This past year possibly has been one of the most challenging years in our collective lifetimes. We’ve not only endured a pandemic but also political unrest, social injustice, economic collapse, and natural disasters. As a result, your readers are likely a bit over-sensitive and emotionally exhausted. That means it’s easier than ever to accidentally trigger unwanted responses from your audience. Therefore, bloggers need to write about sensitive topics with more sensitivity than ever.
It is possible to blog about sensitive issues without alienating your audience. You just need to know how to engage your audience instead of unintentionally pushing them away.
Know Your Audience
First and foremost, you must know your audience and understand your niche. Before you post new content, stop. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. Think about how they will respond to your words. How might they perceive your posts, videos, or photos?
For example, I recently took a six-month road trip across the USA. I knew it was risky due to the pandemic. I also realized that some of my audience might not appreciate or approve of that level of risk.
During my trip, I visited a few friends I hadn’t seen in years. Usually, I would post images on my social media accounts of selfies with sideways hugs. Given the pandemic, I knew that that kind of close proximity to other humans put us at risk of exposing each other to COVID. I also was aware that it might elicit audience responses like, “Where is your mask?” or “Why are you visiting friends during a pandemic?”
So, I didn’t post the usual selfies and wrote very little about my visits with friends. Instead, I focused on being outdoors and the scenic nature venues I explored on my road trip.
Put things in Context
It’s easy to misunderstand something when it’s not put in context. It’s your job as a blogger to provide context so your readers don’t overreact simply because they lack information or can’t see the whole picture.
One of the friends I visited on my trip was a senior citizen with underlying medical issues who lives in Texas. We wanted to see each other, so I agreed to take a COVID test just a couple of days before I got there. I waited for my negative results and then enjoyed several days with her and her partner right outside Big Bend National Park.
When I posted about my experiences with her, I mentioned that I had gotten a COVID test before visiting. That helped my audience relax and not become fearful or annoyed with what could be perceived as risky behavior.
Ask for Feedback
You’ve probably heard the expression, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” That phrase also applies to blogging.
Even good intentions can backfire. If you are covering sensitive topics on your blog, reread and review your post more than once. Read the post through their eyes, questioning all your word choices and turns of phrase.
Ask a colleague—especially someone who might be offended by what you wrote—to review the post before you publish it. Take their feedback seriously and make suggested changes. Doing so could save you from landing in hell after your audience reads the post.
Try to Use Real Photos That You Took
Sometimes it’s appropriate to use stock photos instead of pictures that you took, and sometimes it’s not. The deciding factor lies in your subject.
If you write about travel, try to use images you’ve taken personally, and be careful not to enhance them too much. The last thing you want is to give your audience the wrong impression about a tourist destination. If you make it sound peaceful and use photoshop to remove the crowd of people surrounding you, and then they travel there expecting serenity, your reputation will suffer.
Additionally, if most of your readers are stuck at home during the pandemic lockdown and you can be out and about, posting a picture of yourself having a drink at your favorite pub might not win you a lot of popularity points. The same goes for posting pictures of you doing something fun or carefree while, at the same time, a large part of your audience struggles to find food or a safe haven during a fire or hurricane evacuation order.
If your blog features people affected by a sensitive issue—like racism or sexual assault—tread lightly during the interview and in your approach to writing their stories. Be kind and compassionate and let the interviewee know you won’t force them to say anything they aren’t comfortable sharing.
Also, always ask for permission to use a person’s story or photo, even if you aren’t using their name in the post. Be clear about the topic and angle you plan to take and how and where you will use their story. Having their approval allows you to create the content and narrative you need. If you don’t take the time to get permission, it could create conflict and damage your reputation.
Occasionally, someone will ask to see the story beforehand. Journalists know this can become problematic since sometimes the piece’s subject will back out once they see their words on paper. However, it’s up to you if you want to allow a review of your work—and doing so can avoid issues later. After all, you can work with the person to eliminate anything too sensitive.
Avoid Jargon and Trigger Words
It’s essential to use correct terminology and words that won’t trigger a negative response in readers. Try to be politically correct, unless you write for an edgy niche audience that won’t appreciate that tactic. Always use words your audience will understand and that evoke the kind of response you want.
It can feel challenging to strike a balance between being your authentic voice and being too sensitive to your readers’ reactions. However, following these tips will help you blog about sensitive issues without alienating your audience. Plus, they will help your content be better received while making you a better—and more conscientious—writer. As a bonus, you’ll avoid a lot of unwanted drama in your life and blog.
How do you avoid upsetting readers when writing about sensitive topics? Let me know in a comment below. And share this post with another blogger!
About the Author
Beth Bauer is a freelance writer, travel blogger, yoga instructor, and entrepreneur currently working on her third novel. She has traveled to over 20 countries in just the last two years and enjoys life as a digital nomad. She is originally from the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.A., and when she’s home lives on the Long Beach Peninsula with her dog, Ozzie.
Photo courtesy of Aleksandr Davydov