implement them in very impressive ways – not everyone can do that but we can certainly try and hats off to you for sharing this with others so well,

take care & best wishes,

David Nickell

Such a tactic obviously could be very effective, but it also could be very dangerous.

It depends on what your goal is. If all you want to do is stroke your, well, ego and get lots and lots of visitors that you can brag about, fine. But what if you want more than that, what if you want to convert them, to turn them into buyers of your product or service?

In the case of “the content is king myth,” for example, how many of those hundreds of people actually bought one of your training courses or did anything that put money in your pocket?

It seems to me you put your credibility at risk — and your good intentions — if your main purpose is to push emotional buttons that arouse and inflame people. I don’t buy books off Amazon because I’m inflamed by the subject. My emotional button that gets pushed, if indeed one does, is curiosity, the same one you tried to push with the “Trust Me” book.

That’s the “secret” sales pitch that you’re making. Everyone who clicks on that Amazon link and buys the book is handing you cash. And you did it by arousing people’s curiosity, by tantalizing them with “the dark side” of marketing, not by inflaming them or generating controversy for its own sake.

    Rob Collins

    David, thank you for probably the most sensible comment yet on this post. You got to the root of the issue beautifully.

    As a case in point, Derek has succeeded in attracting lots of visitors to this page, including me. Before reading this post, I may have bought something from Derek. But after this post, I feel his brand has been tarnished and I’m unlikely to ever buy anything from him.

      David Nickell

      Thanks, Rob, for the nice words. But my response was just meant as a caution, not in any way to trash or undermine Derek, for whom I have the utmost respect. He is one of the savviest marketers I’ve ever come across, and I’ve learned much from him.

      There’s no question that controversy CAN and DOES work. Much better, obviously, to stimulate and provoke your visitors than to bore them.

      I was just suggesting that it’s not a step to be taken lightly. Before you do it, you ought to consider the possible boomerang effects.

      And let me give credit where credit is due. In my view, Derek’s promotion of the “Trust Me” book was a little sneaky. Hats off to him! That is the very essence of manipulation — to manipulate people without their realizing they’re being manipulated. That is how you rack up sales.

      Knowing Derek, I wouldn’t be surprised if he publishes a future post telling the details of how successful his subtle pitch for the book was. You gotta love the guy.

        Rob Collins

        I see where you’re coming from, thanks David.

        I’m not comfortable with any form of manipulation. Perhaps that’s why I’ll never be successful at sales or marketing. In fact, I’m with Bill Hicks when it comes to marketing.

        You’re basically manipulating people to do what you want them to do, with dubious real benefit to the other person. That just seems selfish and wrong-headed to me. How can we talk of “community” when really it’s all about “me”?

        I joined Derek’s list to see if there was such a thing as ethical marketing. Sadly I’ve concluded that there isn’t, though many marketers rationalise what they’re doing so they don’t feel bad about themselves.

        IMHO, manipulation is just plain wrong. Influencing is OK, provided we genuinely have our customers’ best interests at heart. I may make fewer sales this way, but I’ll do it with a clear conscience.

Seung Oh

Great article…! One question though…

when you write something controversial, should you take sides? Or do you play both sides and let others argue and fight over it?


I understand the emotions and the hype from outrage and controversy. However, I am a wedding officiant, I marry people… lol.. the biggest controversy is same sex marriage. Even if I wrote a blog on this, I dont know how it would be viral… its controversy, you have at least people that are for and against it… but how does the blog post get infront of these people, and is that good for my business???? I have performed commitment ceremonies since gay marriage is not legal in my state, but if I side with them, do I lose a set of religious customers because of my blog?

Sean Mysel


I read the book and I got two things out of it:

1) Damn the media is a scary monster with no moral compass

2) I love this book because it allows people with small budgets like myself to use guerrilla like tactics to wage marketing warfare with my competitors.

Case in point, you know I teach golf, but am not a PGA pro. So I am writing an article about why the PGA is a joke for teaching. I know the house is divided 50-50 and the 50% on my side think they just take your money and give you nothing in return.

After I edit and write the article, I’ll pass it around like a dutchie, let people smoke on it and do what I can to incite, enrage and provoke action. All the while it draws attention to how I teach and my product.

Again well done Bubba!

Dainis Graveris

I feel this post is strongly inspired by that book Trust me, I am lying and I just bought it after your recommendation as well.

Still in starting chapters, but feels like forbidden guide to manipulations. I’ve been blogging for 4 years and I love the place where we are all at. Possibilities of online & offline media are amazing, but it requires you to you existing knowledge and be innovative on techniques. Thank God, there aren’t too many people yet ready to be innovative and not many people yet know all the most powerful techniques. I believe we live in 2 year window when people will keep up.. I am just curious what will come next.

Juuso Palander

I’m quite sure this article about Instagram hits the sweet post:


In the red corner: Instagram haters (for various reasons)

In the blue corner: The Instagram users & people defending the Instagram users

Hehe… 😛


There are millions of advertisers who understand this at a very base level. Kudos to Tucker and Ryan for cashing in via some guerilla marketing tactics.

Sheyi | Ivblogger.com

When you arouse people, they’ll surely react. Either positive or negative. The 2 guys from adsense flippers did this recently when they decide to run a debate on thier blog – though people did not see it this way but this is exactly what they did. Did the debate and used 2 guys to run it from same niche but different beleives…..


Veso Mitev

I see what you did there 😉

(comment on the post, not on the book)

The borders of ethical and unethical manipulation are thin. Yes, creating controversy or questioning belief results in debates. “Why PC vs Mac will never get old”.

The problem I see is that people can’t help it. They are drawn in, perhaps without even realising it on high level. They go, clash and and debate, defending restlessly what they have as a part of they identity.

With such tool (considering one can fluently use the formula) there is certain public (or internet?) responsibility one has over the readers.

So yes, that same thing made me comment here 🙂 Knowing it, doesn’t make one immune to it.

Mike Jones

Great post People may be uncomfortable with agreeing with this but you “speaks DA truth.” I also very much enjoyed how when you click on links in your posts now – they open in different windows.

