Quora For Business, Not Social Media Hipsters


There’s a lot of talk today about Quora. It’s Robert Scoble’s fault, really. He had an opinion, changed it, and then it was up to the Internet to tell him he was wrong. Just a normal day around these parts.

Personally, I don’t care how Robert Scoble uses Quora. I don’t really care how Robert Scoble does anything. Because he’s not a “normal” user – he’s an early adopter who uses things with the intent to break them, like the kid who asks for a toaster just so he can take it apart. It’s cute, really, but it’s  not my intention. It’s probably not yours either. You don’t want to tinker. You just want the toast.

If you’re not familiar with Quora – congratulations on avoiding the hype in favor of a life. At its core, Quora is a question and answer site not too much different from the likes of LinkedIn Answers. What makes Quora interesting for Scoble and the social geek squad is (a) the exclusivity it garnered as a closed beta and (b) how it’s turned being helpful into a competition and a quest for social capital. That’s great for the ego-obsessed, but what about just for you and me?

How can you use Quora as a business owner?  What can it provide you with in terms of research, competitive intelligence and helping you to connect with a larger audience? Well, a few things.

Market Research

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you’re involved in marketing, social media or tech, in some way. And, well, hot damn, if those aren’t three of the top user profiles  using Quora right now. 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. 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? If people are asking for a certain tool or expressing a common need, wouldn’t you want to know that, as well? It’s amazing what you can hear simply by keeping your eyes open.

Vendor/ Tool Vetting

If you need help vetting social media, SEO or analytic tools, Quora may be an outlet to help you do that. Because answer quality is so high (and props to Quora for taking steps to make sure it remains that way), Quora has established itself a pretty solid resource for business owners of all sizes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people asking specific questions about a tool, service, etc, only to have the correct representative from that organization chime in to answer. You can’t get much better than that.  It’s like Twitter, but without that pesky character count.

Answering Your Own Questions

The conversation happening on Quora is a lot smarter than what’s taking place on other question and answer sites and that’s 100 percent the work of the Quora staff.  Not only have they done a good job killing spam, they actually require users to go through a quick tutorial before they’re allowed to ask a question (blog owners everywhere wish they had this functionality). It trains them on how to use the site and has helped keep the quality up. What that means is that if you ask a smart question (especially if it’s tech-related), you’ll get a smart answer back without the required “your mom” joke from the Internet.

On the flip-side, if you see a smart question and you have a smart answer, sharing it with the group is a good way to not only increase your social capital, but your reputation as an expert in your field. It’s what these Q&A sites are based on.

Pick Out Blog Topics

Sabre often jokes with me that I see the world in blog topics and blog titles. And I do. It’s an occupational hazard that hit me years ago. But if you’re someone who is always on the hunt for something new to write about and to cover, then scouring your important subject areas on Quora can help you come up with a breadth of ideas. Take a look at the type of questions people are asking. What are the common themes? What are they struggling with? What tools or workarounds are they looking for? What has them riled up? It’s a constant content source.

Finding Opportunities to Connect

Call it online reputation management or simply paying attention, but Quora gives you an opportunity to highlight conversations about your brand, your company and your executives and to get involved in them. A few quick OSM-related searches on Quora brings up users naming Outspoken Media as a top social media blog, a top copywriting blog, myself and Rhea as top female SEO professionals, and lots of other brand mentions. How did I first alert myself to these mentions? Through my Google Alerts. Which means, hi, these questions are already being given the authority they need to rank. In fact, they’re ranking pretty darn competitively. So maybe you should look for brand mentions and get in some of these conversations.

To make it even easier, if your brand gets a lot of mentions, it may already have its own Quora category. If so, simply follow it to be updated every time you get a new hit. Fancy.

Will Quora survive in the face of LinkedIn Answers, Yahoo Answers and the bad people (read: SEOs and marketers) who will ultimately try and turn it into a haven for spam, SEO whoring and self-promotion? Well, we’ll see. But let the pundits worry about all that and whether Quora deserves its social media crown. For business owners, Quora is another place where your customers are asking questions. The questions to ask yourself is: Are you smart enough to pay attention to answer them? Are you keeping your finger on what’s going on and recognizing these new platforms, are you still waiting for people to check out your site’s FAQ page?

Quora and sites like it represent a new era of users seeking out brand- and topic-specific information. That’s what matters. Not what the social media hipsters have to say about it.

What are your thoughts on Quora? Using it? Ignoring it? Never heard of it?

Your Comments

  • Manuel

    So far I’ve used it instead of google in order to find specific answers to specific questions about social media and reputation management.
    So far it’s been great, I’d add to your analysis that one of its most useful perks is the search engine. It’s super-useful.
    Great post Lisa ;)

    • Lisa Barone

      I’d put that in with Answering Your Own Questions, but I’m right there with you. That’s how I’ve been using it, as well. To either get answers for myself or to do research in terms of what tools other people are using, what questions they have, that type of thing. I think it’s a really great competitive intel tool right now.

