16/03/2011

By Phil Szomszor, Head of Digital, Citigate Dewe Rogerson

Quora. A sign that dotbomb 2.0 is around the corner or the most innovative social media tool since Twitter? Whatever you think of it, it has certainly got people talking.

Set up by Adam D'Angelo and Charlie Cheever in 2010, the question and answers website is estimated to be worth a staggering $300 million and has attracted top talent from the internet heavyweights, particularly Facebook.

But, putting the hype aside for a moment, what’s the benefit to businesses?

First of all, it’s helpful to understand the beast.

The most obvious thing to compare Quora to is Yahoo Answers, but it’s much more than that. Apart from having more detailed – arguably intelligent – answers to questions, it borrows from many other social media tools.

It’s a bit like Twitter with its follow/following aspects. It has elements of blogging functionality, with long form answers to questions. It’s like Wikipedia, because the knowledge is crowd-sourced and the site is moderated. And it’s like Digg, because questions are voted up and down by users.

The benefits to businesses are numerous. It’s good for insight gathering, to understand how customers feel about particular issues or products. It can help senior executives and business owners demonstrate expertise in a subject area. And it boosts personal search engine placement (your Quora profile will soon appear on your P1 Google search results).

But, as any Quora user will tell you, it isn’t a broadcast medium for pimping your products. So, with that all in mind, here’s my top 10 tips for businesses:

1. Play with it – Follow a bunch of people you know using it, answer a few questions, perhaps some not related to your world of work. Dip in and out.

2. Be consistent – Use the same usernames as your other social media channels if you can. It might sound a bit narcissistic, but your online brand is important.

3. Fill it in – Set up your profile properly, with a bit of background and reference the company you work for/own.

4. Don’t push it – Don't plug your company or brand too much. Some journalists, like the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones, have already criticised this.

5. Engage with questions about your company – This appears to be a bit of a grey area, but it’s ok to answer questions about your company, as long as it’s not too self-promotional (see Instagram).

6. Be an expert – Answer questions in your subject area, with detail and authority. Cite stats in the public domain.

7. Remember to ask questions too – It’s OK to ask questions about your subject area, even if it’s to promote discussion. Remember to post them to Twitter and Facebook, if appropriate

8. Keep your eyes open – Add a Quora search feed into your Tweetdeck or HootSuite profile so you can keep an eye on what people are talking about. Follow @Quora on Twitter too.

9. Be nice – Listen, read and remember to thank people – in other words, regular social media rules.

10. Cross dress – Like Twitter, it’s ok to cross personal and professional worlds on Quora, but make sure you behave professionally in both cases.

So, there you have it. Like many of these new tools, Quora is evolving. It’s had a lot of flak, due to the amount of attention it has attracted. But as the functionality improves (surely integration with tools like Tweetdeck and an iPhone app are around the corner), it’ll get better. Quora isn’t the next Twitter – it serves a different purpose. But it is one that businesses can benefit from being part of.

Follow Phil Szomszor on Twitter @theredrocket

www.citigatedewerogerson.com