Gabe Lee

I bought the book and am thoroughly enjoying it so far. I am only on the first chapter 😉

Definitely an eye opener on so many levels. Whether media manipulation is a good thing or a bad thing is irrelevant, the point is it’s happening and it’s happening much more than you realize.


Hi Derek,
I must confess that this is the most inspiring post I’ve read this month. I can’t agree more and you’ve really motivated me to get to work immediatly. Thanks for sharing.

BTW: I wrote about you and other Top Bloggers in my last post.

Keep the ball rolling.

Thomas @ Mobile App Tycoon

Sounds like a really interesting book! Going to definitely check it out. This is one of those things that I think most people know happens, but don’t connect the dots and apply it to their own blogs. Great post man!


Maxwell Ivey

Hello; Your site was recommended to me by Robin Hallett of Everyday Bright, so I decided to come on over and check you out. This first post confirms something a friend of mine and i recently discussed that is how to generate a buzz for sales on my site when it seams like the only things that go viral are negative. Looking forward to learning more from you and your community. thanks and take care, max

    Maxwell Ivey

    Hello; just wanted to correct something. I’m ashamed to say I got the site mixed up. Robin is robinhallett.com she has offered a lot of encouragement, and i wouldn’t want to get that wrong. thanks, max

Ehsan Ullah

Hey Derek,

The article and the formula both are great, I would like to try this formula by grabbing the book on Amazon. Thanks for letting me know about article on through email newsletter.

Cynthia Wylie

I love the formula. But what if you have a preschool brand that promotes healthy living, healthy eating, nature-loving, happy kids? How do I create controversy about that without tarnishing my brand name?

    Robin Hallett

    Cynthia, I asked the same thing! I have decided that one of the words in the original formula could be Inspiration – like saying what no one else in my field is saying but from a place that expands thinking instead of shutting it down.
    Love to hear anything you’re pondering like this.
    Robin Hallett

      Cynthia Wylie

      Hi Robin. Love your site by the way. I subscribed! No matter what, I think we need to be true to our brand. I want Bloomers! Island to be a safe, happy place, however now that I think about it, I do have stories where controversy is going on… like: Who is stealing the lettuce from the Very Very Veggie Garden? Maybe I could wrap the controversy around something like that. (It’s the Snail Mailman in case you were wondering.) And even throw out questions like: What if your mom MADE you eat a vegetable you didn’t like? That might outrage a lot of 5 year olds. lol. Thanks for getting me thinking!

        Robin Hallett

        Cynthia, you are a genius! Right away, I went to Bloomersisland.com – what a cool site, so fun and interactive. Your ideas are awesome. Now that’s the way to rock the controversy and outrage for your audience and brand. Can I just put my vote in on the yukky stuff my mom made me eat? I’d have to say peas, okra, and mushrooms. Still can’t get me to do it. Thanks for subscribing! I hope I inspire you 🙂

DJ Bobby C

Getting more page hits should not be an end in itself. Let’s not forget what the real goals of any ethically-minded business should be:
1) understanding the needs of our customers
2) developing sustainable long-term relationships with customers

If your outrageous & controversial blog posts don’t actually help you to achieve either of the above, then really you’re wasting your time and may actually just be harming your brand.

Don’t treat customers as stupid. If your blog reads as though you’re being controversial just to get more page hits, many customers will see straight through that. You’ll persuade them that you don’t actually have their best interests at heart and you’re just looking to grow your site at any cost.

Natalie Normyle

Great Article Derek!
Yep, outrage + controversy…
Rush Limbough and Jesse Jackson have made careers and fortunes off of it!
I don’t recall who originally made the statement “If you offend no one – you’ve impassioned no one”
It’s so true – people are inundated with ‘politically correct’ boring sh*t day in and day out that is neither truthful nor useful.
You have to shake them up to wake them up.
Besides my marketing stuff I also breed Rottweilers, I just posted a local news story on my Rottweiler related site about a family returning from vacation to find their home had been burglarized, if that wasn’t bad enough, the little girl found their adorable small breed dog in the convection oven dead – the mean hearted burglar had cooked the sweet little harmless dog to death – as you can imagine my site of dog lovers were outraged.
Calm, gentle 50 year old therapy dog trainers were ready for vigilante justice.
That article got shared more than anything I’ve ever wrote!
Yup, sure does work.

    Derek Halpern

    Love that quote — gotta remember it for future reference.


This is a damn fine article.I remember reading a Yahoo! story not too long ago about a public ad labeled “controversial” because it featured slogans like “cat owners deserve to die”,”blondes deserve to die” etc.Now I know the true reason of ads like this.And YouTube videos of race and religion always generate the most comments and arguments.Kinda funny how easily offended people can be.

    Derek Halpern

    Yep… Tim Ferriss said it best. Question the 3 Bs and traffic follows.

Joe Hackman

Just because something works doesn’t mean you should do it. You might consider where this slippery slope ends before taking this approach.

    Derek Halpern

    Interesting that you’d say that.

    If you’re creating problems for the sake of creating problems, I’d agree with you. However, if you’re creating the right type of controversies, like the content is king myth debunked example, I disagree.

Robin Hallett

Hey Derek! Loved this. I completely agree. These are the kinds of posts that fire me up.

My question for you is this: I am intuitive healer and it’s my mission to inspire and help people get to the place they truly want to be in life. How can I use this (super awesome and cool) formula in my work? Outrage + Controversy might not be my formula for opening minds and hearts…

Love to know what you think. Thanks for rocking it as usual!

    Derek Halpern

    Yea, in that case it may not be the right formula, but ill tell you this: every group of people has a common enemy. You gotta find out who that enemy is, and then use outrage + controversy against them.

      Robin Hallett

      Derek- ooh you’re good. My community definitely has a common enemy: small minded stinking thinking. I can get pretty outraged by the bad advice I hear other people giving… You got my wheels turning! Thanks!

