My mother used to tell me the only stupid question was the one you didn’t ask. Thanks to social media, in business terms, the only stupid question is fast becoming the one you don’t answer.

People are driving leads using Question and Answer forums like LinkedIn Answers, Yahoo! Answers and Answers.com. While most case study examples seem to be independent consultants, someone has finally put some quantification around the trend with some surprising results.

Business.com released a report last week entitled, “Social Media Best Practices: Question & Answer Forums.” You can download it for free from their website. It does require a simple and free registration to offer you future participation in Business.com research. The report is worth the effort and you don’t have to opt-in for anything to get it.

Business.com 3-sided Highlighter
Image by Tamar Weinberg via Flickr

Polling over 1,400 professionals, some 59 percent of whom were business owners or C-Level executives, Business.com discovered some interesting information around question and answer forums, including:

  • Webinars and podcasts are the most popular social media resource for business information
  • While Q&A forums are eighth on the list of most popular business resources, 49.4 percent of respondents say they use them.
  • Q&A forums are more popular than Twitter as a business resource by 14 percent (49.4 to 35.4 percent of respondents saying they use them).
  • Among those who use Q&A forums, 92 percent say they are at least somewhat useful with 25 percent claiming them to be “very useful.”
  • LinkedIn Answers dominates the category usage, claiming 59.2 percent of use for companies participating in at least one Q&A forum. Yahoo! Answers is a distant second at 37.1 percent.
  • 79 percent of B2B respondents use LinkedIn Answers, compared to just 46 percent of B2C respondents.
  • MarkeingProf’s Know-How Exchange is far more popular than I imagined, generally falling just behind the aforementioned Q&A forums and WikiAnswers in most used forums.

The report is full of further insights and contains a list of best practices for generating leads by participating in Q&A forums. Download the report to see their list, which I won’t try to circumvent with my own. It would only appear as if I stole theirs, so why try?

In essence, the best practices (theirs and mine) remind you to be helpful first, don’t go in trumpeting your sales pitch and focus on long-term relationship building and benefits rather than seeing a sudden influx of leads because you clicked a button on a website. Nothing is that easy. It’s like being at an off-line networking event. You work at it a while and you get results.

I’ve been investing some time in my own LinkedIn profile lately and decided to use the site’s nifty Polls application to see how often my network used LinkedIn Answers to drive business leads. As of Sunday afternoon this morning (I updated shortly after publishing) I had just 52 respondents, but some interesting parallels.

More than half (59 percent) of those who answered admitted they never used Answers on LinkedIn. Some told me via Twitter they didn’t because they weren’t sure how to do it and not seem spammy. The above should help them out. Of those who did, 26 percent do so once each month, five percent once per week and seven percent 2-3 times per week.

However, if you break it down by job title, you see that all 12 percent who indicated using Answers 1-3 times per week were business owners or C-Level executives. The were all over 35 years of age as well.

While I expect demographics and behavior will change with increased adoption of social media tools, it’s worth noting that today’s business leaders think Question and Answer forums are useful enough to invest time in them. Sure, the usage set skews toward companies already using social media, but, if anything, the numbers tell us that LinkedIn Answers has become a trusted source for business information. Since you are just as able to provide that information as anyone else, doesn’t it seem logical to do so?

The only way to start is to start. Check out the best practices on Business.com’s report. Log in to your LinkedIn account. Visit your industry in the Answers section. Find some questions you can provide value by answering. Do this consistantly over the next three months and see how many leads, qualified leads and even new business accounts you can attract. You might be surprised at the results.

And do report back. We’d love to chronicle your successes … or failures and challenges. If you have already had some, please, tell us about them in the comments.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • thepartnersourceDOTcom

    To continue with the “Lead Generation” theme: (Nice blog spot here by the way)

    I don't know if the rest of you agree but, the obvious difference between a lead generation program and an appointment setting campaign is that a lead generation program stops one step short of setting a qualified appointment. Some clients, involved in a complex sale that requires a vast knowledge of the industry or strong knowledge capital, prefer us to qualify the lead and then hand it over to the client to have an in-depth business discussion and qualify the lead more thoroughly before they actually set a qualified appointment.

    What you have to do is Select Target Campaigns: Some of our clients (Tech Company Lead Generation) request that we focus our cold calling to set qualified appointments on a short list of select targets. The Select Target campaign involves calling multiple times collecting information and escalating the qualification process until we set a qualified appointment. For enterprise targets involving a complex sale we can contact multiple decision makers and influencers to schedule a qualified appointment with each executive. All B2B appointment setting campaigns are customized to meet your needs.

    The Bottom Line. Would sales increase if your salespeople and agents spent more time with qualified prospects and less time trying to find them? Appointment setting isn't just a necessity – it's an essential resource to help capture market share, build your business and achieve your revenue goals.

    Here is what we offer, what do you people think in here about this?

    * Decision Maker appointments
    * You receive every email and communication with prospects (audio recordings)
    * (No Shows for you = 0%)
    * We have lists of over 25,000 potential prospects in the U.S.
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    * Unlike most Lead Gen firms, you can directly call our Bus. Dev. people anytime
    * Your account status is done DAILY by Phone not email like our competition
    * Fast turnaround of your project
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    * Significant improvement in the quality and productivity of your business
    * RESULTS

    Honestly, every post that you see on the web describes the next BIG methodology when it comes to B2B Lead Generation. At my company Partner Source, which is located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, we approach the Lead Generation subject with science, as it is our business.

    You have to have values that you stand by as an organization, Partner Source Values: Our principles define us. We stand for: Qualified appointments, results, performance and quality above all else. Outstanding Client Service is our dedication to responsiveness, consistent and effective communication with no surprises, and always meeting deadlines. Absolute honesty and integrity. Continuous Self-Improvement – the spirit of mastery. Making a difference with each person, every minute, every call, every day. We are dedicated to our client's total satisfaction.

    Glenn Wright
    Partner Source Minnesota (B2B Lead Generation)
    http://www.thepartnersource.co

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Little spammy, but some good nuggets in there. Ease off the sales job in the

      future, if you don't mind.

  • http://twitter.com/atulyabuzz Atulyagroup

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    Visit http://www.atulyagroups.com
    Or skype Id: atulyagroup

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  • http://www.leadsandappointments.com/ Anika Davis

    In a  surprising  move, LinkedIn Answers retired from LinkedIn last January. But the good thing is, there are aternatives. Quora remains excellent in general, while new comers like Google+ communities may be an alternative, but again, we’re still going to see spam there, and for companies and individuals with a B2B focus in particular, it’s going to be hard to create the kind of value that answers has been provided. 

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