How To Drive Business Leads In Question & Answer Forums
How To Drive Business Leads With Question & Answer Forums
How To Drive Business Leads With Question & Answer Forums
by

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 the Author

Jason Falls
Jason Falls is the founder of Social Media Explorer and one of the most notable and outspoken voices in the social media marketing industry. He is a noted marketing keynote speaker, author of two books and unapologetic bourbon aficionado. He can also be found at JasonFalls.com.
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  • 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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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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

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

      future, if you don't mind.

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  • Well said, Zack. Thanks for the comment!

  • Great post. LI answers is very powerful. They key like you mentioned is to not come across spammy, but helpful. It works really well if you have a blog that you can link back to a relevant post that can help further explain your answer. It is also useful if they appreciate your answer to send them an invite to network with them on LI. Be helpful and establish a relationship and hopefully through regular communication through LI and potentially your blog if they sign-up will keep you in front of them and establish you as the expert they will turn to when they need help or your services in the future. Relationships build leads, not spammy comments.

  • Great post. LI answers is very powerful. They key like you mentioned is to not come across spammy, but helpful. It works really well if you have a blog that you can link back to a relevant post that can help further explain your answer. It is also useful if they appreciate your answer to send them an invite to network with them on LI. Be helpful and establish a relationship and hopefully through regular communication through LI and potentially your blog if they sign-up will keep you in front of them and establish you as the expert they will turn to when they need help or your services in the future. Relationships build leads, not spammy comments.

    • Well said, Zack. Thanks for the comment!

  • Thanks Ben. I think both metrics (participation & readership) are relevant. “Lurkers” has a negative connotation, but these are the readers to whom you're trying to send your message. The two types of sites are optimized for different & complementary uses. Business.com and LinkedIn are probably much better for serious lead generation. Sites like Answers.com's WikiAnswers are probably better for reaching consumers that are interested in your product or industry. That's where a lot of your customers and potential customers are getting their answers, so they're great places to answer questions related to your product and industry, build your reputation, and build your relationships with the influential members of that community.

    One other point on the study: it listed Answers.com and WikiAnswers separately. WikiAnswers is the Q&A forum of Answers.com so they should probably be listed together. I'd love if you could get me the data for charts like Figure 5 (top Q&A forums) with the data for how many people said either Answers.com or WikiAnswers, since they're referring to the same site.

    Thanks again, and thanks for doing and publicizing the study.

  • Good post. Whitepapers too can help in getting more targeted leads. http://bit.ly/7zUAp4

  • Great question Colin. Perhaps some folks will chime in and show some
    results. Appreciate the comment.

  • Good post. It's really interesting how much traction and traffic Q&A forums get. Seems like it's a very underrated tactic for marketers to use – very few people in the space are actually talking about it, too. My question is, how many marketers have actually been able to attribute a measurable increase in the amount of leads / conversions from this tactic?

  • Good post. It's really interesting how much traction and traffic Q&A forums get. Seems like it's a very underrated tactic for marketers to use – very few people in the space are actually talking about it, too. My question is, how many marketers have actually been able to attribute a measurable increase in the amount of leads / conversions from this tactic?

    • Great question Colin. Perhaps some folks will chime in and show some
      results. Appreciate the comment.

    • I agree exactly.

  • Hi Gil – very good questions.

    As the study author, along with Erika Kerekes who commented below, I can assure you that the launch of Business.com Answers didn't affect how we analyzed the study data or reported the results. The data for the Q&A best practices report comes from a much larger study about how businesses use social media today (http://www.business.com/info/business-social-me…) which we conducted to get a better handle on what's actually going on in this space. The Q&A usage insights have definitely informed our thinking about Business.com Answers, and I imagine these insights would also be useful in your work with Answers.com and WikiAnswers.

    You bring up a good point about participants in our study vs. 'lurkers' who read but do not actively participate in Q&A sites. Our business social media study intentionally focused on people actively using social media for business today, and the Q&A report includes over 1,100 Q&A users who reported asking questions on Q&A sites as well as over 800 companies participating in Q&A forums. Were we to have focused simply on people who have visited one or more Q&A sites in search of business information, rather than on active participation, the list of top Q&A forums on pg. 10 of the report may have looked similar to the ranking by monthly unique visitors you mention rather than showing LinkedIn Answers on top.