      Thanks for chiming in!

      • Manuel

        Hopefully it’ll keep the high standards of questioning/answering, but I guess it’ll happen as you foresee. Sooner or later the door will open to the masses and the quality of the content will definitely disappear, numbers will rocket and they will sell the company to someone who will shut it down…

        Carpe diem!!

        • Lisa Barone

          Well, it is open to the public right now and we’re still seeing a high level of quality. Of course, as adoption grows they’ll struggle with that. Right now, at least, it’s good to see them taking some proactive steps to keep things healthy. Like giving users a tutorial before they’re allowed to ask a question, for example.

  • Rand Fishkin

    I’ve been using Quora since last spring and find it tremendously useful on a few fronts:

    #1 – Responses are often seen by some impressive, important folks. We’ve gotten inbound calls regarding venture capital and growth equity partially via my Quora participation (and what others have said about our company), and I’ve personally been invited to a few conferences that might not have been on my radar otherwise.

    #2 – Asking questions there can sometimes get great answers. The community isn’t experts at everything, and using Twitter, a blog post or a highly specific Q+A site (like those from the StackExchange platform) can sometimes be better, but some responses are truly impressive and, as you noted, can often come straight from the source.

    #3 – Answering (or even reviewing) questions is a good way to stay fresh on what’s of interest to early adopters in a niche and can often spark some great content for a blog post.

    Thanks for covering Quora, Lisa. I complained last night that TechCrunch was writing about little else, and it’s nice to see a marketing perspective on the service.

  • Kristi

    “You don’t want to tinker. You just want the toast.”

    I’m going to giggle over this phrase for the next five minutes.

    Every time someone talks about Quora, I click through, browse and thumbs up a few things, but I don’t go there on my own.

    • Lisa Barone

      I don’t go there unless I’m on a mission to find something…which I imagine is true for “normal” users. If I have a specific question I need answered or I want to see public opinion on a certain topic or tool, I’ll do a search and see what’s there.

    • Alec Perkins

      I just want to go on record and say how much I love that line, “You just want the toast.” I’m totally going to steal it for when I’m discussing users’ wants and needs with people.

  • Chris Miller

    I decided to take a break from chasing shiny new social media platforms for now and learn PHP. If someone has something new to say, I’ll probably also see it on Facebook. And Twitter. And Linkedin. And Blogs. And the social media meetups I attend. There is a point where you have to evaluate the topical inbound information you receive, and realize “hey, I am already pretty connected. I can stop searching for now”.

    • Manuel

      well… quora is not a social site, it’s a question/answer platform.
      Facebook connect doesn’t transform a platform into a social platform ;)

    • Lisa Barone

      There’s definitely a point where you have to evaluate — but you have to evaluate. You can’t just assume something is or is not worthwhile to you. Do your homework. :)

    • Chris Miller

      Actually, I, uh, kinda changed my mind. You know, it has been like an hour. A girl’s prerogative, ya know. I was thinking about what Rand said, and realized there’s a possibility Quora has a chance of being a non-suck version of Wikipedia if it really goes mainstream… which would actually be pretty cool, and something I’d like to be a part of. So I’m giving it an honest shot, after all.

      I would still consider it a social site by the way – it’s just a content first, social second, vs something like Facebook which is social first, content second.

  • Suzanne Vara


    Thank you for such a different view from what I have heard and read about Quora. I have ignored it as I heard that it is the social media folks asking questions and the same people giving answers. I did not think of it as research. Hmh. That is why I read this blog. We always walk away with something useful.

    I am going to have to check out Quora now.

    • Lisa Barone

      Glad you found it useful, Suzanne. There’s so much focus on the HYPE that these services can bring that we often ignore what’s actually useful about them.

  • Brian Clark

    Two things:

    1. Robert Scoble is not a hipster. Try to imagine him in skinny jeans. Now try to scrub that from your mind.

    2. Lisa is not a “normal” user of anything Internet related. Neither am I. Quora will not go mainstream, no matter how much the dorks at Tech Crunch talk about it.

    Facebook went mainstream because normal people want to see what old boyfriends/girlfriends are up to. Twitter went mainstream because normal people like to follow celebs. If normal people want a question answered, there are tons of sites out there with less stupid names that already do that. No innovative features, just Valley demagoguery.

    • Lisa Barone

      What does going mainstream have to do with finding a business use for a service? That’s ridiculous. Just because Quora will never be a Facebook (or at least not until they adopt some way better stalking features) doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value to me as a business owner and a marketer. If you’re looking for tech-related answers, Quora has a MUCH better database with more intelligent answers than something like Yahoo Answers or even LinkedIn Answers. There’s value in that. There’s value in asking a question about a tool and having someone from that company jump in to answer it.

