Everyone has questions, but where do you find answers when you don’t know who to ask? Many are turning to Quora.

Quora is all about asking questions, answering questions, discussing topics of interest and sharing expertise. This large internet community features questions and discussions on just about any topic. It’s kind of Wikipedia meets Facebook meets Ask.com meets Yahoo Answers.  Quora explains, “When you want to know more about something, Quora delivers you answers and content from people who share your interests and people who have first-hand knowledge — like real doctors, economists, screenwriters, police officers, and military veterans.”

How to Get Started on Quora

To get started, you need to set up a profile. You can use your Facebook or Twitter account to log in if you choose and follow your Facebook/Twitter connections on Quora as well. Your profile includes a little about you, your latest activities on the site, as well as questions and answers you’ve posted.

Melissa Reyes (Social Amateur) on Quora

Once your profile is set up, you’ll want to find people, boards or topics to follow. Just start typing in the search box at the top of the screen, and you’ll see topics, boards, questions and people related to that topic. At first, you’ll probably want to visit the general topic pages.  Let’s say we were interested in social media (because, well, we are!). If you go to the Social Media Topic, this is what you’ll see:

Social Media Topic on Quora

You can see relevant boards, the Best Questions people have asked on the topic as well as questions that people have asked that have yet to get responses (Open Questions) as well as Frequently Asked Questions on the topic. If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see who is following this topic, as well as people who answer questions on this topic.

To follow the board and see questions and answers from this topic on your home feed, simply click the follow button at the top right. To follow a specific user, click on his/her name to go to his/her personal profile. Following individual users who frequently contribute to the topic(s) you are interested in is a great way to discover new topics and see questions/answers you may not have seen anywhere else. If you find a question you are interested in, you can answer it, follow it to see the responses and comment on or rate the current responses.

Quora is a large community, and there are tons of little ‘tricks’ to find the content you are looking for. I definitely recommend playing around on the site for a bit, and checking out this guide on how to use Quora from Social Times.

How Reliable Are Answers?

The big question everyone has right off the bat seems to be about the quality of answers on Quora. Answers that have been voted up many times by the user community are, theoretically, the ones that answer the question in the most helpful way, as determined by users.

I have been on Quora for a few months now. At first I participated quite often, but most recently have found myself spending a lot of time just surfing and reading (more on that later). I have found the majority of the questions and answers in the topics and boards I follow to be quite well though-out and helpful. Many recognized figures in the social media community (such as Pam Moore) have found Quora to be a useful platform.

As with any user-generated content platform, there are of course planted questions and people who have created fake accounts just to vote up answers. As Quora becomes more popular, this will perhaps become more of an issue. In the topics, boards and questions I visit, I have not seen a great deal of this, but I am sure it is out there.

How to Use Quora for Your Business

If you’re used to asking and answering questions in LinkedIn groups or using Google+ to discuss trends in your industry, you already understand the value of these sites in terms of networking. The thing about Quora is that people are often asking very specific questions and there is tremendous opportunity for showcasing your expertise and learning from others.

All in all, I think there are a few things a small business owner can get out of participating on Quora:

  • The ability to share knowledge/expertise in a very specific niche
  • The opportunity to connect with people interested in the same topic(s)
  • The chance to keep up with industry trends and discover what other people are asking/saying about them
  • A platform for asking questions in topics in which you are not familiar (Maybe you own a small retails store, but you have some questions about marketing or HR. Just find a relevant board and put your question out there!)
  • A source of blog content. (What are people in your niche asking? Turn common questions into blog posts!)

Inc. featured a great piece, 10 Tips for Using Quora for Business. It is an absolute must-read if you’re going to be on Quora. You may also want to check out 9 Ways to Get More Out of Quora from Mashable, Quora and Why Answering Questions is Good Business by 30 Lines and Top Tips for New Quora Users from The Next Web.

Another Network? Really?

You have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and now Google+. You also have a business to run. Do you really have time for another network  – specifically one where long, sophisticated, blog-type answers are common? I didn’t.

As I said earlier, I actively participated on Quora for a bit, but have backed off recently. It isn’t intentional, it’s a time thing. I do think Quora is a great platform for really helping people find the answers they are looking for, and for discussing specific ideas with others in my field, and I do believe that active participation pays off in the ways mentioned above.

The thing is … I believe active participation on all my networks pays off, and I can’t say that participating in Quora pays off with any greater reward(s) than spending the same amount of time participating in tweetchats or LinkedIn groups or on Google+. What I do know is that Quora provides very specific boards and questions, and I am curious as to whether participating in such specific niche topics could actually help me build my brand.

And so, The Quora Challenge

As a little experiment, I am committing to answering or commenting on 3 questions per week starting this week. (Three separate questions – not multiple answers/comments to the same question.) That doesn’t seem so difficult, right? You probably answer questions all the time on other social media networks – I do! And so, I am committing to spend no less than 15 minutes a day on Quora, and to answering 3 questions a week. And after a few weeks, I’ll let you know how it is going.

If you’d like to take this Quora Challenge with me, leave a comment and let me know if/how you’ve used Quora in the past and what you hope to get out of participating (more)!