Neil Ferree

Controversy will surely “kick start” the process but at the end of the day • your content must close the loop on your “trigger” piece else the churn rate on the opt in count will reflect whether your stuff is the right stuff.

    Derek Halpern

    Can you elaborate?


I’ve been looking for another book to read. It sounds like another book that will leave the reader with a black belt in marketing. thanks for the recommendation.

    Derek Halpern

    You’re welcome Karen!


Affiliate link for B&N?

    Derek Halpern

    I don’t have one, but you can just buy it without an affiliate link. I actually don’t care much about the commissions… I run it through the link just because I’m curious to see how many people actually take my recommendations 😉


Hey D, the article was very insightful and on point.

However, how would you apply this concept to content wherein a company is attempting to draw prospective clients to their website?

Do I really want to outrage this demographic? I’d love to hear your feedback.

    Derek Halpern

    You’re not supposed to piss off your customers. You create a controversy that rallies your customers.

Ryan Hanley


First that Trailer is completely Gangster.

Second, the largest source of single day traffic I’ve had on my blog was actually an article I wrote for an Insurance Trade Publication where I questions the vision and resolve of the older members of the insurance industry… I think the line was… “It’s time for old-timers to step aside and allow young professional to wield the tools of our day.”

Needless to say Outrage ensued… Hate from those that defined themselves as Old-Timers and Love from the Young Professionals dying to break free.

This stuff works no doubt.



    Derek Halpern

    Every time you question peoples age, sex, politics, or anything like that, they always go crazy.

    People are currently outraged over the fact some 20-something year old shared her opinion about how old a social media manager should be.


Hey Derek,

Awesome article – I really enjoyed reading this post. I guess one thing to think about if you are deliberately courting controversy is to keep it in the context of your existing brand and your existing customer base (and to some degree what they have been conditioned to accept).

American Apparel might take a little more risk in their ads and while it get people talking, those who like their brand are still going to like their brand after a PR stunt and they might even gaine some new customers but it’s highly unlikely that its going to turn any of their fan base away. They would really have to do something completely off the wall to really shock their existing customers.

You can see how conditioning is accepted by comparing Burger King to McDonalds. The McD’s message is built around wholesome family values so if in their next ad campaign they showed Ronald McDonald surrounded by half dressed women – there would be up roar and they would lose more customers than they would gaine.

However if Burger King decided to show The King in a strip joint throwing money around like a boss; there would be some controversy created, but there wouldn’t be such a loss of customers as their audience is already conditioned to expect to be pushed that far.

I think to really benefit from controversy you need to have a pre-existing edgy brand and stand to win more customers than you will lose.

    Derek Halpern

    You hit the nail on the head. You can’t create controversy for the sake of creating it. You gotta do it with a goal in mind.

      Gregory Ciotti

      The Burker King visualization had me laughing, but great analysis Paul, I had essentially the same thoughts going through this piece.

40 Shades

Ryan Holiday, great new media guru…does not offer a Kindle version. Fail


Hey Derek,

I’ve been a subscriber for some time now and I always love your articles (being a scientist myself helps me finding them fascinating). This is the first time I comment though.

LOVED this comment: “Building an audience is more about exclusion than inclusion”. Loved it.

And about controversy, you did create one with this very same post, didn’t you? very clever 😉

I have a question. In my blog I use to respond to every comment, just as you do here. How do you manage the controversy created with this kind of posts? Do you keep aside and watch them try to kill each other? do you intervene and set your position? do you try to convey different positions? All of these options seem risky to me in regards to your loyal audience… what’s your suggestion? How should the post author behave in the comments section?

    Derek Halpern

    I’m as meta as it gets… ha ha.

    Also, thank you for finally leaving a comment. I appreciate it.

    With regards to your question, I always maintain my position unless someone provides some new data that makes me change my mind.

    Additionally, I tend to stay out of conversations that involve things related to politics, gender, and anything like that.


Great article Derek- thanks! Also, thanks for sharing all the info about Ryan Holiday and Tucker Max- they were not on my radar before. I am definitely sharing this.

    Derek Halpern

    You’re welcome Jessica!

Lise Halskov

Hi Derek, Great post as usual! I think the reason that so few people (including myself) use outrage is fear of scaring people away. I do high-end consulting in project management, and I guess there is always the little voice in the back of my head that says: “don’t scare people away before you even start working with them.” I do use the outrage when I do the consulting, though, because a lot of cleints need an honest wake-up call before the work I do with them will actually work. I think I will try to let some of that seep more into my posts…. 🙂

    Derek Halpern

    I never understood why people are worried. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: building a business is more about exclusion than inclusion.


Love it!
I do have a questions though….
Won’t controversy alienate your loyal fans when the influx happens and aren’t they here today and gone tomorrow to the next controversy. I’m thinking of the TIME piece about breastfeeding. Did it convert people into following them or switch them off? Great for short term ( page views) but not generating followers? Or is this not a follower building tool but a traffic building tool?

I can see and understand how controversy works from what you’re saying. Just wondering about the what happens a few days and weeks after it all dies down and you’re onto your next few posts

Love your work and how it makes us think.

    Derek Halpern

    You’re not supposed to create a controversy that alienates your loyal fans. Your’e supposed to create a controversy that makes your loyal fans rally with you.


Derek …

… How do you link the “CLICK TO TWEET” href in your posts?

Where do I generate a link that will automatically have my “TWEET” ready to be “TWEETED”?


    Google click to tweeet – or go straight to clicktotweet.com then follow the instructions which go like this: “Here’s how it works…
    Write the message you want to share in the box.
    Click the “Generate” button to create a custom link.
    Share the link.
    Now, whoever clicks on the link will have the message automatically added to their Twitter status box, then they simply click to tweet!’
    Its that simple and it works! Thanks Derek for putting us on to this and thanks Brendan for the question. Richard


Love it, Derek!

Would like to see the tally down the road, how many thumbs up, how many down, and how many would give you advices such as, hit the brake and find your storm shelter. 🙂

My guess, you will get almost 95% of thumbs up, 4% of thumbs down, and 1% of advice to run. 🙂

Me? 4 thumbs up, Derek. 🙂

I will definitely pick up this great idea to increase my traffic!

