Yesterday, on a client call, I was asked if Quora was going to be relevant, and what businesses should do about it. I’m sure I’m going to get asked this more often, so I’ll put my answers down for all to see. If you’re not familiar with Quora, it’s a Q&A website where people can ask questions and others can answer and respond. If you’ve seen LinkedIn or Yahoo Answers or similar features from Community Platforms, and even Get Satisfaction to an extend, you’ll find a theme. Quora officially launched 6 months ago in a limited beta, and is founded by Facebook’s former CTO with backing by Benchmark capital, all positive signs for company vitality.
What makes Quora Notable:
- A Social Network for Questions and Responses. Like a social network, individual are often putting their real identities and offer extensive features for surfacing the ideal responses up, these features are more advanced that the typical ‘vote up or down’ responses. The service is interesting, as it seeks to surface the most valuable and relevant answers, but I found that many of my questions didn’t get enough responses to warrant usefulness over every interaction. There’s a unique blend of checks and balances that allow for the question, summaries, and votes for answers to be surfaced, much like a wiki for Q&A.
- An Advanced Set of Features That May Confuse New Users. The user interface offers as lot of features, but some which are complicated. As I started to probe around and ask questions, it wasn’t clear how to create a question (you actually have to put it in the ‘search field’, an action not native to most users). Secondly it wasn’t clear what the difference was between a question and a post (which is like a blog post). A few times, I found the service slow to load pages, likely due to the next point.
- Technology Influencers are Currently Present, Spurring Growth. A certain type of technology and web influencer is present (see this frequently updated list), giving fuel to their early but rapid growth. I’ve seen this before. First with Twitter, Friendfeed and now Quora. While this group may not be an influencer group of CPG, Retail, and other industries, they are an early indicator of technology adoption. For example, in his natural penchant to find and evangelize new services, Robert Scoble, has become a poster boy for this product, much how he did for Friendfeed, further bolstering the growth. To really see if this is the service that will explode, we’ll need to watch how it shapes the SXSW experience, a conference I use as a bell weather for next-generation technologies
- Like All Social Sites, It’s at Risk to be Gamed. Quality responses are likely to surface the highest, yet like all voting websites, search engines, and social networks that allow for followers and friends, those with more connections to the network will be able to assert more influence over content, visibility, and ability to ultimately sway others. The Quora service seeks to balance this out by trying to surface the most relevant content at the top. Yet, I assert that those with more popularity will always be able to influence their responses to the top, as you can read in this discussion here, here, and of course on Quora itself. (Update: Later, Robert proved my point as he was lashed out for gaming Quora)
How Businesses Should Respond to Quora:
- Businesses Accounts Not Allowed…Yet. Now, If you’re involved in supporting your customers in the social web, either you’re a brand manager, or a community manager, your job is to go where customers are online and respond to them. While Quora doesn’t currently allow business profiles on the site (see how the Mashable account has been suspended) you should expect in the future that this would be a potential revenue stream for Quora to offer ‘buy outs’ for Q&A just as LinkedIn has done in the past.
- At A Minimum, Monitor The Discussions. While corporate accounts are not currently allowed, personal accounts are, and most people who are in Quora work at a company and you see them answering questions about their company. Send your Community Managers (you have them, right?) into this emerging Q&A sites as they would other sites, to monitor and respond if questions go awry. Glean intelligence by creating an excel sheet and creating a list of the top asked questions related to your brand and use to fuel internal discussions around why these questions are asked, and cascade to the appropriate product and service teams to fix. Likely if one customer is asking questions in Quora, it’s an indicator others are too. The savvy will use this information to identify leads, such as those following the keywords related to your brand.
- Advanced? Engage by Providing Helpful Responses. The advanced community managers should be responding to questions related to the lifestyle or workstyle of their brand to demonstrate thought leadership and ability to engage in discussions, adding value to the community. If questions about your product are answered on other websites, leave a summary respond and point to the original repository of correct information. Tip: I provided just a link to one of my blog posts where the answer was, and some users asked me instead answer in text, then link. As always, be sure to indicate where you work and that you are an employee of the company, as transparency gleans trust. The goal? To give the most helpful answers so they rise to the top of the question thread.
You can find my Quora account here, where I will ask and answer questions that I’m passionate or need help with.
Update Jan 22: I met the Quora founders last night at the Techcrunch’s award show, Crunchies and asked him point blank “When will there be services for companies” and he told me that isn’t a direct focus right now (as they’ve indicated). Although he didn’t say it directly, we should assume ‘Corporate’ accounts won’t be available sometime until they have massive consumer adoption, and also because they have considerable funding to tie them over to build a great service. This further reinforces my recommendations to you above to monitor and respond now.