What should business be doing with the new conversation websites?

As if Twitter and Facebook don’t have businesses and users scrambling to keep up, a new type of site is cropping up that engages audiences through Question and Answer format. Naturally, each has a unique twist to it, but if you are a business, what should you be doing with these sites? For most of the sites I’m going to talk about (except LinkedIn), there really isn’t a ton of critical mass, BUT, and this “but” is bigger than my own “butt” businesses should pay attention to these sites. Here’s why:

These sites engender honest, uninterrupted conversation. And the conversation can be shared, easily tracked and followed. People can search for questions or conversations on a particular topic.  Plus, in the case of Quora and Namesake you can tell a lot about the person whose opinion you are reading without having to do a lot of homework. Call me lazy. Go ahead. But I appreciate a little “at a glance” info. Each site in its own way is attempting to create credibility for the author/writer, in particular areas. At some point, I’m sure that PeerIndex will be utilizing Namesake as they are Quora right now, to get a feel for the “human” aspect of a digital personality, including area’s of expertise and influence. If Namesake gets some media love and some critical mass, it has a role to play in the influence market as well.  Right now, neither site seems to be influencing SEO all that heavily, but if you know SEO better than me (and I only know enough to be dangerous), then please feel free to weigh in on my claim. Regardless, if these sites do get critical mass, I’d be surprised if they don’t jump into the SEO game more heavily.

Also, if your product is at ALL geared towards early adopters, techies or social media users, its time to jump on the bandwagon and watch these sites develop. The folks on them now are still early adopters and in the case of Quora, which was all the rage in Silicon Valley before the masses got their hands on it, there are some interesting and (offline and online) influential people using it already. Finally, like all sites, its nice to have an audience when you need or want one, so develop connections on these sites now. Sure, its dynamic, sure, it changes, but its good to have a presence before you need one.

I thought it would be worthy to address some of the opportunities I see for these sites as they relate to business.


A media darling a couple of months back, Quora is at its most basic, a question and answer site. But as with many social tools, its much more sophisticated than “just” a question and answer site. One of the primary differences in Quora is that well written, thought-out (read: longer) answers are appreciated and encouraged by the audience. The culture tends to be more formal, think: boardroom not bar. Sloppy ideas and concepts only the reputation and “being human” isn’t about being a jacka**. This also isn’t really a “follow me I’ll follow you” culture. Find those whose opinions you really value and follow them.

Quora also has social integration: Twitter, Facebook and the ability to share questions and answers through those portals. If you blog using WordPress or Tumblr, you can also post questions and answers to your blog. Potentially interesting, if your asking questions that are of interest to the blog audience. Its worth noting that the Quora audience may be veeeery different from your blog audience.

As I mentioned, early on, Silicon Valley peeps embraced the site and at that time, the conversations could become quite philosophical and technical. That isn’t AS true about the site even since I started using it last fall sometime. But that doesn’t make it less relevant for a couple of purposes:

Product Development: If you have an idea in your head and you’d like to bounce it off some smart folks, this might be a good place to do it. The feedback is likely to be more critical and analytical and less the “great job” type, so put on your big boy pants and get ready for constructive criticism.There are some VC participants on Quora..if your idea is smart, you come off as credible and you get a little lucky, you might even find yourself with more than an idea: funding.

Research: From getting different perspectives on trends and tools to doing a little competitive analysis, Quora is a gold mine. I use it to spur my creative juices for blog post ideas. Usually after scanning some questions, I’ll have developed a topic worth writing about. If your company has a blog, this is a great tool. Also, questions are open to everyone so it won’t be just your followers answering. Also, you can ask Questions and tweet  your question or put it on Facebook. If your audience digs Quora, they’ll dig that.

Listening: Do a search on your company and key topics or key words, here regularly. It will be interesting to see the discussions that are occurring. If there are discussions about your Brand, Quora isn’t QUITE like Twitter where the users expect to hear back from a brand, but if you do decide to respond, do so point by point with your smartest answers and by the way: be transparent. This audience will sniff it out if you aren’t transparent and the conversation will die. What’s the point in being the conversation killer? Better to create some discussion than to alienate an audience.

Create Conversation: In Quora, if a topic hasn’t been created about your company or brand, its a good idea to start one before someone else does. In an open, user-based site like Quora, users can edit your business description. But if you give a factual, non-salesy description, users are less likely to edit. Along those lines, its a good idea to create some advocates early on who will follow your brand or company as a topic – that way as conversations emerge,  there are already key users of the site who can speak to the experience of using your product – hopefully in a good way.

Celebrity CEO: Depending on your business, this is a great place for a CEO to have a presence. Every time I suggest CEO involvement with social media, everyone bristles, but this is one spot your CEO can appreciate. Unlike LinkedIn, where your CEO is reluctant to jump in because its just too much information, the CEO can carefully craft an image on Quora, by asking and answering questions of peers. If your CEO is the face of your brand, then its probably a good idea for them to have a presence and dialouge on Quora. But before turning a CEO loose on the Quora community, make sure he “gets it” that not every single comment has to be a “message”.


This is a more conversational question-answer site. The questions range from smart to silly. Answers range from smart to stupid.  So far the culture here is more like your living room than a boardroom. Its casual,

friendly, fairly inclusive. None the less, its still very much an early adopter crowd. T One of the distinguishing features of Namesake is the ability for other to “endorse” you in areas of your expertise. You choose the categories, people will decide to independently verify your expertise. his site is definitely developed for the user, not necessarily for business; however, that’s not to say that there aren’t business uses:

Influencers: Yep. There’s that word again. But if you’re looking for people influential on a topic, this is an interesting place to start. Namesake doesn’t guarantee that the influencers have a huge audience, but it DOES suggest that others have been willing to vouch for this person’s expertise.  The primary shortfall to this is that not very many people are ON Namesake yet, so there are probably some very talented people who don’t have a ton of endorsements.  Also, this is one of those “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” social moment, so endorsements could become tricky. However, with up to 5 expertise choices, people can always vote for the one you added to be human. But, you can search for a skill and talent and find those who are the “top” experts and as Namesake gets critical mass, this could be an outstanding resource.

Listening: Again, its worth popping in now and then to see if there are conversations about your brand or product. You may or may choose not to participate, but you should at least know what the conversations are. Don’t forget to checkin and listen for key topics or key words relevant to your community or your business.

Create Conversation: I could easily see community managers participating here with enthusiasts of not just their brand, but things their enthusiastic enjoy too. By jumping into other conversations a community manager gives themselves and even more persona, provides awareness of the community to others without self promoting. This last part is really important. Self promotion is just icky. Be cool.

So where does LinkedIN fit into these sites?

I think LinkedIn continues to be relevant. WallStreet certainly gave it the thumbs up this week. From a business perspective, LinkedIn remains a strong employee recruiting tool. And as  the economy turns around, recruiting will once again rise. Businesses should still give themselves a company presence and representatives can and should still participate in groups and conversations. The problem with LinkedIn is that its gone from being a genuine resource to a breeding ground for self-promoters. Having watched LinkedIn devolve into “Link to my website” I think Quora and Namesake users may be protective of their space and weary of self promotion. There are still social media opportunities on LinkedIn, but lots has been written about that and I wanted to share with you some ways to utilize some emerging opportunities.

So – what say you? Are you using Quora or Namesake? Do you agree with my assessment of these conversation site’s role in business?