Leveraging social media as a “strategic marketing initiative” generally means raising brand awareness among a specific audience on a small budget. But unlike traditional one-way media, the interactive nature of the social sphere means that it is also possible to drive direct customer conversions along the way. Many startups use channels such as LinkedIn and Twitter effectively with these goals in mind. LinkedIn reaches a qualified audience in a professional context; Twitter can magnify the reach of a message while leveraging the reputations and connections of the most influential people in one’s network.
A more recent entrant into the social media space called Quora provides an interesting and flexible way to customize interactions with a broad audience. While it is only a few years old, Quora is actively used by many thought leaders in the startup world to directly participate in exchanges with their constituents. These include founders and CEOs such as Jimmy Wales, Craig Newmark, Dick Costolo, Dennis Crowley and Dustin Moskovitz; investors such as Marc Andreesen, Mark Suster,Dave McClure and Esther Dyson; and pundits such as Robert Scoble, Tim O’Reilly,Jason Calacanis and Michael Arrington.
Quora—a questions and answers site—allows anyone to pose questions about any topic, either attributed or anonymously. Similarly, the community of users can provide answers to these questions, and validate the responses provided by up-voting and down-voting answers through community moderation.
I started using Quora in late 2010 because several people I respected were tweeting out links to their answers. That made me curious, so I checked out the site, signed up, and found my niche. I’m the kind of person who loves answering questions, so it was a natural.
There are two important features that set Quora apart from other question and answer sites and community forums. First, all of its members must sign up with their verifiable real names, and second, Quora enhances and tempers community participation with professional moderators, including employees and volunteer administrators.
The result of such a flexible platform is that interactions happen completely on the users’ own terms. They can be deep or shallow, individual or collective, public or anonymous, periodic or occasional. Because of Quora’s real name policy, it provides an unparalleled forum for building one’s personal brand as an expert in whatever topics one chooses to engage. I, for example, am signed up for Quora as David S. Rose, entrepreneur, angel investor, mentor…and CEO of Gust. All of my answers (over 1,400 at this point) are attached to my full identity and the entity that I represent. (See examples here and here.)
There’s no dichotomy between the personal and professional worlds. While Quora has a policy (both official and community-enforced) against direct commercial advertising, we have been astounded by the number of incoming visits to Gust that originated from a link in a Quora answer (whether by me or someone else) referencing the company. And while the site is less well known than some of the mega-social-media sites, I have as many followers on Quora at this point as I do on Twitter, which I joined in 2008.
As a marketing tool, this means Quora can be effectively leveraged to address a brand’s needs across many different dimensions. First and most obvious is knowledge sharing and domain expertise. While I have answered hundreds of questions about venture pitching, angel investing and other subjects related to the entrepreneurial space, I am not the only person from Gust who is active on the platform. Other members of our team at Gust have posted professional or market-oriented questions and received valuable insights from the Quora community, and have themselves answered questions in their areas of expertise, building their own personal brands among Quora’s tech-savvy and early-adopter community.
Second, Quora’s depth and flexibility allows brands to subtly crystallize their leadership positions in the marketplace through asking and answering questions, directly managing a personal or professional blog, or seeking and responding to ranked reviews. Even in a general, public topic, a true industry expert can have a major impact by participating actively in answering and commenting on subjects relevant to the brand, thus developing and reinforcing a domain leadership position. The benefits to the brand are significant, although not easily quantifiable.
Third, Quora allows for effective “high-caliber, low-scale” recruitment. Startups specifically want people who are excited about their ideas and products, engaged with the technology space as a whole and are self-starters. Some of our top talent at Gust found us—and intercepted us—on Quora. Great hires, at zero recruiting costs (other than my time).
Finally, there’s something about Quora that I personally appreciate and believe has great meaning in the often-cluttered world of marketing. The site’s design, structure, philosophy and community foster transparency and ownership of one’s personal point-of-view and engagement. This results in participation that is directly attributable, usually responsible and often constructive. Quora can empower brands in many ways, while it is at the same time building a solid foundation for knowledge exchange across the industry.
*Original post can be found on Wall Street Journal Blogs @ http://blogs.wsj.com/accelerators/2013/03/14/david-s-rose-why-qa-forums-can-help-build-a-brand/ *