As I mentioned in my brief recent post on Quora, I would be digging into it a bit more. First, if you want to know more about the service, here is one of the best descriptions around. I particularly like this part:
"It’s like the community side of LinkedIn, merged with the organic networking of Facebook, smashed up with the informative aspects of Wikipedia, topped with a dash of the “I just can’t see this catching on” from Plurk. With blog comments."
Now, lets get to the business of dissecting an interesting detail about the service. Let's say someone asks a question about the company you work for or a brand you really like. More specifically, the question itself could itself be unflattering or could be resulting in answers that put the company/brand/product or even issue in a negative light. But you may have information which answers the question credibly, adding value and depth to the topic. While you may edit answers and even the question itself, one of the best ways to "be seen" on Quora is to have your answer "voted up" by others. Think page one of Google or getting voted up in Digg. Now this is one specific scenario to illustrate a business case. Quora is ultimately a search engine play, meaning that while it is a network, it is not a walled garden and what gets said about you can be found, tweeted out and shared on any popular network including facebook. In my opinion, getting "voted up" much like a re-tweet, Facebook Like, is an emerging metric. I would not overstate it's importance since the service is in its infancy, but I'd watch it. So with that, here are a few factors to chew on.
Many will say that getting lots of votes that pushes your answer up on a page is about popularity. And this is partially correct. As someone who has a considerable network, I find that it's easier for me to get votes without ever having to ask for them. People read my answers and my popularity gives me broader distribution therefore increasing my chances.
Expertise & Quality
Others will say that it's a quality answer or one that adds value & expertise that gets votes. This is also true in my opinion as many of the answers I see with votes are often simply good answers. Despite my reach, several of my own answers have not gotten lots of votes. This has something to do with variables in both the question and the answer, but it discounts popularity as being a sole indicator.
Lobbying & Campaining
A third viewpoint is that Quora's social system can be gamed. Gaming a system in this case may not be the most accurate description here while it's true that many social systems can be gamed. For example, there are services which increase your Twitter following. In the case of Quora and getting voted up on a page—a more accurate way of looking at it is campaigning. Anyone can e-mail their friends, mobilize co-workers or campaign for votes either in public or private however this makes a statement. For example having employees vote up an answer that is favorable to their company leaves a trail and can send a message that either someone conducted a campaign or that the employees are genuinely motivated to engage. In other words, it's a gray area.
A fourth POV is that participants could use votes as "social currency". In other words, you vote mine up and I'll vote yours up. Again this is merely another proof point that Quora is a social system. In other social systems such as the blogoshphere, links are often traded as currency. Favors are simple a staple of social interactions.
Why It Matters
There are reports of journalists beginning to use Quora and sourcing opinions from there. And as I mentioned, Quora may indeed be something Google ends up integrating—it certainly has the potential to show up in searches on the open Web. Participants can share questions and answers with their social networks so it has social amplification built into it. This is why I believe that the placement of an answer on a page could affect your business. But beware, that much like all social media—unsavory or unethical campaigns to alter information tend to come back to the person/company who tries to influence outcome in a way that isn't accurate, credible or is misleading.