Thank you for all the great postings.

    Derek Halpern

    I probably have a few more haters than that, haha.

Lance Clancy

I would love to get a copy of that book. A 100% increase in traffic to my blog would be a real deal. I shall check that one out! Thanks Dereck!

    Derek Halpern

    Go get it!


Another zinger! Thanks for continuing to post amazing and implementable blog strategies, Derek.

    Derek Halpern

    You know me Jakob…

Chihuahua Zero

I subscribed to this blog after that web seminar you had. I don’t regret it.

I’m considering aiming for some more controversy in my blog articles on fiction writing. For example, I’m considering writing about why Save the Cat isn’t the best book for novel writing (partly because it’s a screenwriting book, but since it’s mentioned often…)

I’m also considering a series to point of the flaws of the very demographic I want to write, although I’m not sure enough if I have the knowledge to follow through with it.

    Derek Halpern

    Solving the knowledge problem is easier than you think when you make it a priority.

Louis Blythe

Great Article Derek!

While I am yet to totally dive into the psychology behind my posts I do understand the use of creating controversy.

My only issues would be that if it was done poorly then it could potentially have a negative effect and drive people away.

What do you think?

Do you need a platform before the controversy or does the controversy help you build the platform?


    Derek Halpern

    Of course if done poorly it can have a negative effect… Also if you create controversy for the sake of controversy, that can also be negative.

Jacqui Olliver - Relations Strategist

That’s great to hear, Derek. My expertise is totally controversial and I often shun conventional methods of treating sexual problems. You have definitely given me food for thought for my upcoming product release 🙂

    Derek Halpern

    Would love to see how it works out.

Lisa Cash Hanson

I’m a Christian LOL so I’m sure you think I may be one of the people freaking out- I’m not- I am totally pro life though and so you already know my feelings about the other company mentioned.

But I’m sure you are right regarding controversy When I was on Yahoo! I received a ton of nasty comments. I was really shocked and just wrote a post to share how I felt called the Best and Worst Day of My Blogging life. I talked about my feelings, how what they said made me feel like and so on. It received over 90 comments that day and 134 so far- but still controversy is not my favorite- I like to inspire over pulling people’s strings although it’s a pretty easy thing to do even accidentally. http://mompreneurmogul.com/2012/02/the-best-and-the-worst-day-of-my-blogging-life.html

    Derek Halpern

    Inspiration is something worth pursuing, naturally.

    But a good controversy is a great way to rally the people you regularly inspire.


Entertainers, and comedians in particular use the same formula to get attention, sell tickets, downloads, etc. Louis CK, Daniel Tosh, and Doug Stanhope (Doug is one of my favorites http://youtu.be/YkgDhDa4HHo) come to mind. If you do this type of thing you have to be ready to take some heat. Even if it works, there is a price to pay.

    Derek Halpern

    Of course there’s a price to pay, but you gotta run the cost-benefit analysis.


Useful technique if what you have to say is what you truly believe and gets people engaged enough to talk about it… sensibly.

But what happens when people get so outraged they start doing stupid shit. And it will happen. Forget about using it ‘ethically’ as some commenters have suggested and try responsibly instead.

Sometimes people need a kick up the arse to shake them out of complacency and make them aware of the really important things going on in the world, but if your only motivation is to spike your traffic, well, be careful what you wish for.

    Derek Halpern

    That’s obviously an issue…

    You should never do this for the sake of spiking your traffic. You should do it when you truly believe in what you’re doing.


      In an ideal world people probably would use it only when they had something they truly believed in. However…

      You’re talking about people who’s main motivation is to get more traffic and make more sales, that is your target audience right? And to advocate a method which if used in an amatuerish way may do more harm than good is a bad thing.

      Savvy people like yourself and Ryan Holiday have the experience to pull stuff like this off, I’m guessing a lot of other people don’t. So who’s to blame when those people mess it up and start losing traffic and sales, or say something libelous? Them for using the method, or you for suggesting it?

      Having said that, it got me commenting and I’m usually a wall flower, so it’s a method that has merit. But I worry about it’s use in the hands of the less savvy.

      Cracking site by the way. I just don’t agree with you on this topic 🙂


I loved this article, the book trailer and book cover! Kudos to Ryan’s illustrator.

Anyway… I agree that people are too scared to be controversial. I promise you that once you get over the fear, you won’t go back. If you want a taste of it, post something on your personal Facebook page and watch as your family and friends rip into you. This happened to me. I posted a quote and family members ripped me a new one. On the flip side, I had people “like” my quote. Bingo! I struck a nerve and all I did was post a quote.

Speaking of fear… It sells like hot cakes! All you have to do is look at the self help aisle in any book store. Fear’s being sold left and right.

    Derek Halpern

    Fear is one of the biggest motivators in sales. However, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to target all of the time. No one likes doom and gloom 24/7.

Abdul-Karim Bilal

Hey Derek, I just bought the book on impulse from Amazon, I don’t usually do things like that but when you say its good, its must be good.

Plus I love the Social Triggers Podcasts just as much as I love Freakonomics.

    Derek Halpern

    That’s a HUGE compliment.

    I’m inspired by the guys over at Freakonomics.


Nice one Derek and couldn’t agree more on what you have laid out in this post. I have seen this work every time in my own case, I regularly write posts about online business and entrepreneurship on my blog and every now and then I write something that raises fear or controversy and always gets way more comments and shares.

    Derek Halpern

    I won’t say I’m surprised 🙂

Kimberly Houston

Another awesome post, Derek. Trying to determine how to put this dynamic to use on my blog.

In the meantime, wanna read something funny and interesting about what makes something go viral? I posted this article link from the Nieman Journalism Lab to my FB page a few weeks ago with the comment, “It’s either a sad state of affairs, or killer strategy. You decide.” And then started trying to figure out hwow I could use the strategies. ; )

    Derek Halpern

    Interesting read there for sure. It reminds me of when I used to run an entertainment site… trying to figure out what celebrity stories would be hot… or not.

