Question-and-answer sites like Yahoo Answers may offer a quick way to ask questions and get answers, but they tend to be plagued by wisecracks, poor spelling and generally low quality. On the other hand, a new site targeting this niche, Quora, is going to great lengths to keep quality high.
To sign up with Quora, users log in via their Facebook or Twitter ID, making anonymity and the bad behaviour it can engender more or less impossible. And much like on Twitter, users can follow each others' participation, as well as particular questions or topics.
Questions and answers on Quora are moderated and editable to weed out the poor quality ones. Users are even given a brief tutorial and quiz on the proper way to pose Quora questions. Each should begin with a capital letter and include proper punctuation, for instance, as well as correct spelling, grammar and formatting.
'High quality content'
"We're deeply committed to making Quora a resource full of high quality content," wrote Facebook alum and Quora cofounder Charlie Cheever recently in a note on the site. "So far, we've found that the quiz has helped make more of the questions that new users post conform to the site guidelines and require less editing from experienced users."
In addition to adding and editing questions and answers, Quora users can categorise questions by adding topics to them and summarise answers on a question page. Answers can be ranked for quality, and duplicate questions and topics are combined to keep content from getting fragmented.
Through the site's follow capabilities, meanwhile, a stream of relevant questions and answers is created for each user, with a focus on the trust inherent in personal connections.
In many ways, Quora feels like a combination of Yahoo Answers, Wikipedia and Twitter. On tech-related topics, it can also feel a bit like perusing the (often expert) comments on a site like Slashdot.
There are clearly many competing questions-and-answers sites out there, including not just Yahoo Answers but also Mahalo Answers, Aardvark and others. So far, Quora seems to be distinguished most by its quality focus, its stricter guidelines and its emphasis on real identities and personal networking, not to mention the early participation of several high profile users including AOL cofounder Steve Case.
What remains to be seen, of course, is how well the company can preserve these distinctions now that the site has begun to really grow.
In the meantime, I don't think businesses can afford to ignore it. Just as I think Stephen Fry's Pushnote should be monitored by brands, particularly for the conversations that take place on top of their own company web pages, so every brand should watch Quora for any brand or company-related discussions.
How to Use Quora
It's important to note that Quora currently won't let brands or companies set up organisational profiles, though there are a few exceptions that apparently slipped through. A better way to participate is through the profile of a high ranking executive or spokesperson.
In any case, here are a few ways your company could make use of Quora:
Once you have a Quora account, make sure you follow topics including not just your company name but also any relevant products, issues, competitors and even specific users.
That way, when something comes up that matters to your business, you'll not only know about it early, but your designated Quora user can contribute knowledgeable answers and information, as appropriate. Make sure you don't confuse information with spam or a sales pitch though, that will quickly get your answers voted down or eliminated.
2. Customer interaction
By monitoring brand-related activity on Quora, you'll soon get a sense of the most active participants within that topic area. Though it would have to be done very carefully and within the site's guidelines for acceptable use, you could potentially initiate further interaction with such users on Quora or elsewhere to address problems, recognise loyalty or establish some sort of deeper relationship.
I'm betting that Quora will likely develop brand tools toward that end in the long run.
With a ready base of participants who follow or at least are interested in your company or products, Quora also seems to offer promise as a platform for soliciting feedback for use in product design, marketing or other strategies. It will be important to watch as the site evolves, however, for a better sense of what is and isn't considered acceptable over time.
4. Customer support
Once you're aware of the content on Quora that relates to your business, you might even be able to incorporate that into your customer support. In some ways, it could end up like an external FAQ, offering hands-on advice from users of your products, for example. If so, it would make sense to acknowledge it explicitly.
Quora is still in its very early days, so a great deal will surely change in the coming months. As that happens, you'll have to watch how the site is used and what kinds of guidelines are implemented.
As it exists right now, however, it seems to me Quora holds a great deal of potential for businesses large and small. This is definitely one to watch.