    This said, I don't think monthly unique visitors is the best metric for determining the lead generation potential of a given Q&A site. The ideal online Q&A experience for both businesses and users (potential customers) is one where a dialog quickly forms between people seeking answers to important questions and 'experts', often vendors, who have answers to those questions. These high-quality experiences can happen in Q&A forums of any size, including small niches as derekedmond mentions below, as long as the appropriate parties can find each other.

    I think we're just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of how companies will drive high-quality business leads with Q&A forums and definitely agree with Jason's advice above…”the only way to start is to start.”

  • Good points to consider. Thanks Gil.

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  • Hey, great post. Quick correction: the number who said they used Twitter was 29.2% (35.4 was “Subscribe to RSS feeds”). Also, the report (which may have had some bias or agenda since its producer just launched its own Q&A site) only focused on people who ask or answer questions on these sites. It ignores the vast majority of these sites' users, who read these sites' information after performing a web search. According to comScore, Yahoo! Answers and Answers.com (which now includes WikiAnswers, and where I work) each had 46 million unique US visitors in October, about ten times as many as any of the other sites mentioned.

  • Hey, great post. Quick correction: the number who said they used Twitter was 29.2% (35.4 was “Subscribe to RSS feeds”). Also, the report (which may have had some bias or agenda since its producer just launched its own Q&A site) only focused on people who ask or answer questions on these sites. It ignores the vast majority of these sites' users, who read these sites' information after performing a web search. According to comScore, Yahoo! Answers and Answers.com (which now includes WikiAnswers, and where I work) each had 46 million unique US visitors in October, about ten times as many as any of the other sites mentioned.

    • Good points to consider. Thanks Gil.

    • Hi Gil – very good questions.

      As the study author, along with Erika Kerekes who commented below, I can assure you that the launch of Business.com Answers didn't affect how we analyzed the study data or reported the results. The data for the Q&A best practices report comes from a much larger study about how businesses use social media today (http://www.business.com/info/business-social-me…) which we conducted to get a better handle on what's actually going on in this space. The Q&A usage insights have definitely informed our thinking about Business.com Answers, and I imagine these insights would also be useful in your work with Answers.com and WikiAnswers.

      You bring up a good point about participants in our study vs. 'lurkers' who read but do not actively participate in Q&A sites. Our business social media study intentionally focused on people actively using social media for business today, and the Q&A report includes over 1,100 Q&A users who reported asking questions on Q&A sites as well as over 800 companies participating in Q&A forums. Were we to have focused simply on people who have visited one or more Q&A sites in search of business information, rather than on active participation, the list of top Q&A forums on pg. 10 of the report may have looked similar to the ranking by monthly unique visitors you mention rather than showing LinkedIn Answers on top.

      This said, I don't think monthly unique visitors is the best metric for determining the lead generation potential of a given Q&A site. The ideal online Q&A experience for both businesses and users (potential customers) is one where a dialog quickly forms between people seeking answers to important questions and 'experts', often vendors, who have answers to those questions. These high-quality experiences can happen in Q&A forums of any size, including small niches as derekedmond mentions below, as long as the appropriate parties can find each other.

      I think we're just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of how companies will drive high-quality business leads with Q&A forums and definitely agree with Jason's advice above…”the only way to start is to start.”

      • Thanks Ben. I think both metrics (participation & readership) are relevant. “Lurkers” has a negative connotation, but these are the readers to whom you're trying to send your message. The two types of sites are optimized for different & complementary uses. Business.com and LinkedIn are probably much better for serious lead generation. Sites like Answers.com's WikiAnswers are probably better for reaching consumers that are interested in your product or industry. That's is where a lot of your customers and potential customers are getting their answers, so their great places to answer questions related to your product and industry, building your reputation, and build your relationships with the influential members of that community.

