Attention Marketers: Stop Trying to Ruin Quora

If you haven’t spent time on Quora, then you’re missing out. That is, if you like to hang out with smart people and discuss interesting topics. If you don’t like those things, then you’re not missing anything.

The Quora community is one of the most interesting and engaged groups that I have seen online since the first days of blogging, when you really had to work to leave a comment on someone’s blog, and they would almost certainly answer you. Finding these communities is the reason that I fell in love with the web in the first place (also why I don’t think that the web is dead – even if the money shifts out of the web, the passion will still keep people there).

But, if you look at the history of interesting communities on the web, the odds are stacked against Quora. Friendster started out being something really cool, fun, and engaging – before it tanked. Metafilter is still cool and full of great people, but it could never scale and collapses back into itself with it’s web of self-referential references. And, the granddaddy, 4chan, is tough to love after you’re over 30 (though I’ll still take the memes that leak out).

But, with $11 million in venture capital funding, Quora won’t be able to stay as small and cool as they are now. The technologies they are building are really useful – there’s definitely potential to spawn a business-specific Quora, and get employees to share information that way. But the thing I love is the community there, and that will be extremely difficult to replicate.

I mean, where else will someone ask you what it’s like to live on a houseboat?

One of the biggest challenges that Quora has is that marketers can’t keep their damn hands off of it. Look, I know marketers want to influence this highly influential audience. But, given the level of media literacy in the community, any attempts to astroturf come across so obviously that they are just embarrassing for the brand. Check out this ham-handed attempt to promote Jewel’s new album.

Besides, Quora just doesn’t work for viral marketing:

  1. There is no scale. If you want more eyeballs, you have to add more and more questions.
  2. Anyone can edit your content. So, if you try to slant a question, someone will immediately update it to be neutral.
  3. Reputation matters and quality rises. You can’t just pop in and crank up when you have something to pitch. No one will read your answers, or worse, they will downvote you or mark your answer not helpful

Quora is a great place for content marketers, though. If you have interesting content, you have a place on Quora. Overall, there’s much higher quality information than LinkedIn groups (which I find to have low quality information, even as they drive strong results). And, if you have something interesting to say, a small, but interested, audience will engage you.

So, hopefully Quora will find a way to keep beating back the old school spray and pray-ers while they figure out how to engage the content marketers in a way that everyone wins.

Because that would mean that the community stays cool as it continues to grow – and that would be an internet first.