Practical Ecommerce

Social Q&A: New Take On An Old Genre

The question-and-answer genre has been around for a long time in the form of bulletin boards, discussion forums and sites such as Answers.com and AskJeeves.com (now Ask.com). A new variation on that theme, a social question-and-answer, is growing rapidly.

A primary reason for this growth is that traditional search has become unwieldy and often frustrating, with the preponderance of millions of websites and billions of web pages. As a result, Internet users are turning to each other to find answers to questions. Social Q&A sites – which place an emphasis on building social connections – can fill this need.

Popular Question-and-Answer Sites

Aardvark. Aardvark is unique as a social Q&A site because users can send questions not only via the web, but also through instant messages, emails, Twitter or an iPhone app. When a question is posed, the site will search the person’s network of friends to find the appropriate person(s) to answer the question. Google thought highly enough of Aardvark to purchase it in 2010 for $50 million, according to TechCrunch.

Quora. Possibly the best-known social Q&A site, Quora allows users to follow others in Twitter-like fashion, as well as vote answers up or down, similar to Digg.

Quora is perhaps the most well-known social Q&A site.

Quora is perhaps the most well-known social Q&A site.

Stack Exchange. Another social Q&A site, StackExchange, started as a site for web developers, but is now adding other verticals.

FormSpring. Targeted to teens and college students, FormSpring provides a public way for people to ask each other personal questions.

Designed for younger people, FormSpring makes personal questions public.

Designed for younger people, FormSpring makes personal questions public.

Fluther. Fluther, which Twitter recently acquired, attempts to deliver answers in real-time and distribute questions to people based on what they know.

Pozit. A newcomer to the social Q&A space, Pozit enables users to create invitation-only discussions about any topic or question. Users can invite friends to join the discussion via email, Facebook and Twitter, and point them to a unique Pozit space and URL where they can post responses.

LinkedIn Answers. LinkedIn Answers allows users to mine their LinkedIn network to find answers to business-related questions.

Facebook Questions. Facebook has its own Q&A service called Questions, which is included as one of the options for the user’s status update. Users can ask questions or create polls, and then share the questions are shared in their news feeds. If a friend answers or follows the question, it is shared with their friends as well.

Facebook friends answer questions posed using Questions status update feature.

Facebook friends answer questions posed using Questions status update feature.

White-Label Tools. There are also a growing number of tools that allow website owners to incorporate white-label social Q&A components into their own sites. Sponge and AnswerBase are two such providers.

Shopping-Related Q&A Sites

Social Q&A is also making inroads into consumer shopping habits, too, and with good reason. Before consumers make a purchase, they tend to consult with friends who have purchased a similar product. Social media greatly facilitates this practice.

Here are two examples of shopping-related social Q&A sites.

TurnTo Networks Ask Owners. Social commerce platform-provider TurnTo recently introduced Ask Owners, a tool that lets shoppers to an ecommerce website ask questions of past customers. Ask Owners emails a shopper’s question to customers who actually purchased the item the shopper is considering; the goal is to quickly generate multiple, highly credible responses. Ask Owners is part of TurnTo’s Social Commerce Suite and is designed to be incorporated into the merchant’s website on product pages.

TurnTo Network's "Ask Owners" feature takes social Q&A into ecommerce.

TurnTo Network’s “Ask Owners” feature takes social Q&A into ecommerce.

ShopSocially. Not unlike Quora, ShopSocially is a social Q&A website where users are given the opportunity to either ask friends a shopping question or share purchase information with friends.

ShopSocially makes shopping social.

ShopSocially makes shopping social.

Benefits to Using Social Q&A for Ecommerce

Benefits to Shoppers

Social Q&A sites provide answers to shoppers from other, real customers. Sometimes the information a consumer needs is not in the product description. Perhaps the shopper does not trust an answer from the store, or no one has answered the question in a customer review. That’s where social Q&A serves a useful role.

Benefits to Merchants

  • Increased conversions. Shoppers who ask questions receive answers from real people who have already purchased the product. These responses often come from friends via social networks. The quality of the answers and the amount of trust placed in them by the shopper can lead to increased sales conversions.
  • Improved SEO. Since the recent Google “Farmer” algorithm change, unique, fresh content on product pages has a bigger impact than ever on Google’s search rankings. Interaction via social Q&A can mean content gets posted to the page more often. Not only that, a post on SEOmoz, a blog targeted to the SEO community, says a recent trend is for people to search using questions now more than generic keywords. If that is the case, having a social Q&A component on an ecommerce site could lead to improved search returns.
  • Pre-purchase insight. Customer reviews are great for learning about product issues, but shopper questions give a merchant insight into his or her merchandising. Au-Co Mai, CEO of Emitations.com, a jewelry retailer, testified to the effect of social Q&A: “We noticed shoppers asking whether a particular earring was meant for pierced ears because the photo didn’t show the earring post. As a result, we are redoing the photography on that item to make it clear.”

Considerations When Using Social Q&A

  • Moderate responses. Merchants who use social Q&A should be prepared to moderate responses — similar to customer ratings and reviews — to ensure that the content is appropriate.
  • Doesn’t replace reviews. Social Q&A is not a substitute for reviews. Answers to questions are often short and specific, whereas customer reviews tend to provide broader, more in-depth evaluations.
  • Not for customer service. Make it clear to shoppers that a social Q&A tool is for getting answers from other customers. If the shopper has a question for customer service, he or she should use customer support channels provided by the merchant, such as live chat, email or telephone support.
  • Make it visible. The effectiveness of a social Q&A system depends on how much it gets used. And that depends on how much visibility it is given and the relevance of the messaging. Sites that bury the feature can expect low shopper engagement.

Summary

Social question-and-answer sites can oftentimes help consumers obtain answers more quickly that traditional searches engines. The concept applies to ecommerce sites, too, and vendors now offer plug-ins to merchants to facilitate the Q&A dialog. A quick, honest answer to a shopper’s question — from another consumer — can help close a sale. And that is good for the shopper, and the merchant.

Paul Chaney

Paul Chaney

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Comments ( 3 )

  1. Shmink April 5, 2011 Reply

    Another site that should be included in this list is Alldabees.com

  2. Louis Camassa April 6, 2011 Reply

    Paul-wonderful summary! I always liked the Q&A section at http://store.apple.com/us/questions/product/H1991ZM/A?mco=MjA2NTEwNjk

    I would think larger ecommerce operations would want their own home-grown system so they have more control over moderation tasks.

  3. jessicahammon December 4, 2012 Reply

    Another Q&A Genre that most people don’t think about is fashion. You could include http://www.dressingyourtruth.com which is a great site for Q&A at least relating to fashion.