        One other point on the study: it listed Answers.com and WikiAnswers separately. WikiAnswers is the Q&A forum of Answers.com so they should probably be listed together. I'd love if you could get me the data for charts like Figure 5 (top Q&A forums) with the data for how many people said either Answers.com or WikiAnswers, since they're referring to the same site.

        Thanks again, and thanks for doing and publicizing the study.

  • Pingback: Social Media Lead Generation with Q&A Forums | Business.com's B2B Online Marketing Blog()

  • Thanks Ed. I was actually a little surprised to see B2B is by far the
    majority of the people who use LinkedIn Answers, according to the
    research. Maybe you can use the report and this post to help push
    those clients along! Happy holidays, my friend.

  • Thanks Erika. I believe I mentioned Business.com's Answers above
    (responding via email so I'm not sure) but if I didn't I should have.
    Glad that you're doing that and that people are seeing results. I do
    think that the format is a largely untapped one. Hopefully this post
    can remind some folks it's a viable place to play. Thank you for all
    your work.

  • Jason:
    Useful facts. Interestingly, whey we talk to clients, especially B 2 B, they're not yet convinced this is a marketing tool for them. They're skeptical about Open Forum's true value and sometimes wonder of LI isn't for really small companies. That being said, we're trying to help clients develop overall strategies that tap into internal expertise and identify the key people who should contribute and be available via these platforms. As we develop best of breed examples, will be glad to share.

  • Jason:
    Useful facts. Interestingly, whey we talk to clients, especially B 2 B, they're not yet convinced this is a marketing tool for them. They're skeptical about Open Forum's true value and sometimes wonder of LI isn't for really small companies. That being said, we're trying to help clients develop overall strategies that tap into internal expertise and identify the key people who should contribute and be available via these platforms. As we develop best of breed examples, will be glad to share.

    • Thanks Ed. I was actually a little surprised to see B2B is by far the
      majority of the people who use LinkedIn Answers, according to the
      research. Maybe you can use the report and this post to help push
      those clients along! Happy holidays, my friend.

  • Jason, thanks for telling your readers about our report on b2b usage of question-and-answer forums. We were particularly interested in exploring these new “informational marketing” behaviors as we developed Business.com Answers (http://answers.business.com/), our own B2B Q&A platform, which launched this past fall. (We didn't include any statistics from Business.com Answers usage in the report because it hadn't yet launched at the time we did the research.)

    We're a lot younger than the other Q&A sites you mention, but we've already seen real new business connections on our site. Many questions posted imply – or state explicitly – a need to buy business products and services, and the people who have answered those questions have seen real results: increased traffic to their websites, email or phone conversations, even directly attributable sales. We're looking forward to more research down the road with our members to get a more precise understanding of the quantity and quality of results they're seeing from time spent in online Q&A.

  • Jason, thanks for telling your readers about our report on b2b usage of question-and-answer forums. We were particularly interested in exploring these new “informational marketing” behaviors as we developed Business.com Answers (http://answers.business.com/), our own B2B Q&A platform, which launched this past fall. (We didn't include any statistics from Business.com Answers usage in the report because it hadn't yet launched at the time we did the research.)

    We're a lot younger than the other Q&A sites you mention, but we've already seen real new business connections on our site. Many questions posted imply – or state explicitly – a need to buy business products and services, and the people who have answered those questions have seen real results: increased traffic to their websites, email or phone conversations, even directly attributable sales. We're looking forward to more research down the road with our members to get a more precise understanding of the quantity and quality of results they're seeing from time spent in online Q&A.

    • Thanks Erika. I believe I mentioned Business.com's Answers above
      (responding via email so I'm not sure) but if I didn't I should have.
      Glad that you're doing that and that people are seeing results. I do
      think that the format is a largely untapped one. Hopefully this post
      can remind some folks it's a viable place to play. Thank you for all
      your work.

  • Pingback: How To Drive Business Leads With Question & Answer Forums | Social … | Seo Curacao()

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    its really a great beneficial site…really from my experience point of view i would only say that to achieve more you need to have more creative and productive site/product which satisfies the most public needs…..but the results coming out of the forums are really great and interesting…..

