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Quora: What marketers need to know

In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a new kid on the social software (I’m loathed to call it ‘media’) block. Quora is, in essence, a social network based upon questions and answers. It’s amassing a huge following and the Twitterati in particular simply cannot pass off another opportunity to show the world how clever they are by taking part.

I resisted the lure until yesterday when I finally signed up, and I have to say that it is strangely addictive. By the time you’ve answered a question, followed a topic or two and automatically followed everyone that you’re already following on Twitter, you may as well write off the rest of your day and spend some time understanding how it works.

If you don’t have a day to spare, then here’s a quick guide to what I think Quora means to marketers:

  1. Thought leadership – what better way to demonstrate your firm’s expertise than by answering questions on the topics you want to be associated with? Search for and follow the topics that match your thought leadership strategy and start answering some questions.
  2. Market research – if you care what the digerati think, then Quora could be a great way to find out. I haven’t done a scientific experiment (yet), but I’m pretty confident that you’ll get more, better quality answers than if you asked your Twitter followers. Ask a question and see what answers you get.
  3. Influencer marketing Quora could be the answer to the elusive influence question. Each topic has ‘Top Answerers’ and the algorithm for calculating these doesn’t seem to be based just on the number of answers. Track the top answerers for topics relevant to your brand and follow them.
  4. Reputation management – As with other platforms, chances are that people may be asking or answering questions about your brand or products. Chances also are that they may be spreading misinformation by answering incorrectly. Quora allows you to suggest edits to others’ answers as well as answer yourself. Search for questions and answers mentioning your brand and contribute where you can. If your brand is well known enough to have its own topic, then follow it then update your preferences to get notified by email when a new question or answer is created.

If you are going to engage with Quora, then remember the basic rules of community management:

  1. Be honest about who you are Quora allows you to add short bios to demonstrate your interest in a topic/question – keep them short and to the point
  2. It’s about marketing, not sales By asking and answering questions intelligently you will gain credibility that might turn into sales. Trying to flog your products or services in response to a relevant question will get voted down.
  3. Respect others’ opinions Contribute and extend the range of response rather than pick fights with others who have answered in good faith.

If you have other advice for marketers interested in how to use Quora, then follow and respond to my questions on Quora itself:

Does using social media really lead to higher margins?

According to the latest survey research from the McKinsey Global Institute, it does. Of course, this is fantastic news for all those – including myself – who have spent the last few years evangelising the application of web 2.0 technologies in the workplace. Cue tweets and blog posts regurgitating same.

But before you join their throng, take a closer look at the data and methodology – not to mention the comments, which reveal a number of caveats – and you’ll see that the reality doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

  1. All the data is self-reported rather than empirical and therefore subject to over- or under-estimation by respondents, some of whom are no doubt evangelists for these technologies in their own organisations.
  2. The correlation coefficients are very low and don’t isolate the impact of web 2.0 technologies to show that they are the cause of any business performance indicator improvements.
  3. Only ‘market share gains’ have a moderate correlation and high statistical significance, and this metric is often estimated and may not even be relevant to many organisations.
  4. The correlations of variables associated with operating margin are actually very low.

So ultimately, this is a pretty inconclusive study and to claim that ‘Web 2.0 finds its payday’ seems a little misleading. It may further the debate, but it by no means resolves it as many social media proponents are suggesting.

The new Twitter interface: bye, bye backgrounds

Playing with the new Twitter interface, one thing struck me immediately: the increase in the relative width of the content area means that backgrounds are essentially now redundant. See what I mean below, which shows the difference between the two in a browser set with an active width of 1,268 pixels:

Before: the old Twitter interface

After: the new Twitter interface

Why is this a problem? As @joannejacobs points out, this is already an issue for those with smaller screen resolutions. Well, maybe it won’t be long term but I see two immediate issues that brands in particular will need to address:

  1. Because Twitter is rolling out the new interface on a staggered basis (for marketing rather than technical reasons, I suggest) those who have not yet been “issued” with the new interface can’t actually see the problem even though it is affecting those who have right now.
  2. Companies who use their backgrounds to impart useful information like who runs their accounts, useful URLs and telephone numbers, etc. will have to find another way to convey this info.

The online ecosystems that have sprung up around Twitter do seem to be getting kicked in the teeth with this new update. Some have already argued that the inclusion of rich media in the web interface now makes third party applications using the Twitter API redundant, and this – albeit very minor – change could well hit the advertising revenues of all the Twitter theme download sites.

Note to self…

…don’t tell the world you’re going to start blogging again, then disappear off on holiday. The two don’t mix.

In fact, I had a very social media free two weeks and you know what: I didn’t miss it one bit. At no point did I feel the need to contact my “friends” (unlike the vast majority of the teenagers on the campsite I was staying at). The only technology I really couldn’t have done without was my personal email.

Hello boys… I’m back!

Right. So I’ve been a bit lax here as of late vis-a-vis writing stuff. I could give you a hundred different excuses, but what’s the point. The fact is that sometimes you have stuff to say and sometimes you don’t. C’est la vie.

It just so happens that I’ve spent more time watching and listening to others these last few months than I have talking. I’d recommend it to you all. A little less conversation is sometimes a good thing.

So, refreshed and refocused, it’s time to roll up the sleeves and start contributing again.

But before you go thinking I don’t know one end of the keyboard from the other, let’s have a chat about the 40,000+ I’ve already written of my next book, working title: The business marketer’s guide to social media (please, someone, suggest something cleverer and catchier than that).

