I’m late to the Quora game.
It’s the latest in crowd-sourced knowledge platforms – a distant relative of earlier websites such as Wikipedia, Ask Jeeves and WikiHow.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard of Quora, but may not have truly explored it, let alone begun posting to it.
I posted my first answer to Quora only this past Monday, to unprecedented success.
The following is a quick guide on how to maximize your personal branding via Quora, using my own experience as a case study.
Quora is a forum where anyone can ask a question and those with decent opinions and/or subject matter expertise can chime in with an answer.
Other users and readers then can upvote or downvote answers, such that (in theory) the best answer(s) are pushed to the top.
What differentiates Quora from say, Wikipedia or even WikiHow is in the specificity of questions and answers, as well as (usually) the subjectivity of the questions.
In striving to be the world’s digital encyclopedia, Wikipedia now has a fairly high barrier to both inclusion (is the subject notable enough to be worthy of entry?) and veracity (sourcing is required for nearly every sentence).
Quora is different in that it’s geared towards open-ended questions that do not necessarily have one factual answer, and there is no minimum bar for a worthy question.
Anything goes, from “What’s it like to be a student at MIT?” to “I am a Bernie Sanders supporter. Why should I vote for Hillary Clinton?” to “Does Sheryl Sandberg ever procrastinate?”
The beauty of that second question is the top answer was written Hillary Clinton herself (or, most likely by a staff member, but one with the official authority to speak for her).
Likewise, Sheryl Sandberg herself answered the question about her own procrastination habits.
Experts as Social Proof
The genius of Quora is that it has enabled users to ask nearly any question under the sun and has attracted not only top experts but celebrities themselves to answer, particularly if the question asked involves them.
Those who have answered questions on Quora include:
- Barack Obama (U.S. President)
- Ashton Kutcher (Actor)
- Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia founder)
- Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook COO)
- Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder)
- Hans Zimmer (Movie score composer)
My Case Study
Which brings me to Monday. I saw a few random Quora questions in the daily email compilation I receive and decided (for the first time) to answer one.
It was a lark – 10 minutes out of my morning to think about and dash off a few sentences because I had what I thought was a decent answer, even though more than 10 other people had already provided their own answers to the question.
Cue my shock and surprise when, by day’s end, my answer had been viewed more than 25,000 times and had made it to the top of the heap (the crowd-approved “best answer”).
By the next day hours later, it had been viewed nearly 40,000 times.
As of today (Friday morning) my answer has received more than 128,000 views (!!).
So, this could just have been either:
- Beginner’s luck; or
- A clever feature of Quora’s algorithm that boosts the views of new / rookie users to encourage them to continue use the platform.
I doubt both of those, as I think the true answer lies in the popularity of the question’s topic and the timing of my answer.
Thus, let’s get to the meat of:
How to Crack Quora
1) Include a profile picture and a profile description.
As with everything else on the internet and in social media, authenticity sells.
People want to hear from real people, not anonymous strangers who might just as well be bots.
Just as you should never leave your Twitter pic as the default (and anonymous) egg, your answers on Quora gain credibility if you briefly explain who you are and why we should listen to you on this topic.
2) Vary your profile description by topic.
Quora allows you to pre-select areas of expertise and then customize a brief one-liner that describes your qualifications in that subject.
I’m a PR and marketing consultant. That is entirely separate from my love of movies. Thus, my listed credentials for answering film-related questions are totally different from those for when I answer marketing questions.
Put another way, my listed qualifications for my opinion on Nic Cage? “I have watched and critiqued hundreds of movies.”
That I hold an MBA? Work in PR? Am devastatingly handsome (and modest, to boot?) Totally irrelevant.
3) Pick a popular topic.
Tons of people love movies; even more are fascinated by fame and celebrities.
For good or ill, far more people are interested in gossip about Nic Cage than say, how to pitch an editor at Buzzfeed.
So if you are interested in maximizing your views on Quora, stick with questions in broad, popular topics with lots of followers. A good guideline is to target topics with at least 500,000 followers.
- Business (8.1 million followers)
- Entrepreneurship (1.7 million followers)
- Movies (8.4 million followers)
- Marketing (3.4 million followers)
- Self-Improvement (737,000 followers)
- Love (508,000 followers)
The added element of these topics being very popular with users is that questions in these categories will typically have lots of answers, so while it may be harder for your answer to rise to the top, the pay-off for success is far higher.
4) Include at least one photo.
Humans are visual (duh!). Appeal to their senses. Research shows that image-heavy answers receive more upvotes than those without images.
5) Write a few paragraphs – but not too many.
The point of Quora is to demonstrate your authority and to educate others.
Thus, longer, more in-depth answers tend to get more upvotes than one- or two-sentence snippets.
Further, if your answer is too short, off-topic, or needlessly duplicative of previous answers, it will be hidden – relegated to the trash bin of “Collapsed Answers” at the bottom.
Conversely, however, don’t write a book just for the sake of it. We live in an ADD age where brevity is rewarded.
My answer, for instance, at 226 words is the third-longest and yet has the most views, despite being several months newer than the previous answers.
Follow the old saying from Winston Churchill:
“A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”
6) Leverage timing.
Quora, as with most social media sites, rewards freshness, with newer answers more likely to appear in users’ feeds than older ones.
In addition, I discovered the Nic Cage question because it appeared in my daily digest email – by answering it early that morning, my answer now showed up for anyone else who saw the question in their own daily digest email.
It’s as if I was able to add a last minute question to a poll that I knew had already been distributed to some 10,000 people but before they saw it.
As with LinkedIn Pulse, Quora’s algorithm is driven by momentum, so success begets success.
As my answer gained views, upvotes and popularity, it was distributed to more and more people via email.
Last night, for instance, Quora notified me that my answer was sent to more than 450,000 people, which will naturally result in even more views and upvotes.
I’m not sure I approve of this policy because it leads to balkanization – an ever-widening gap between winners and losers.
Quora will not give you immediate SEO value, as it gives all outbound links a “nofollow” attribute (meaning you won’t receive a backlink credit from Google if someone clicks through to your site directly from Quora).
But the first step of the marketing funnel is brand awareness.
Out of more than 125,000 views so far, fewer than a dozen people have visited this website.
But still, this week my name, photo and opinion of actor Nicolas Cage have flashed before the eyes of many.
Not bad for 10 minutes of work on a Monday morning.