  • That's why they tell us not to assume, I suppose. Great to have some
    data to steer us in the right. Thanks for stopping by!

  • gcjmarkets

    Jason,
    Great post I was suprised to see “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.”

    I just assumed that Yahoo answers would be the most popular

  • gcjmarkets

    Jason,
    Great post I was suprised to see “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.”

    I just assumed that Yahoo answers would be the most popular

    • That's why they tell us not to assume, I suppose. Great to have some
      data to steer us in the right. Thanks for stopping by!

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  • derekedmond

    I have some friends and colleagues absolutely killing it with forums/question-answer-sites (wrote a post on my personal blog about this a few weeks ago). The reason being is that for small niches, if you can find a passionate audience or community your site/product satisfies a need with, it's amazing the amount of traffic, exposure, and links one can get.

    My experience is that you have to dig deeper to find the most value and opportunities – and there is certainly less support/public examples to go by, but with patience and perseverance it can definitely work.

  • derekedmond

    I have some friends and colleagues absolutely killing it with forums/question-answer-sites (wrote a post on my personal blog about this a few weeks ago). The reason being is that for small niches, if you can find a passionate audience or community your site/product satisfies a need with, it's amazing the amount of traffic, exposure, and links one can get.

    My experience is that you have to dig deeper to find the most value and opportunities – and there is certainly less support/public examples to go by, but with patience and perseverance it can definitely work.

  • Great point, Stu. I've never been a big fan of LinkedIn's UX, thought it's greatly improved over the last year or so. I've also never been a big fan of traditional forum UX and have always wanted a development team to help me create something better. Beyond that, though, the functionality isn't standing in most people's way, so I suppose we'll have to tolerate a less than elegant interface.

  • Your observations on groups aren't too far off from what I've experienced. I think it's all in the management of them. The best, most active and most productive groups are ones that are policed and protected by their creators. It's no different than managing your own forum/bulletin board. When someone pokes in and gets spammy, reach out and steer them right. If they do it again, warn them. If a third time, ban them. I'm not sure of the specific LinkedIn technical capabilities there, but the more time people take to curate the group, the better purpose it serves.

  • I like the results that are coming out of forums…but I'm wondering if a more effective way of surfacing them exists? My biggest complaint with forums is that they are “less than elegant” and very difficult to navigate.

    What kind of UX things could be done to improve the surfacing of this clearly useful info?

  • I like the results that are coming out of forums…but I'm wondering if a more effective way of surfacing them exists? My biggest complaint with forums is that they are “less than elegant” and very difficult to navigate.

    What kind of UX things could be done to improve the surfacing of this clearly useful info?

    • Great point, Stu. I've never been a big fan of LinkedIn's UX, thought it's greatly improved over the last year or so. I've also never been a big fan of traditional forum UX and have always wanted a development team to help me create something better. Beyond that, though, the functionality isn't standing in most people's way, so I suppose we'll have to tolerate a less than elegant interface.

  • This is really interesting. Chris Hall has been talking about this for months, but I haven't really gotten into it yet … but now I'm looking for a way to do a “virtual focus group” within an online social network. If LinkedIn really has that kind of Q&A/Polling capability, it could be pretty powerful.
    I too am fearful of spamminess; many of the groups I belong to (including my own) are plagued by spam questions and questionable adverts. But now I think that I may need to give this another shot.

  • This is really interesting. Chris Hall has been talking about this for months, but I haven't really gotten into it yet … but now I'm looking for a way to do a “virtual focus group” within an online social network. If LinkedIn really has that kind of Q&A/Polling capability, it could be pretty powerful.
    I too am fearful of spamminess; many of the groups I belong to (including my own) are plagued by spam questions and questionable adverts. But now I think that I may need to give this another shot.

    • Your observations on groups aren't too far off from what I've experienced. I think it's all in the management of them. The best, most active and most productive groups are ones that are policed and protected by their creators. It's no different than managing your own forum/bulletin board. When someone pokes in and gets spammy, reach out and steer them right. If they do it again, warn them. If a third time, ban them. I'm not sure of the specific LinkedIn technical capabilities there, but the more time people take to curate the group, the better purpose it serves.