      There’s not getting distracted by what’s shiny and then there’s completely dismissing what’s shiny simply because everyone else is talking about it [aka Justin Bieber syndrome]. I don’t care how stupid a name “Quora” is, as the iPad (or even Bing) has shown, if there’s value there, people will look past that. Unless you named your search engine Duck Duck Go. And then you’re just screwed.

      I think we’re getting in a really bad habit of dismissing things SIMPLY because they appear “new” or “flashy”. And that’s ridiculous. Are there other question and answer sites on the Web? Um, yeah there are. Does that take away the value from one that’s populated with strong tech answers from people who actually know what the hell they’re talking about? Not even a little bit.

      • Brian Clark

        Sorry Lisa, maybe looking around at Quora might have some value, but unless it goes mainstream, it has no value to those of us in the new media business from a traffic/participation standpoint.

        So I guess what you’re saying is go over there and learn what you can and maybe ask questions, but don’t waste time answering questions? Because creating content for yet another group of Silcon Valley VCs has no appeal to professional web masters (nor your clients).

        Quora is a niche play at best, and not worth the $80 million valuation the hipster/hypesters are pushing, So, some value (in a business sense), but not much.

        So I guess this wasn’t about Quora the business, just something Lisa likes? Because I think Scoble was addressing the bullshit business hype that needs to be brought down (and he mistakenly helped create), so maybe (god forbid) he deserves a break this time?

        • Lisa Barone

          I disagree that it has no value from a business/participation standpoint. Read Rand Fishkin’s comment from up above about how he’s been sought out because of his activity on the site and because his company is often mentioned. Like anything, it depends on your business model and what you’re doing. But at least take the time to evaluate that before dismissing it.

          I’m all for breaking the hype machine. This post isn’t a rant about Scoble trying to burst the Quora bubble. He’s just the reason there’s more Quora-based stories today than average. If anything, this post is about cutting through the hype to see if there’s an actual business use for the service. I don’t give a shit how much Quora is valued at. That doesn’t get me all hot and bothered. I want to know if there are eyes or people I can move over to what I’m doing. I don’t need a mainstream audience, just the right one.

          And, dude, you’re preaching to the choir about not creating content for the VCs to make money on. How many companies rip my content that I don’t see a dime on? A lot. And it’s GD annoying. If you don’t want to give yourself to another site, that’s your choice. But again, evaluate it first. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t care if it’s Quora, LinkedIn, whatever. The network doesn’t matter.

  • Aussiewebmaster

    Not impressed by Quora at the moment – if they make some changes to user interface could get behind it, but right now it seems too much a trendy toy for the techoratti

  • arslan

    Thanks for this article Lisa.
    After a few hesitations at the beginning, I ended finding Quora very interesting with a rare high quality writings and a minimalist cool interface. I’m using it a lot and can’t wait for an official mobile app, now…
    As you mentioned it, this have a to do with the work of Quora Staff who can keep spammers away and make a lot of efforts to bring a quality experience… but for how long ?
    As long as I dont see a clear business model, this question will remain open and keep me a little bit skeptical about the future of this rich Q/A site.

  • Vlad Rascanu

    Quora is NOT user friendly at all so I’m not surprised that you don’t see it as a website for social media hipsters. However, Quora is good if you want to establish yourself as a guru in one industry.

  • Eryck Dzotsi

    I am an irregular user of Quora, and what I can say thus far is that it provides more intelligent answers than some of the things we use to see on Yahoo! Answers.

  • Janet Aronica

    I use Quora for blogging ideas too! It helps you recognize people’s pain points. If you write to appeal to a pain point then it’s going to be a much for valuable (and shared) post than if you offer something that’s “oh this is nice to know” content. I guess I’m noisy on other social media platforms but on Quora I’m pretty much a lurker for right now, looking for ideas.

  • Jamie Fairbairn

    I’ve not used Quora much myself but can see it definitely has uses for businesses.

    My main concern around this and other new social (in my view) platforms is that there are too many new kids on the block appearing and I think we’re already close to saturation point.

    There are only so many of these platforms businesses can spend time on every day and as people start to realise (yes I used the English spelling!) this, they will become more selective and a lot of these ‘bright young things’ will fall by the wayside. I’m not necessarily saying Quora will be one of them but there will come a point when people say enough is enough.

  • David Wilks

    There can be no doubting the quality of content at Quora. That quality will, in my opinion, guarantee it a continuing role in it’s chosen space.

    Which brings me to your concern, Jamie. No, and again IMHO, the market isn’t crowded. Segmentation allows space for everyone. It is simply a question of placing a value on your audience and the value – in community terms – they place on you. In fact, I’m betting the field today will look pretty empty when we look back two or three years from now.

  • Ilene Rosenblum

    This is the best explanation of Quora and how to leverage it (and most fun blog post about it) that I’ve ever come across. I use it every now and then when exploring a particular topic. I really like the user interface. While I get quality answers from LinkedIn with professionals who I can later easily connect with (by adding as a connection), there is so much garbage on LinkedIn Answers (and don’t get me started with Yahoo!).