December 07, 2015
/ by Jim Dougherty
A few months back, President Obama used question-and-answer site Quora to answer some topical questions about Iran (at the time he was trying to build support for his Iran Nuclear Deal). I read about his Quora post on VentureBeat, one of over 7,800 press mentions of his answer on the site.
It struck me as odd that Quora would be an appropriate place to perpetuate this sort of messaging. After all, Obama is synonymous with social media savvy – and Quora is not a social platform that has been embraced by the masses.
Hillary Clinton also recently used Quora to perpetuate some campaign messaging most prominently about health care. Again I wondered, why Quora? Quora has some publishing partnerships with Huffington Post, Forbes, Inc and others who can publish a Quora answer (verbatim) directly to their websites, but even with that benefit it seems odd to communicate on a platform with a relatively small audience.
Similarly, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Lindsay Graham’s use of the app Sidewire, a politics-only social media platform described as “Twitter for politics.” Like Quora, Sidewire is small beans compared to the big social platforms.
If they were looking to optimize distribution of their messaging, Clinton, Obama and Graham would be better off almost anywhere other than Quora or Sidewire.
An AMA (ask-me-anything) on Reddit, a Facebook post or a tweet would have organically distributed their message far more effectively than posting to Quora. We can deduce that there is something more to communicating on Quora than its organic reach.
Most people would never be aware of these posts except for the press coverage that they received. In these instances, Quora isn’t a social platform so much as an event — an event where perception and messaging are controlled.
What I want to do in this post is to demonstrate why Quora is simultaneously a less than ideal platform for organic distribution and a pretty ideal social platform for communication.
Quora’s monthly active users are estimated at 1.5 million, 10 million or 100 million.
That’s quite a range of values, but is most likely closer to the first (Quantcast senses and weighs usage from a representative sample of users and sites, which can skew values though unlikely ten or one hundred times).
Take a look at this chart of Quora’s estimated monthly users relative to many other popular social networks:
All this being said, the communications professionals associated with Obama and Clinton aren’t in the business of wasting resources. So why post to Quora?
One of the biggest critiques of brand communication on social platforms is that businesses surrender much of their messaging to social fans. A Reddit AMA has the potential to go very bad. Google Twitter or Facebook fails and you’ll see a lot of social content that received attention for the wrong reasons.
Content on Quora is different from other social networks in a few key ways:
Communication professionals can use Quora to appropriately contextualize a message with lessened likelihood of critical chatter. The tradeoff is that you have to generate further distribution of your messaging.
For example, a press release or influencer communication referring back to the Quora answer is likely necessary. Ask yourself how newspapers were aware of Obama’s or Clinton’s Quora comments. Or Graham’s Sidewire content for that matter.
Quora isn’t responsible for that distribution, it is simply a contextual event intended for wider distribution.
The use of Quora or another smaller social site might not be predicated on distribution, so much as explicitly communicating a message without the usual social noise.
A band might leverage MySpace or Soundcloud for the same end to avoid some of the negativity associated with posting to YouTube. Sidewire might be a useful alternative to Twitter where comments aren’t as voluminous or negative, otherwise the “Twitter for Politics” would simply be Twitter.
When it comes to messaging and content, bigger isn’t always better. There are some smaller social platforms that may lack distribution but offer other benefits that may make them attractive as a proxy to bigger channels.
The intent of this post isn’t to talk up Quora (I personally am ambivalent about the platform), but rather to demonstrate that smaller platforms such as Quora may offer better control and context of your message than the bigger platforms… with the caveat that you have to generate additional distribution for these events.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition, but one that two accomplished politicians have demonstrated can work pretty effectively.
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