B2B marketers have always had the short end of the stick. Complex products, long sales cycles and multiple buyers conspire to make their jobs much more difficult than that of their mass-market consumer-focused brethren. The same is true for social media too: if I asked you for the most memorable social media marketing you’ve seen recently, I bet that nine times out of ten it would be a consumer campaign.

Does this mean that B2B marketers just don’t know how to put together a memorable social media campaign, or that they’re more focused on making it work in real business terms than making the headlines?

I stopped writing a few months ago now, but I’m nowhere near finished. I needed to take some time to think and observe, to ask myself what business marketers really need from social media – and how my book could help. I’m not sure I know just yet, but I’m hoping that my return to blogging might help me engage in a discussion with social media strategists in B2B organisations and, ultimately, in finding the answers.

Social media, big agencies, blah, blah

We’re off again. Yet more articles in yet more so-called industry publications bashing the “agencies don’t get social media” stick. This particular one got my goat because it’s by someone I respected.

A few thoughts in response (I didn’t comment on the article because I refuse to register on a site just to provide an opinion – easier and quicker for me to do it here).

I have news for everyone. The “Slide 29 Syndrome” isn’t specific to digital communications nor to social media. In fact, the smart agencies have learnt from the first wave of the Internet and implemented things designed specifically to avoid this shortsightedness. As a result:

  1. It wouldn’t be an account exec making the call. Any agency who puts an important RFP response in the hands of an account exec probably isn’t taking that opportunity particularly seriously.
  2. Whoever heads the digital specialist group would already know about the RFP because they are members of the senior management team.
  3. Even if this particular scenario was true, the whole pitch team would be brought to book by the CEO for not identifying the relevant skills required earlier in the process and collaborating to deliver the best response to the client.
  4. It’s nothing to do with billing hours. This is a new business opportunity, so utilisation doesn’t even come into it.
  5. Most importantly, as another commenter pointed out, most of the time social media isn’t the answer to the problem – or even part of the answer.

Rather than continually trying to make out that individual consultants, small boutiques, independent agencies, large consultancies are somehow better than each other, I suggest we all just get on with the job of delivering the best results for clients desperate to understand how to achieve their marketing objectives using a strategy that combines the most appropriate mix of techniques and tools.

Social Media Influence Manifesto

Yikes. Is it really that long since my last post here? Funny how 5 years ago you would be lambasted for “not getting it” if you didn’t post at least once every day, yet now look at us.

However, I digress. Picking up on the theme of influence, everything I do in my role as community manager for Hill & Knowlton seems to come down to measuring social media influence. So here’s my Social Media Influence Manifesto, encompassing all the things I believe to be true about how influence plays out online.

  1. Influence is determined by the receiver not the transmitter. Attempts to measure influence based on volume of output are misguided and futile.
  2. Influence is contextual. People are influential about something. Knowing what that ’something’ is, is the key to accurately measuring influence.
  3. Value is a proxy for influence. Things that people are willing to reward carry more influence for them.
  4. Influence is about behaviour. To be influential, the receiver has to do something, whether that’s change their opinion, buy a product, or pass on a joke. Measure the actions.
  5. Influential people do not influence everyone. People can be influential without influencing.
What this means for networked communications is something I intend to explore further. Let me know you thoughts on this manifesto.

What is influence anyway?

I’m currently involved in a project to support Hill & Knowlton’s sponsorship of the COP15 United Nations Climate Change Conference next month, which involves analysing the different media, influencers and topics driving the conversation.

One of the things we are doing is measuring the most prominent tweeters (the COP15 Twitterati – latest table here and Twitter list here). We’re doing this purely by volume of tweets mentioning specific keywords (translated into about eight languages), so there’s no magic pixie dust until we get to the job of semantic analysis to extract the people and topics being referenced.

However, I thought it might also be interesting to look at the correlation between the volume of tweets from our top 15 and their respective influence, as measured by Edelman’s TweetLevel methodology. The scatter plot appears below (click for the readable version), but in summary:

  • There’s a positive correlation between volume and influence at 0.33, albeit a weak one
  • The r2 value is 0.11, suggesting that around 11% of influence is attributable to volume

Correlation between Tweet volume and influence

I intend to explore this further. I’ve long thought that online influence measures are fairly ropey, and it would be interesting to see exactly how much volume really is the only useful measure. We keep banging on about quality being more important than quantity online, but is that really so?

FTC Guides on Endorsements and Testimonials: What it means in practice

On 1 December 2009 new guidelines (Guides) from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising come into force in the United States.

The most significant development in this revision is the inclusion of social or consumer-generated media as a form of endorsement. Whilst there is much in the full 81-page Guides (PDF link) that brand owners should review, the following actions are the most pressing when considering any campaign.

  • Review the full Guides available at
  • Review existing and planned endorsements in light of the Guides
  • Ensure that marketing staff and agencies are aware of the Guides and their implications
  • Monitor the activities of consumers who participate in social media marketing campaigns
  • Put in place specific social media guidelines for employees to advise them of their disclosure obligations when participating in online discussion (Hill & Knowlton’s are available here as a model).

Perhaps one of the most frequently missed points is that the FTC Guides are administrative interpretations of the law intended to help advertisers comply with the Federal Trade Commission Act. They are not themselves binding in law. Worth remembering.

A full briefing note on the topic is available on the Hill & Knowlton Scribd channel.