Every month, it seems like there's a new social medium that we're advised to participate in. The latest marketing opportunity/time suck is Q&A sites.
They're not new: The original Q&A service, Yahoo Answers, has been around since 2005. The most recent entrant is, not surprisingly, Facebook Questions—the site is quickly becoming everything to everyone. The site with the most buzz is two-year-old Quora, a hotbed of Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs.
Add to your prospect list LinkedIn Answers and Focus.com, both designed specifically for B2B networking, and ChaCha, which hopes to attract attorneys and doctors to answer questions via its Guru mobile service.
You can while away hours answering questions or reading other people's responses. But, used strategically, Q&A sites can help you position yourself as an expert while improving your online visibility and expanding your network.
1. Show your smarts
They have questions, you have answers. When you provide helpful, informative answers to questions, your name and company stick in readers' minds. If and when they're in the market for your services, that name recognition and good will could tip the purchase decisions.
Certainly, it makes sense that companies that provide services remotely or at the national level have the best shot getting customers through Q&A sites, but a surprising number of questions have a local angle, according to Ian Lurie, president of Portent Interactive, a Seattle Internet marketing agency who's used Quora to research washing machine brands.
"Answer questions that are relevant to your industry. If you're a local business, then go for questions in your region and answer those," he advises.
2. Expand your network
Is there a prospect you'd love to connect with, or an expert who could give you a crucial piece of advice? Look for them on Q&A sites.
Want to read more on Q&As? Check these out:
The Focus Expert Network, for example, features more than 5,000 business and technology experts who will answer your burning questions. On Quora, you can follow people you're interested in—or would like to connect with—and comment on their answers. Relationships build on these sites could translate into in-real-life connections.
3. Show up in search
Your answers may even show up as search results. Google is including answers in search results, so make sure to include your company name when you participate. He finds that Quora, especially, is well-optimized for search, so its answers tend to rank highly in search results.
Links you place in your answers won't affect your search ranking, according to Lurie, but if someone is searching and finds your answer, "That's coverage," he says. "You've just been given an implicit endorsement."
Answers could be the solution to the kind of online reputation problem when a negative review or attack site shows up when people search for your company. "For example, if someone wrote a scathing review on Yelp, answering questions definitely could push that bad thing down," he says.
4. The content bonus
You can also use your answers as a quick way to develop content that you can reuse for blog posts, for example.
If you're a small business owner who wants to be seen as a leader, you should work on building a body of content that displays your knowledge, says Focus.com CEO Scott Albro. "Q&As are one vehicle to go out and provide compelling content that highlights your expertise."
On Focus.com, you can lead or participate in webinars and online teleconferences about specific topics. "Afterward, you can use the transcripts and sound files from your online speaking events to market yourself and your business," Albro says.
Using other people's questions as a topic starter lets you be sure that they're interested in your answer.
Many SMBs are experiencing social media overload already. Should you be tweeting, Facebooking and answering? Lurie's advice is to test one at a time. He says, "Don't do all three at once unless you have a lot of spare time, or like me, it's your job."