Jeannie Spiro


Thanks this is great and really makes me think about how I can do this to cause the stir I’m looking for.

My work is around helping people exit their job to make their entrepreneurial dream a reality. I certainly could shake things up a bit that challenges people to think that the only way they have to earn a living is as an employee. Seth Godin has an excellent quote about that btw.

Great food for thought!


    Derek Halpern

    When you figure out how to implement, would love to see it in action.


Graphic is the Queen, the power behind the throne.

My site is simple, peaceful, pretty. The comments I receive are about the joy of just seeing the home page and how easy it is to navigate; and my reader’s desire to read the stories, to get their 2-minute mental vacation.

Yes, BOBBblog has wonderful stories, but if I rained down on my readers with ads and flash they would abandon BOBB.

Now, to write stories that adhere to the BOBBblog brand and work the Outrage + Controversy formula. I love a challenge.

founder / writer

Rob Collins

So, you get tonnes of hits, but how well does that translate into sales? I want to run a business, not just be a hub for gossip and controversy.

    Jason Van Orden


    A very good point and question. It’s entirely possible that the “quality” of visitor from this kind of tactic will not convert as high.

    That said, if it gets you on big media outlets then you can leverage that credibility to convert the traffic that is highly targeted.

    And in the end, attention is a commodity that any skilled marketer should be able to turn into cash.

    However, I get your point. You have to ask yourself what your end goals are and set expectations accordingly.

    I’d be interested in Derek’s take on this point as well.

      Derek Halpern

      You also get the ancillary benefit of additional links, and the fact of the matter is this: the more traffic you get the better chance you have at grabbing more potential customers.

Stanley Lee

I was looking more forward to “getting pissed off” then seeing another Ryan Holiday article.

Not that this is a diss on him, as he seems to be a cool dude.

But you got me even more curious on the stories you’re forced to cut out. 😉

    Derek Halpern

    Oh come on…

    This is hardly “another Ryan Holiday article.”


    Yes, he’s in it, but there’s so much more meat to this article than that.

      Stanley Lee

      You’re talking about the triggers that make articles go viral, right? I just thought that way when you start name-dropping Ryan Holiday.

Jamie Alexander

I watched his interview over at The Rise To The Top. He seems like a very smart cookie. I’ll definitely be picking up his book to get some tips (but using it ethically).

I like how you’ve explained it in the post. I actually wrote a post recently which I hoped would annoy hunters and have animal rights people agreeing with me. I never showed it to the hunters so maybe I should lol.

    Derek Halpern


    Sometimes you have to add a little fuel into the fire…


I love how insightful your articles are Derek. I definitely agree that emotions trigger reaction, debate and discourse- totally true. But, how does a small business apply those triggers to their business without seeming crazy? Let’s say the guy down the road sells luxury sweets to luxurious people, how does he create triggers to increase sales or attract more customers? Can emotional triggers work for every kind of business or just a few?

    Lisa Cash Hanson

    Right now any person who sells luxury suites could write a post challenging the thought ” Do you really deserve that expensive suite after all didn’t someone else build the business that allowed you to purchase that?” That is pretty controversial at the moment.

      Derek Halpern

      uh oh, politics.

    Derek Halpern

    I believe Emotional triggers work everywhere, for sure. You just have to hit the right triggers at the right time…

    You should read the article about how to craft contagious contenet right here:



Are YOU pumping things up to pimp another course?

If so, I want in.

Only Problem: I’m unable to follow you through every (or even most) email series or posts.

So how’s about short circuiting the warm up.

And send me a direct link to sign.

Because I’ve already made a decision – months & months ago – that you are one of the new shakers & movers.

And I missed out on your last offer because of urgent family medical needs: did not hear in time.

I aim to steal as much as I can from you. Paying of course.

Yah man, your the man. So send me the sign up link/pg/info.

    Derek Halpern

    Why thank you Jared :-).

    No, this isn’t part of a course launch. This was just another great article here on Social Triggers.

    (Notice how I call my own articles great… weird. haha)


I’m working with a company called The RooSport and I trying to come up with something like the “Outrage + Controversy = Massive Traffic”

Their main competitor is the iFitness Belt (A running belt that holds water bottles, keys, etc.)…hence our slogan, “Go Beltless.” Our product is an attachable, magnetic running pocket.

Anybody out there got some thoughts, feedback or suggestions as to how I might be able to execute on this?

Here’s a thought, for the best idea, I’ll send you a RooSport (Shipping included).

Thanks again and I look forward to seeing what this vibrant community can come up with.


    Oh, I almost forgot. To let me know about your idea, simply post it on their Facebook Page here: http://www.Facebook.com/roosport/

    Thanks again for your help!

    I look forward to seeing what great ideas you all come up with to help this amazing, female entrepreneur!

Pam Brossman

Derek brilliant blog post thanks for sharing. My thoughts are that you really have to be an opinionated type of person to pull this off adequately especially in the women’s market. Many people steer clear of controversy especially those in the warm and fuzzy niches.

But for those who are bloggers and their thoughts are very opinionated and focused on getting comments and feedback for a living, I think it is a brilliant strategy.

My question is how much of this controversial traffic is targeted valuable paying traffic and how much is just one off visitors. And is the strategy just to get higher Google ranking and credibility for your content and blog?

And what type of credibility are you getting? – Not all media is good media exposure for a brand when it is controversial. Got to make sure it is having a positive impact on your brand outside of Google ranking and traffic.

Great blog – food for thought that is for sure.
Cheers Pam

    Derek Halpern

    I look at it like this…

    When you’re building a blog, you need to generate traffic spikes as often as possible.

    Even if it’s untargeted, those traffic spikes help build the authority of your domain name, helping you rank higher and just get more brand awareness.

    Does it convert the best? Not all the time, but it’s definitely worth it.

    With regards to being opinionated…

    Someone once asked me “Derek, why do you always have such strong opinions on everything?”

    And I simply replied “It’s not that I have strong opinions on everything, it’s that I only talk about things I have strong opinions on.”

