Answer sites might just be the perfect marriage of social media and search. The basic concept behind an answer site is that people can post a question hoping to get it answered by someone knowledgeable in the subject matter. The answers can be powered by public knowledge with consensus determining the “best” answer. Answer sites offer users the ability to be both the inquisitor and the expert.
Generally, in human — shall we say, analog — interaction, we can answer each others questions based on our personal experiences. Answer sites make it possible to do this on a massive scale. This often means that the turnaround for a question is relatively fast; many questions get answers in less than a day. In fact, most questions have already been asked and answered, so getting an answer to common questions can be almost instant.
Create Content That Answer Your Market’s Questions
People ask questions about all kinds of things on nearly every topic imaginable, and as you analyze what people are asking, you can spot trends. From a market research perspective, this means that you’ll focus on the people that have been asking questions relating to your industry and your niche market. You can derive useful market data about the people who are looking for solutions to their problems in this manner. By searching for questions that include your keywords, you can discover what people are asking about. If you find a common theme, you can create content that answers those questions. You might even phrase your content’s title in the form of a question, the very question people are asking. This gives your content the best chance to be found when someone types that question directly into a Google search.
Step 2 of our 8 Step Approach – Research for Content Ideas
On top of seeing the trends that are happening, you can use answer sites to get real time feedback about your industry from the consumers that are engaging with it. Ask a question to an answer site that relates to your product to see what kind of response you get from the answering public. These answers can give you enlightening marketing data.
Wordtracker Labs offers a great little tool for helping you narrow down your searches on answer sites. This tool allows you to enter a query and find the questions that are being asked on that topic. It’s a straight list that doesn’t offer depth of analytics, apart from the number of times each individual question has been posed in the last year. This gives you a great starting point as you check out answer sites and social media for particular questions related to your industry and your products.
On the Internet, there are a variety of answer sites that attract different kinds of users, and the questions are characterized by the place where they’re asked. Let’s go through a few popular answer sites, find out how they work, and look at what makes them unique.
You’ve Got Questions? Yahoo! Answers
Yahoo! Answers is one of the biggest answer sites, getting millions of questions and answers. The site gets a huge variety of questions, ranging from dating to homework to home and garden. Because of its popularity, during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and John McCain submitted questions to the site, leveraging their campaigns on the Internet and generating a huge response from the public.
The way Yahoo! Answers works is simple: participants will submit questions to be answered by the community. When asking a question, the participant categorizes it by topic, making it easier to search and easier to answer. As an incentive to ensure that answers are accurate and free of spam, Yahoo! developed a point system. Answers are ranked by other users, and the “best answers” are given the most points. Users that accumulate points have proven to be reputable and are granted certain privileges, such as the ability to ask, answer, vote, and rate more frequently.
With Yahoo! Answers, you can browse by category and see what kinds of questions are most popular, newest, or have received the fastest answers. And you can get specific, too. Because every user has to categorize a question by topic before submitting it, it’s easier for you to research questions that pertain to your market. You can search keyword phrases to browse questions that are being asked, either within categories or among all categories.
For example, after searching for the keyword “swing set ideas” the top three questions were:
- “Shopping for swing set, any ideas where to get a good one on a budget?”
- “Looking for do-it-yourself plans for a short monkey bar structure for our backyard — any ideas?”
- “Does anyone know where I can buy a nice but affordable wooden swing set?”
If I sell playground equipment, these questions give me a few ideas about what people are after. All three of these questions revolve around low-cost or do-it-yourself solutions. So, right away I can infer that to be successful in this market, I have to find ways to provide swing-set parts or plans that focus on cost savings. Many questions in this search reveal that people are looking for creative ideas when building their own backyard swing set. Notice an opportunity for some content that will offer solutions to this problem? How about a top-10 list of coolest swing set ideas?
LinkedIn: Where Networking is Big Business
LinkedIn is primarily a social networking site aimed at business professionals. With more than 80 million networked individuals, the site boasts the ability for linked professionals to collaborate on projects and expand their ability to communicate across their industry through LinkedIn Groups. LinkedIn offers an Answers channel as one of its tools for collaboration. The Q&A feature offers the ability for industry experts to show off their expertise to a network up to three degrees deep (your contacts, your contact’s contacts, and your second-level-contact’s contacts). Depending on how wide each level is, this could amount to a very extensive network.
The driving force in Q&A is similar to Yahoo! Answers, as the motivation for answering is driven by a user rating system for credibility. Here the recognition is professional, where the best answers demonstrate a working knowledge of the industry. LinkedIn further rewards members by recognizing the top answerer in a weekly ranking. The motivation for making this list is industry-wide exposure as top expert in the field.
To answer a question, you need to be networked into the Question-and-Answer group by three degrees, but you don’t need that relationship to view questions and answers. As with Yahoo! Answers, you can search the questions that are posed in a particular field because each question is organized by category when it’s submitted. Included in the categorization is the postal code of the submitter’s location, helping to give each question and answer more relevance to a geographic-specific search. Because the questions start off categorized, you can quickly narrow down the search to keep within your area of interest.
LinkedIn Answers has particularly good data for Business-to-Business (B2B) marketing. You can find questions your potential customers are asking about as they try to solve their toughest questions. By spending time in LinkedIn, you’ll get an insider’s view into the problems that your business can solve for your customers.
You’re on Facebook, Right?
With more than 600 million users worldwide, about 50 percent of those users, according to Facebook, are online at any given time. Primarily the site is about networking with friends, and the average user has about 130 friends. Beyond the networking of friends, the site has had a huge amount of success with platform applications.
Facebook’s Questions service has not been fully rolled out (although everyone in our office has the feature), but it’s anticipated that within 2011 it will be. Similar to LinkedIn’s version, users can ask questions or answer questions, showing themselves to be an expert or to spark a conversation with potential customers or interested friends. Once Facebook Questions is fully rolled out, it will offer a similar kind of searchable functionality as other social question-and-answer sites, allowing you to search questions. This will give you ideas for the kinds of answers that your content will be able to provide. Keep your eyes on Facebook and be ready for when Questions is released. It promises to be a popular arena in which you will want to participate.
Quora: A New Entry in the Q&A Field
Recently, Quora came to the market. We feel it may become an important player in the Q&A space, thus we feel it deserves a mention here.
It appears Quora may be the next evolutionary step as far as technology and social media goes. Like the others, it is meant to be a useful knowledge-indexing tool, a database of information provided by users. However, Quora is a continually improving collection of questions and answers, reviewed by users, edited by users, flagged as useful or not by users, and organized by everyone who uses it. The creators’ goal is to have each question page become the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about the question.
As you can see, by using Answer sites for research, you can quickly develop a list of content development ideas helping you through one of the biggest challenges of content marketing.
How have you used Q&A sites to help your business?
Note: the above is excerpted from my book Accelerate! Move Your Business Forward Through the Convergence of Search, Social & Content Marketing. It is a 250 page, step-by-step guide that any organization can follow to kick their content marketing strategy into high gear. Buy your copy today!