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Quora: Valuable help, overblown hype or new CRM hope?

28th Feb 2011
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Quora launched in private beta in June 2009, opening its doors in July 2010. It saw a sudden massive rise in interest at the beginning of 2011 (traffic tripled in January 2011), as it came to the attention of tech bloggers and the mass Twitterati.

It’s essentially a Q&A site: members can ask or answer questions of Quora members, and vote the best answers up or down, which gives a consensus (or quorum) or opinion on any given subject. The idea behind the voting system is that the most useful answers get voted up, and so are more reliable and better informed than, say, LinkedIn Answers.

For those unfamiliar with the site, there’s a good post by Drew Benvie with practical tips for using Quora, such as how providing useful (not 'braggy') answers to questions will increase your 'usefulness' on the site; how to set privacy controls; and how to link to topics and people.

Quora has polarised opinion. Fans think it’s smarter than Twitter (it won ‘best new start-up of 2010 in the Crunchies awards). Detractors view it as self-indulgent navel-gazing by social media types. Its investors reportedly value the company at a whopping $300 million; some observers think it’s interesting, but not worth its valuation. Its founders may have something to do with the level of investment (and media attention) it has attracted: among them are former Facebook employees, Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever.

What can it do for you?
In practical terms, what can it do for the user? The most succinct answer comes from Milo Yiannopoulos, writing for the Telegraph: "Twitter was fun for the few, but Quora will be useful to the many. It's is the place to go for on-demand answers to specific questions from people who know what they're talking about. That's something no search engine - or existing social network - comes close to." So, you can get answers to questions from knowledgeable people, and check the answer against wider opinion.
But can it offer anything to the business? Other social platforms are being embraced by the business, so should Quora also be on their to-do list?
At present Quora is very much focused on individuals, rather than companies. You ask a question to an individual in the real world; so it is with Quora. But on Quora your answer to an internet-related question might just come from Steve Case, founder of AOL.
Nevertheless, Jeremiah Owyang forecasts that although there is no Quora for business (yet), we could see business profiles being added to the site in the future as it it would be a potential revenue stream for Quora to offer 'buy outs' for Q&As as LinkedIn has done in the past.
But that's not to say that Quora offers no potential benefits to business as it stands.
What can it do you for your brand?
Owyang adds that "at a minimum" individuals representing companies should be monitoring discussions on the site and listening to customer opinion; and that "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." So, it could be another tool for businesses seeking to improve their customer engagement,
And he also suggests that brands could use Quora to glean intelligence, drafting a list of the most popular questions related to their business to "fuel internal discussions around why these questions are asked and cascade to the appropriate product and service teams to fix."
Lisa Barone is another that has identified Quora's potential to provide valuable market research and intelligence, suggesting it could be used to source opinion on a supplier or product. "Following important subject area topics (like SEO or web marketing, perhaps), industry leaders, your competitors or even the people your competitors are following can prove to be highly informative, giving you access to questions, information or intel you can use later," she explains. "If your competitor down the street is commenting on a thread and slipping hints about a project he  may be working on or something he’s getting ready to release, wouldn’t you want to know that?"
Indeed, in these social times, it could be a useful platform to crowdsource or test opinion on anything from product development processes to product recalls. It could help individuals share knowledge and information by following current thinking around a particular topic (or company). And of course for PR or marketing teams, it could raise a personal profile; create a thought leadership platform; give spokespeople the opportunity to respond personally to questions relevant to the brand; and create discussion or debate around a particular subject (beware self-promotion or spam, though, you’ll get spotted, and voted down by the community).
It might even improve your search engine ranking (Drew Benvie suggests that individuals fill out their profile in as complete a way as you can, because it is very search engine friendly. "After under one month on Quora personally, my profile already appears in Google's front page of search results for my name," said Benvie).
Ultimately, Benvie concluded that there are three compelling reasons why brands should use Quora.
  1. Your brand is being discussed on Quora. Quora is not search-based. You can't just wait for updates to hit you or easily search them out. You need to spend time on Quora to see the discussions.
  2. Your network is moving to Quora. You may well by now have a strong social network on sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and forums. They are beginning to replace some of their old social media usage with the threaded, themed discussions that take place on Quora.
  3. New experts emerge as new discussions appear over on Quora. Search out questions about your brand or client and see who the most knowledgeable contributors are. They will most likely link to their Twitter accounts and other online profiles and you can begin to understand the new social media influencers in your space. 
Flash in the pan? 
But have the tech watchers moved on already? Reports recently are of a new ideas, discussion and question site from TED (TED Conversations), billed as a ‘Quora-like platform for intelligent discussion’. The real test will be whether Quora can grow its user base and still stay useful and credible, while avoiding the white noise that you can experience from LinkedIn Answers, or that has damaged the reputation of Yahoo! Answers.
The site has faced criticism that the voting mechanism means the answers which receive the best ratings are not always the BEST answers, but the ones which come from the most popular or ’celebrity’) authors.
When authors like Robert Scoble and Jason Calacanis post an answer, their legions of fans (or those who want to get noticed) will up-vote it, at the expense of better-crafted answers from lesser-known writers (and even Scoble has voiced his dissatisfaction at Quora's quirks recently). But this aside, the voting system goes further than any competitor sites in filtering out the mad, spam or self-promoting answers to questions.
And if you’re still not convinced what Quora can do, you could always go and ask its founder Adam D’Angelo, by posing that question to him… on Quora.
Steve Richards is MD of social media agency Yomego.

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By joe cibula
28th Feb 2011 15:28

Steve -

One problem with Quora is: it's still search; and shifting the onus from consumers searching to businesses searching isn't the answer. Competitors "dropping hints" about what they might be up to wouldn’t entice me to register my company, either. Maybe you, and Milo, Lisa, Jeremiah and Drew can take a good hard look at, which has been around for almost 3 years now. Inversearch does every good thing your article suggests, and more. As you consider the benefits of inverse search, you may want to think hard about why inversearch is immune to spam and other reasons why consumer queries are not crawled.


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By wecandobiz
28th Feb 2011 16:26

I'm still not sure what I think of Quora.  I am unsure whether I still haven't "got it", or whether I actually have and I am one of a few sniggering at the Emporer's New Clothes -- after all, why all the excitement for something that isn't substantially different to LinkedIn Answers, Facebook Questions, Yahoo Answers or a whole load of other similar concepts, none of which have really got off the ground?

Ian Hendry
CEO , WecanDo.Biz

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