    The same applies to blogging / outrage / and controversies.

    You don’t run around creating problems for no reason. You only do it when you truly support what you’re saying.

nancy fox

Ryan’s book comes out today – was this part of a promotion?

    Derek Halpern


    I’m writing about it because I want to write about it :-).


In order to write stuff that you know will make some people really angry… you have to be willing to be hated. Do you have any advice on dealing with that? I have no problem stating my opinions, but I know things aren’t black and white, so I try not to speak in the absolutes that are probably necessary to get enough people outraged.
It would be easy if I just cover the news… lots of stuff to be outraged about, but it seems like it is more effective if the guru / expert is the one to take a strong, controversial stance.

    Derek Halpern

    Gotta realize one thing…

    If people are going to hate you, they’re going to hate you.

    You can’t really stop it.

    And when you present balanced arguments… for the sake of being balanced… you’re actually hurting your chances of finding the people who truly resonate with whatever you’re trying to get them to do.

    Building an audience is more about exclusion than inclusion.


Really Great stuff! I like how you reference studies from Wharton…I actually never heard of the Tucker story but will definitely look into it more.

    Derek Halpern

    Awesome Dave.

    That’s what I do here.

    Always have research to back things up.

Bob Young

Derek, no doubt your formula of Outrage + Controversy will generate massive traffic but my question is will it convert? Any studies on how outrage and controversy affects buying mood? Might be interesting.

    Derek Halpern

    Depends on how you’re using it…

    When I used the outrage for Content is King Myth debunked, I attracted a BUNCH of new subscribers.

Brandon Yeager

I have been out of touch with internet stuff for awhile…and just recently hopped back on the train not long ago. Ran across your site a few weeks ago…and all I can say…is keep putting out crushing stuff like this. Phenomenal.

Ok…I’m Lying. Your site is horrible.
Just kidding.
It’s awesome. 🙂 Let the controversies begin! Hah hah.


    Derek Halpern

    Glad you’re digging it Brandon.

    I do things a bit different here… I don’t publish as often as some of the other blogs, but I try to make sure every article is hard-hitting.


I agree that outrage generates traffic, but it is polarizing and would be damaging to the community I’m trying to build. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not convinced outrage and a healthy community can coexist if people are just arguing with each other.

    Derek Halpern

    You’re never supposed to piss off people who you would consider your loyal fans and friends.

    You’re supposed to piss off the people who you want to exile themselves from your community :-).

Lisa Van Ahn

It may be true. But I’d love it to change. What do you think about this article then?

I have definitely seen a lot more “viral” stuff that is getting shared, commented on and forwarded because of the positive and inspiring connotations it offers.

Personally, and it may be really naive of me, but I’d like to get traffic because I am inspiring people to love their life not pissing people off.

    Laurie Nylund

    I’m with Lisa on this. And I don’t think it’s naive. In general, I rarely implement much of what Derek proscribes, but I follow him (and other people/sites whose philosophies I don’t really “subscribe” to) in an attempt to stay open-minded and look at things from a different perspective. Where is the value in associating with only the group of people who are already drinking the same Koolaid?

    I do find it interesting that the majority of his champions on this topic are male…

      Derek Halpern

      You both raise interesting points, but I digress…

      The sad truth about the world is that no matter where you look, there are always two sides to the same coin.

      Even when you’re focusing on the aspirational and inspirational stuff (something that I’m 100% cool with, by the way), there will be naysayers who try to bring you down and suggest that you’re doing it wrong.

      And those are the people who you’d like to either scare off or piss off. Do you want those naysayers coming to your comments and disagreeing with you all of the time?


      You’d like ban them… and if you told your loyal followers about it… the ones who like your aspirational and inspirational stuff… they’d support you for it.

      They’d probably even LOVE you for it because you’er protecting your ideals.

      – Derek

      P.S. I’m not even going to touch the “male” comment :-P.

        James Chartrand - Men with Pens

        I will. 🙂

        I think more men pay attention to sales and marketing because they have no qualms about where it stands on the moral scale.

        It’s a skill. It’s a “thing you have to do for your job.” It’s a way to do your job well.

        Women? Many, many of them (from what I’ve seen) tie themselves up in absolute knots. They hate selling. They hate asking for money. They dislike the game of marketing – even hate it, and refuse to play it. They feel all awkward, as if it goes against their grain.

        It’s one of the reasons I still think men rule the business world – they don’t get all wrapped up in an emotional perception of a simple skill.

          Ramsay from Blog Tyrant

          Says the woman who has the best of both worlds. 😉

          I’m glad you said “more men” and not “all men”.

          Chandler Turner

          I read this and Lauri’s reply. The real problem in asking people for money lies elsewhere and it is not isolated to men or women. It lies in the psychology of their individual family backgrounds. Okay, that sounds like a load of hooey, but it is not. It has EVERYTHING to do with the way you were raised.

          In many families, you are taught NEVER to talk about money. Did you hear it growing up? “None of your damned business” was a common answer to “How much did you pay for that”? It was and is typical for many people.

          But not all.

          I grew up in a family full of professionals – doctors, lawyers, and Indian Chiefs – I am none of those, though I do own a small business – and that included women. Some of them came from a time and place where almost no women had college educations (born in the 1910 to 1930 period) It was nothing to hear any member of my family talk about finances openly. It was typically asking another relative for financial advice.

          So I came by the ability to talk about money easily. But moreover, I have had a lot of professional training in asking for it. That is where most people fail. There are great sales courses available. I have taken some of them. But there is a large-scale cultural arrogance against taking them. Many people think “I have that covered” when they have no clue.

          Anyone can be trained to overcome the reluctance.

          Laurie Nylund

          I agree with “James” that too many women have a lot to learn about marketing and asking for money. If you are going to sell something, you must be willing to put yourself out there and make clear what you want your reader or customer to do.

          Men still rule the business world because they have been doing it longer, they have the knowledge and experience, and unfortunately too many of them have no qualms about success at any price. As women stereotypically don’t follow that path, they do still get left behind.

