What is social Q&A, and how can it help my site?

You have probably used a “social Q&A” site, but you may not have realized it because the term is relatively new.  Let me try to define it first, and then we can look at some examples to make it more clear.  My definition:

A system that allows a community to ask questions, answer each other’s questions, and vet answers.

The “community” in question here could be employees within a company, members of a club, members of a site, people with a common interest or hobby, or even the population at large.  The “system” would typically be machine-based, either web or mobile (we’ll ignore physical and in-person Q&A systems for now.  Playing Trivial Pursuit doesn’t count.)

An important point here is the ability for the community to vet answers, and this is what sets social Q&A systems apart from other community and UGC tools. People can ask and answer questions within a comments area or in a site forum, but neither of those provide effective tools for the community to vet answers.

General Social Q&A Systems

The early social Q&A sites were almost all general Q&A systems, meaning that people could ask questions about virtually any topic. They may not get an answer, but the field was wide open for the asker. Here are some of the most popular general social Q&A systems:

General Q&A systems tend to produce fast answers, but they are often derided because the answers are inaccurate or just found from a Google search.  This is because the people who hang out on these general sites tend to be generalists who are trying to be helpful, but often don’t have domain-specific knowledge.  To address the weaknesses of general Q&A systems, witness the rise of…

Niche Social Q&A Systems

Niche Q&A systems which have proven to be a powerful way to get quality answers. The advantage they have is that they cater to communities of interest, so most people who are asking and answering are already fairly well educated on the topic, and therefore the quality of answers is higher all-around. Some popular niche Q&A systems include:

I should probably note that Quora is built as a general Q&A site, but it has attracted a niche community, so the Q&A there revolve around the tech industry and startups. Perhaps they plan to expand beyond that community, but for now I consider it a niche Q&A site because it is not very useful at providing answers about topics that are not popular among the Silicon Valley tech crowd.

Spend a little time perusing StackOverflow.com. Even if you are not a programmer, you can tell that the level of conversation on that site is elevated from that of a Yahoo Answers, and this is because of its focus. Its visitors are programmers, some experts, some newbies, but they are all programmers, so the questions tend to be well-written, and the answers in general are of a high quality, particularly the answers that have a high number of votes, or those that were accepted as a “best answer” by the original asker.

How can social Q&A help my site?

Now think about your site. You probably have a community of interest on your site, whether it’s wind-surfers, people who enjoy flowers, or accountants. Some of those people are experts, and some are less experienced and are trying to learn. Social Q&A works very well within these focused communities because it lets the experts in your community share their knowledge and experience without it getting lost in the conversation that is typical with community tools like forums or comments.

Your users want answers

New users to your site, especially those coming from search are looking for something. They’re looking for an answer, a product, a service, a solution – something.  If that new visitor doesn’t find what they’re looking for right away, what do they do?  That’s right: they bounce.

Your challenge as a site owner is to create a relationship with that visitor in the short time you have with them, no matter what page they land on.  Not many will post a comment in order to get an answer, and even fewer will take the time to find and register for a forum, so you need to reduce the obstacles between them and their answer as much as possible.

Give them a path to an answer

Rather than slapping any old social media tools on your site, make sure your visitors know that they can ask a question on your site, no matter what page they are on.  Prompt them to ask a question, and they will be more confident that they can get an answer and will be more likely to even ask, and then you’ve won!  Once they ask a question, you can start to build a relationship with that visitor by giving an answer yourself, or by letting your visitors give their answers.  When they get an answer, they’re more likely to come back, to thank the person who gave the answer, and to continue to engage with your site.

Building relationships is a win-win

With social Q&A on your site, your visitors will create a knowledgebase for you, a knowledgebase that will help engage new users, and retain existing users.  New users will be more likely ask questions and return if they see they’re likely to get answers, and your repeat visitors, once they see that they’re getting recognized for their positive contributions, will come back to help others.  People are naturally helpful, so give them a way to help each other, and give them a way to get recognized for their efforts.  Social Q&A is an ideal fit.

We built Degree3 to help you leverage the power of niche Q&A. We aim to give you the most powerful Q&A tools you can find while also making them dead simple to install and administer. Have questions about how to leverage Q&A for your site? Just get in touch with us at support@degree3.com, and we’ll help you put together a Q&A solution that benefit your site and your visitors!

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