Can social Q&A sites really help you build your professional reputation? And if so, how can you use them effectively? I've taken a look at three sites that offer similar Q&A functionality, yet are vastly different under the surface. Beyond the Q&A features, each site attracts a different set of users, and offers varying amounts of immediacy, usefulness as an information tool and value as a profile builder.
I recently wrote about using Quora for getting answers to business-related questions. While I think the quality of conversation on Quora can be good, sometimes you feel like you are posting a question into a big, black hole. Still, with the amount of buzz happening around the site, getting in now to "stake your claim" in your areas of expertise isn't a bad idea.
When starting to use Quora as a reputation-builder, make sure to fill out your profile information thoroughly, including the sections on the site where you can include your "bio" for various topics. Even if you aren't ready to spend time answering questions, you want to make sure your expertise is showcased concisely, otherwise people will arrive at your Quora profile page and have no idea who you are or what you do. Keep the length down and make sure the first handful of words convey something meaningful because this is what others will see when you answer questions in a given topic area.
To get more out of Quora, follow the topics that you believe you can contribute meaningfully to. Respond to questions when you have a specific point of view or expertise that hasn't yet been demonstrated. Follow the people with whom you are truly interested in getting on their radar, learning from, or interacting with.
Quora has a section in your profile where you can post content. This can be a good place to re-purpose some of your relevant content and tagging it with specific topic keywords to add your two cents without specifically answering a question. You can also answer a question and link to your content elsewhere, although do this sparingly as this can appear gratuitous if you simply use Quora to point people to your blog or site. Don't think of Quora as a "gateway" to your other presences, like your blog, but instead think of it as an opportunity to provide a snapshot of who you are and what you do on a site where people are paying attention.
Because of Quora's breadth of topics, you can choose almost any area and set of topics to show what you know. However, the most active areas are the tech, new and social media, and mobile spaces.
If your expertise is useful to small business owners, you may want to head over to Focus. This site has been around a few years now and while Quora came out of beta with a bang, Focus has been building a rich database of information and experts a little under the radar and now boasts over a million active users. While Quora tackles a broad range of topics, Focus looks to help business owners make better decisions, so expect to find more business topics and technology topics related to business.
On Focus, Q&A is only one of the site's features. Think of it as an expert network or "expert market" where business owners can not only get answers to their questions but download published research and attend live teleconference events.
As you fill out your Focus profile, you can opt to check a box to apply to become an official "expert" on the site, but there is no guarantee you'll be chosen. Focus takes a careful look at several criteria to assess if you are actually an expert in your field and if you have a proclivity for sharing your knowledge with others in a longer format such as on a blog versus Twitter. They also look at your interactions and the retweets your content generates to see if what you write resonates with your community of followers.
If interested in having you as an official expert on their site, Focus will conduct a phone interview. Some experts providing long form research are compensated but not those solely participating in the community Q&A. Otherwise, you can contribute to the Q&A section in basically the same way you might on Quora. The site is constantly undergoing incremental changes to improve how it works, so expect to see better integration of features over time.
Namesake calls itself a "community for real conversation." Namesake takes a more "live" approach to conversations on topics, with announcements of conversations happening on the site, and the people participating and watching.. The conversations are then archived and can be added to over time.
There is a little more chaos on Namesake compared to Quora or Focus.com; every response isn't carefully composed and the best aren't always "endorsed" or voted up to the top. These are "conversations" after all. Namesake groups people, conversations and experts by topic, so like Quora and Focus, you should follow the topics that are most interesting and relevant to you, to find experts and to identify conversations where you can be an expert.
The site claims experts in broad topic areas, from technology to entertainment to politics. You can claim your areas of expertise (up to 10) when you are filling out your bio, but you gain expert credibility and status through endorsements from others for your conversation contributions. A nice feature on your Namesake bio is the ability to add video to showcase who you are and what you know.
Whereas Quora might feel like a place for tech insiders, and Focus is more business-oriented and straightforward, Namesake has a scrappier feel where tech hipsters are jumping into a sandbox to play and experiment.
Tips for Q&A Site Success
As you can see, all of these sites have Q&A as a feature, but Quora emphasizes this aspect the most. Regardless of which site you choose as your platform for showcasing your expertise, know that the process can be time-consuming (and possibly addicting). Here are a few tips for making the most of your efforts:
- Pick one site. Be great. While you might dabble in all three sites to get a feel for them and to make sure they offer you the best audience for your information, to get more out of a Q&A site, you really need to pick one where you'll spend most of your time and energy. Be thoughtful, and take care to get a feel for the community and learn the etiquette of the site. Be helpful.
- Incorporate the site into your content production. If you're already blogging and tweeting, participating actively in a Q&A site can feel like a burden. Look for ways to incorporate a little time each day on the Q&A site of your choice so you can be present, pay attention and add value. Over the long haul, you'll find it easier and easier to make the time to contribute, but don't get carried away and let it dominate your time unless it is proving to be a fruitful outlet.
- Add to your content sharing. When you blog, find an appropriate way to share that in your profile or in an answer or as a post or update on a Q&A site. Make sure not to use the Q&A site as nothing more than a gateway or traffic driver to your blog or site, but do think of it as an additional place to archive examples of your work.
- Go narrow, not broad. You can't be all things to all people. You can't be a true "expert" in many, many things. Part of building your reputation is knowing who you are, what you can offer others, and then focusing on providing consistent, valuable information. Sure, you can provide the occasional answer to a random topic (for example, I've responded to questions about RVing and parenting on Quora) because this shows you're human and multidimensional. But when building your reputation and your brand, consistency is key.