          But while male CEOs still run the majority of Fortune 1000 companies, women now own between 30 and 50% of business in total (depends on whose numbers you use). So, it is just a matter of time before this demographic changes. James herself is something of a case in point.

          I have no qualms with her joining the ranks of men. She is a very good writer, I like her blog a lot, and she did what she felt she had to in order to succeed (and pay the rent.) Derek is probably thrilled with this post as well, given the numbers it’s generating, it helps to prove his point.

          But as a parent, I wonder how she feels about setting an example for her kids that manipulation (a nice word for lying) is a valid method of success. Even if you look at it as just stirring the pot, don’t we already have more than enough of that?

          As to Derek’s response about banning people/haters that don’t like your message, I don’t think those observations had much to do with the premise of this post.


        This would be an example of what Derek is saying above. Those negative comments are bound to rile up all of Danielle’s fans! Actually she also talked about the bias against her regarding the NY Times bestseller list, so she was naming a big target for her fan to get pissed off at.

          Lisa Van Ahn

          Natasha (and Derek) I laughed out loud at this ‘couldn’t be more perfect example’.
          I actually sent a personal email to Danielle after reading that exact blog post (I received it via email) expressing my “shock and disbelief” that anyone would right those things about her book, which I have personally bought for myself, others, and pimped out just because I love it so much.

          So, yeah Derek…I get it. I’m gonna choose world changing via positive writing and sharing…then once in awhile I might just throw in the occasional “you might not like hearing this but it is true” and see what happens.

          Keep up the great work, I do enjoy your blog very much.

          Derek Halpern

          That’s a perfect example.

Pauline Scott

I have found that reading these types of books does help to see how marketers using manipulation. For example, the three prices you see everywhere, including the gas station for the same commodity. Also, the fact that impulse buying is anything under $20 near a checkout counter. It helps move some of this knowledge into the foreground to making more decisions based on reason – sometimes.

    Pauline Scott

    It should say “use” manipulation instead of “using.”

      Derek Halpern

      No problem.

      And you’re right, you should read these books to help protect yourself.

      But there’s also a way to use them to figure out how to take the moral high ground too.

      That’s how I like to do it.

Jen Gresham

Certainly true, Derek, and you explained the phenomena well. If you’d like a case in point, I’d point people to my post “Why I Fired My Father (and Maybe You Should Too)” which has 259 comments and continues to get a ton of traffic more than a year after I posted it.


What I’d like to know is: what are other formulas besides this one? Controversy is great some of the time, but I for one don’t particularly want that to be the only traffic-driving tool in my tool box. I’d bore myself.

I remember reading that one of the most shared articles from NYT was actually from it’s science pages. I’d argue you use that same technique to grow your blog probably a lot more than controversy.

    Derek Halpern

    Of course…

    YOu can’t create a controversy everyday of the week…

    People would start ignoring you as fast as possible, heh.

    And the reason why science works so well is because people LOVE sharing new data that teaches them about something new.


Hello Derek,

Thanks for the awesome ideas in this post.

Honestly I have never really considered using this formula “outrage + controversy = traffic” before. I could definitely see where this could work in so many niches / blogs for traffic generation. My mind is reeling, so I’m off the to buy the buy through your link.

Just want to thank you for the great content, ONCE AGAIN!


    Derek Halpern

    You’re welcome Francis.

    Thanks for being a loyal subscriber + commenter.


I’m feeling a bit manipulated right now. This is like 34653937546th post I’ve seen about Ryan’s book today :).

Now on to this Tucker Max/Planned Parenthood issue! Just kidding…

Great stuff as always Derek, I was already planning on picking up the book anyway, but love how you always provide a personal example.

    Derek Halpern

    While I mention his book in the article, it’s not 100% about his book. I also shared that simple little formula that I think people can use to experience some massive results.

    However, you’re right. A lot of people are talking about his book today simply because it’s a great book :-).

Mark Conger

When I was a kid, the come back phrase that would bug other kids to no end was “Yo Mama!” (Before it became a cliche.)

It’s probably a great example of outage and controversy on a one to one scale.

Thanks, Derek, for helping us return to basics.

    Derek Halpern

    You know, I think people might consider outrage + controversy basic, but it’s actually quite hard to pull off.

    It’s like Chess.

    It’s easy to learn how to move the pieces, but it’s hard to learn how to play like a grandmaster.

Chandler Turner

Dude, you are at it again. Nice! I am sure the formula is sure to work. It is like street cred. How do you get it? Pick on the toughest kid on the block. Same thing with a new product. Pick on old number one in the market and people will notice. Or tell people that content is not king. I heard someone say that once. Of course, I thought he was wrong and had do go out of my way to say so. If you have time, take a peek at the video on my home page.


    Derek Halpern

    You know me chandler :-).

      Chandler Turner

      Yep. Glad I do. I just picked up a great idea from this blog and I am getting ready to stir up some crap around here. It is going to be fun.

Jonathan Payne

Courtesy of your Facebook update yesterday, I am here to yell at you and tell you how pissed off I am and stuff.

(But really, great post man!)

    Derek Halpern

    Thanks Jonathan.

    This post was supposed to be longer… but I had to cut it down.

    There were a bunch of other stories I wanted to tell, but I’ll have to save it for another time >.<


This just made me decide to go ahead and develop a post that’s been on the back burner because I thought it might be too controversial.

    Derek Halpern

    I’d love to hear how it turns out…


I disagree with everything you said. It just isn’t true because people say it’s true…just kidding!

Great post.


    Derek Halpern

    Ha ha.

Ameena Falchetto

Spot on Derek!

Marketing is an art. A polarising reaction is crucial. Love or hate!

Ryan’s book looks amazing.

    Derek Halpern

    I had the lucky chance of receiving an advanced copy, and I loved it.

    I also bought a copy just to support him, too.

Gabe Johansson

This is definitely a killer formula and I see potential all over the place!

It’s interesting how people will share something that they disagree with more than agree (when related to the 3Bs). I’m sure having a larger audience, outlet, and number of connections will help considerably with this method though.

