Download: Quora for Advancement
The link above is to the first in a series of Alumni Futures "Snapshots in Advancement," very brief overviews of how particular social technologies relate to institutional advancement. The article that follows, below, offers a more detailed commentary on the same topic: Quora.com.
Have you logged into Quora yet?
If not, here's a little background. Quora.com describes itself as "a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it." Their About page goes on to say:
The most important thing is to have each question page become the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about the question.
...[T]hink of it is as a cache for the research that people do looking things up on the web and asking other people. Eventually, when you see a link to a question page on Quora, your feeling should be: "Oh, great! That's going to have all the information I want about that."
The Bad News
If Quora continues its current rapid growth, then colleges, universities and schools will want to monitor it. This means that there may be "one more thing to monitor" when it comes to tracking social media. It also means you'll need to watch for errors of fact or misrepresentations about your organizations.
Another problem is that some users apparently don't understand that Quora was created as a thorough, comprehensive repository for reference information – not as a channel for publishing opinions. Bloggers, hotheads, egoists, and blowhards will have a field day until Quora either founders from its own weight or becomes too boring for pundits and flame-war fans.
The Good News
If you can find the staff time to keep an eye on Quora as it relates to your organization's programs and services, you will have yet another channel for insight into how some of your audience perceives you and your work. This is a basic principle of effective community management: scanning user-generated content to assess audience interest and sentiment.
This is an important point for organizations: The existing principles of community management – "listen and watch most of the time, contribute occasionally" – apply to Quora.
Case in point: The partial screenshot accompanying this article shows a question asked by a young alum who wanted to know why s/he should join the Stanford Alumni Association. [Click the thumbnail image above to enlarge it.] Two general answers about networking came (apparently) from at-large users. One predictably upbeat answer came from a membership manager at the organization itself.
Its founders designed Quora to be self-balancing, by allowing readers to vote individual answers "up" or "down" depending on the answers' perceived value. While not perfect, this is a potentially valid way to maintain balance in the eco-system.
For now, Quora is a "hot commodity" with some fans and some detractors. One aspect that has garnered media attention is the fact that high-profile individuals may well be the ones who answer your question. The CEO of Netflix famously answered a question about how much Netflix spends on postage. But this aspect is over-rated, because its value is limited to questions that are best answered by CEOs or other prominent individuals. And most of the questions you're going to ask don't fit that description. And most CEOs aren't going to read Quora.
It remains to be seen whether there is a structured way for organizations to participate formally in Quora. For now, advancement offices should "follow" the topics on Quora that include their institution's name or related topics (for example, look at the topics in light blue assigned to the question in the Stanford screenshot).
A final noteworthy aspect of Quora is the fact that users can edit each other's submissions, and in fact, can even edit the original questions. This is fraught with opportunities for "gaming" the Q & A to bolster one's own organization or views, or to sabotage others'. However, edits are logged and the system may provide the same self-correcting aspect that most online communities enjoy.
That, in turn, depends on Quora turning out to be a true community, and it's not yet clear that this will happen.