Q: What’s a new tool for public relations? A: Quora

March 1, 2011

Entering Quora’s dynamic conversation may be the quickest and most effective way to engage a relevant community and showcase what your brand has to offer.

Quora is a startup Q-and-A site, which allows members of a community to share, develop, manage and refine knowledge together. Launched online last year by two former Facebook employees, Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever, the site contributes to the growing social curation trend.

Anyone can build a conversation on any topic. People can also follow topics that interest them.  The Facebook and Google categories are popular.  Tunisia and Egypt have been active topics early this year.  As of  Jan. 25, the topic “public relations” had nearly 4,400 followers.

Appointed “reviewers” assess answers that people submit to the site.  The community votes content up or down, depending on the contribution’s perceived quality. Some answers are named the “best” sources on the Web. Users interact, challenge and defend their positions on topics. Some answers the community rejects are permanently deleted.

As a community, Quora highlights connoisseurship, wit and experience. It has quickly become a stage to show off someone’s expertise, for all the right reasons.

Think Wikipedia, but with personality, diverse opinions and frontline insights on happening trends.  Think LinkedIn’s Q-and-A function, but with far less noise, spam and overt self-promotion.

In its early days, Quora membership was heavily skewed to the tech sector, with a lot of insider chatter about Facebook and Google and an array of start-up enterprises hoping to match that success. Recent coverage of Quora in traditional and new media outlets has broadened the user base considerably. Among other issues, this has prompted concerns about how to scale up while still protecting the site’s culture and content quality.

Quora has a lot to offer PR practitioners, both as a way to share knowledge and leverage PR programs.  The following are some of the ways you can use Quora:

  1. Build an expert profile. Thought leadership, third-party expertise, punditry, proving credentials — whatever you want to call the efforts put into developing one’s expertise in a subject, Quora is a place to do it. People who are passionate about a topic and are also gifted writers quickly gain notice.

    For independent New York City retailer Jay Gurewitsch, an active Quora user since October, his posts on gifts, gift giving and skin care have led to actual in-store sales at his store Arcadia.

    “If it’s any indication of the social marketing power of Quora,” he says, “I had three customers over Christmas identify themselves as Quora users and buy products based on my posts. I started Quora as a creative outlet and blogging opportunity to share my expertise in key areas, but the Quora community has been very responsive, supportive and a proven source of business.”
  2. Build human capital. Quora is a platform to showcase the expertise of the people behind your brand and highlight transparency.

    There are many examples of people on Quora answering questions about the brands that they work for.  The trick is to keep the information contextualized, on message and relevant versus promotional and spammy or you will alienate users.

    SEO is a factor here. Quora can contribute to a user’s online influence and you can search content by engines like Google.

    So far, Quora doesn’t allow corporate accounts. Each question and answer can be tied back to a unique user. 
  3.  Monitor issues and sectors. You can mine Quora for topics and emerging trends.  You can also track brand mentions and industry categories relevant to your organization.  The questions may be even more telling — and many are waiting for answers.
  4. Access media. The answer for “Who are all the journalists on Quora?” includes a roster of about 80 reporters for media such as The Wall Street Journal, tech publications and international outlets. Tech reporters in particular have found that Quora is a valuable source for stories. Reporters have lifted some answers verbatim and reprinted with credit, like op-eds in more traditional media and other blogs. Pitching via Quora is probably not in line with the culture, but breaking news strategically via relevant Quora groups might get interesting notice and pick up.
  5. Access CEOs. One early adopter is Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who answers questions from end users as a way to build the customer experience and respond to concerns and kudos.

    Steve Swasey, vice president of corporate communications at Netflix,  says Quora is just one of the platforms that the DVD distributor uses to communicate. He adds that Hastings’ migration last October to Quora was organic versus a planned PR strategy.

    “People started asking questions,” says Swasey. “Netflix is an open and transparent company. My CEO blogs, writes with shareholders, deals with consumers. Quora is just another channel.”

    His advice:  “Make sure public relations is dialed into the corporate strategy. If there is a disconnect between the CEO and public relations, then that’s trouble.
  6. Create business opportunities. The contributors who are brave enough to put themselves out there in various debates may be people you want to know professionally. LinkedIn might show you someone’s résumé, but Quora shows you how that person thinks.

    Meanwhile, for practitioners looking at building their client list through new expertise, Quora can give a quick primer on an array of new interests that might build a foundation for new client relationships.

Understanding Quora’s already strong culture is a necessary first step for PR pros. Members are wary of marketers and their potential to impact content integrity.  As with any social media platform, Quora may be an avenue for corporate criticisms, backlashes and misinformation.

To manage that challenge, a Quora strategy needs to consider mutuality. What is the strategic idea that meets the client’s objectives and upholds the community’s culture? Programs that achieve both will find that Quora is a strong tool.

Ian Edwards
Ian Edwards is a 20-year vet of global public relations strategy and program execution. Check out his Quora profile at www.quora.com/Ian-Edwards.


mj says:

I am not sure of making Quora yet another spin zone for me seeking an answer from someone pushing more marketing/promotion stuff to me.

March 4, 2011

Crystal Barce says:

I've just recently heard about Quora in a few blogs that I have come across. It seems like a really great communication tool. I didn't really understand the concept of the website until I read your post. Hopefully businesses will catch on and more of them will start using the site.

March 7, 2011

Ian Edwards says:

@MJ and @Crystal Barce.Thanks for your comments. Quora's key asset is the strength and depth of its community. The few attempts at spin and spam -- at least that I have seen -- have been met with harsh criticism. Yes, of course, promotion happens, but largely its relevant and contextualized and disclosed. Some of the most upvoted answers come from CEOs explaining their own businesses. Marketers will want to keep that in mind, so that if an opportunity to promote a product, service or cause comes up, the resulting answer content contributes knowledge AND key messages, perhaps at the same time. I mention "mutuality" in the story. To me that is the key to keeping the spin down and the benefits high for both marketer and Quora reader.

March 7, 2011

Blake Winthorp says:

Great information and insight. I am glad to have stubledupon this article.

May 5, 2011

Post a Comment

Editor’s Note: Please limit your comments to the specific post. We reserve the right to omit any response that is not related to the article or that may be considered objectionable.


To help us ensure that you are a real human, please type the total number of circles that appear in the following images in the box below.

(image of five circles) + (image of six circles) =