I am definitely going to incorporate this into what I am doing in the near future and see how the stats turn out.

Thanks a bunch,

    Derek Halpern

    You’re welcome Gabe.

    And when you do incorporate it, make sure you let me know what happens.

      Gabe Johansson

      Absolutely Derek!

      I’m sure you’ll see it somehow. You’re everywhere online haha

      I’ll let you know either way!

      Thanks again

Robin Owen

Derek I’ve got a question for you. I’m a boudoir photographer. How do I use outrage? I guess I could say something like Fat girls never look good in boudoir photos but I’m afraid that would put me out of business 🙂
Love your blog. XO

    Derek Halpern

    I think there are a lot of people out there that would think boudoir photos are outrageous. I’d find those people and fire them up.

Tricia O'Malley

Great post! People may be uncomfortable with agreeing with this – but you “speaka da truth.” I also very much enjoyed how when you click on links in your posts now – they open in different windows. 🙂

    Derek Halpern


Stephanie @ Fairground Media

This is something I’ve been thinking about actually. This is why loud, outspoken online characters reap the biggest audiences and always have buzz around their content.

My “voice”– online and off– is a pretty mild-mannered one. I mean, I’m a nerdy introvert who likes to see other people succeed, and I find myself naturally adding disclaimers to anything that’s strictly my opinion. Maybe someday soon I’ll figure out how to stir a little controversy while still being myself. Will keep pondering!

    Derek Halpern

    It’s actually backed up by research too…

    Don Moore, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, demonstrated that “consumers tend to pick advice from those who express more confidence that they have the right answer (Moore, 2009)”

    Now this makes sense. We all know how important confidence is in all business settings. But here is where this gets interesting…

    Confidence trumped accuracy. The advisers who grossly exaggerated their confidence levels, and as a result, were often wrong, still generated more consumer interest than their competition, who may have lacked confidence or took a more conservative approach.

    Or in other words, advisers with 100% confidence would attract more buyers just because they were willing to commit to their decision.


      Sounds like a politician’s gambit as well! Oh, for such glorious chutzpah!

        Derek Halpern

        Heh. Chutzpah. Haven’t heard that word in a while!

Owen McGab Enaohwo

WOW the book video ad FREAKING ROCKS BALLS! @Derek because of you I have been listening to a lot of behavioral psychology books so that I can improve my marketing. I am definitely going to buy this one once I am done listening to “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Robert B. Cialdini and others”.

Derek what are the top behavioral psychology books that you have read? I want to buy and listen to them as well.

    Derek Halpern

    Someday I’ll write a post about the top books, but right now, doing that would take forever. I’ve read so many that I don’t think I can sit down and pick the “top books, heh.”

Trent Dyrsmid

Hey Derek,

You definitely nail it with this post. When I saw the formula, I thought, “of course”…but it wasn’t something that I would have thought to use in any of the many posts I write on my own blog, without having read it here first.

Thanks so much 🙂


PS. Blog That Converts is pretty damn good mate. My blog already has a solid following and fast-growing list…but I definitely learned a few new ideas from your course!

    Derek Halpern

    Glad to hear it Trent. And glad that you like the course Blog that Converts.

    This is one of those formulas… when people see they’ll think “well, that’s obvious.”

    But you know what they say about hindsight… it’s 20/20.

Marissa @ Beautifully Organised

So true Derek! I see it in the mummy blogging world almost every day.

    Derek Halpern

    Have some examples? Would love to see some follow up!

      Marissa @ Beautifully Organised

      mamamia.com.au has them regularly, still love going there and reading it – often for the comments 🙂

      Clay Hebert

      Jessica Gottlieb is a friend and a mommy blogger and she is great at writing super compelling headlines and often creating some controversy and occasionally some outrage.


        Derek Halpern

        Nice — you gotta get your gravatar working, though Clay.

Dewane Mutunga

It’s no secret that controversy sells and attracts eyeballs. However, there is an art to “crafting” controversy so it gets the maximum results. Some are more skilled than others.

Doesn’t take long after checking the tabloids or watching E! to see the power of controversy. There are celebs who’ve built careers off it (ie: Kim K) lol

    Derek Halpern

    Eh, if it’s no secret that outrage + controversy attracts eyeballs, why do I see so few people executing on it the right way? 🙂


      This may be an amatuer question but how do you create this controversy with out burning bridges. Or is that the point? Selecting the bridges you dont mind burning to get more of the traffic you want? Good article Though! Very intriguing.

        Derek Halpern

        All controversies burn bridges… in some form or another.

        I personally don’t mind bridges that I don’t want to leave up, though.

          Ramsay from Blog Tyrant

          Great article and interesting comment bro.

          I guess one thing that bothers me with this type of thing is knowing where the “boundaries” are.

          For example, media guys (not the guy mentioned, I don’t know him) who stir up controversy in politics for the sake of ratings really pollute the system because consumers and politicians end up having to be careful what color tie they wear for fear that it will controversially align themselves with some extremist group.

          I don’t really like the idea of making people mad for the sake of getting traffic and publicity.

          I suppose in the “blogging” niche there isn’t so much that can go wrong but if people are applying this to blogs about global warming or not vaccinating babies then it could have big impacts on a lot of people.


      Kevin Velasco

      Most people are too p***y to stir up the waters with controversial statements.

        Dewane Mutunga

        That is VERY true.

      Dewane Mutunga

      Simple, not everybody can execute. It’s one thing to know something and another to be able to do it 😀

      I think the recent Time cover with the breast feeding mom fits this criteria. Thoughts?


        Dewane – I like YOUR thinking.

        Ryan Holiday

        It’s simple. It’s just not easy.

Michael Chibuzor

Yes I agree. Contents that arouse emotions of anger, awe and other emotional triggers can go viral. I like your post Derek and it’s motivated me to go out there and manipulate my readers – in a positive way. This post is good, real good!

    Derek Halpern

    Hi Michael, it’s true. I talked about that in the older article though. This article was mainly about Outrage + Controversy.

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