A lot of help to figure out Quora

If you’ve been paying attention to the social web in recent weeks, it’s very likely that you’ve given some attention to Quora, the question-and-answer service that seems to have come out of nowhere and exploded onto the scene, garnering all sorts of attention throughout the blogosphere and in the mainstream media.

It’s actually far more than just a Q&A service. It’s self-described as "a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it."

While that offers you a better sense of what it is – it’s certainly no static website – it still doesn’t get at the heart of why many people are so excited by Quora.

Take a look at the screenshot you see here. There are questions and answers. But look closely – you’ll also see that people are following a question. There are examples of voting up a post (a question) thus giving it a ranking.

At the top, you see personalized info on new notifications for you on items you’re following as well as a link to items related to you, which you’ll see if you have registered on the service and you’re logged in to your account.

It has a viral character, too, for quickly building community. When you sign up, for instance, it can connect you to your Twitter followers or Facebook community, if you allow it to. What that means is suddenly you’re automatically following lots of people, many of whom will follow you back.

So there’s a lot more to Quora than just "curated Q&A."

But does it have value from a public relations and broader organizational communication point of view? That’s the double-question I’ve been trying to figure out these past few weeks as I follow questions, ask one or two and try and handle the avalanche of email notification I get (until I figured out which settings to tweak in my Quora account to stop all of that).

I had a conversation last week with PR Week who asked me about Quora. In essence, what I told PR Week was this:

  • Quora is still in early stages although growth in users seems to be heavy with huge volumes of content.
    – Is it just a young-geeky, early-adopter Silicon Valley thing?
  • Prime value from PR perspective: listening.
  • But a major issue with that: no means of filtering to focus on exact topics that interest you.
  • I’m still trying to figure out its value from a PR and business perspective.
  • Need a means of determining the credibility of those answering questions – determining if their answers can be trusted.
    – Plenty of obviously-subjective answers with a difficult-to-trust voting system.
  • But, still very early days.

(If PR Week publishes anything from our conversation, I’ll link to their report here [report published in this week’s issue, Jan 28: see below].) A week or so on, and broadly I still see Quora in such a light. But I can now see very much that it is a place to pay attention to – especially by listening – from a PR point of view even if that’s largely a manual process at the moment.

So I’m figuring out it’s value one step at a time. Plenty of help for this process, especially posts like these:

Quora is invitation only at the moment. If you’d like an invitation, ask me on Twitter and I’ll be happy to oblige.

[Update Jan 28] PR Week published a report under an intriguing headline "Social Media: Is Quora The New Twitter?" I don’t see it that way, although I can imagine that some people using Quora will see it as a replacement for Twitter given that what they experience on Quora is similar in many ways to their Twitter experience in terms of online interactions with others.

Time will tell. Meanwhile, read PR Week’s report and see what others in the PR business think including 33 Digital’s Drew Benvie, Edelman’s Marshall Manson and Shine Communications’ Mark Pinsent.

From a PR and the broader business perspectives, Quora is a place to at least pay attention to even if you don’t take an active part.