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May 07, 2011

Quora Opens Doors to Self Promoters, Bias and Marketeers

Quora's differentiation from more established but less respected question and answer forums has typically centered around the quality of the discussions and those participating. It's not too infrequent that one finds the perfect person situated to answer a question pops up in Quora to take on challenging queries, from how companies started, to strategy and history. But as the site's grown in visibility, attracting more a wider swatch of early adopters, including social media marketers, there has been something of a tug of war between those looking to keep the site pristine, lacking self-promotion, and those who are hoping to leverage the site as yet another outlet for branding and positioning.

On Thursday, Quora's Marc Bodnick, famous for leaving Elevation Partners, where he is a cofounder, to focus on the site after gaining addiction as a user, posted that users are "encouraged to contribute helpful content about topics where they have relevant personal experience", which deviated from one original mission of the site to prohibit content that was considered "primarily self-promotional." As he put it, the old rules were too restrictive, that the quality of the answer trumps the objective the answerer may have had for posting, and that users with direct knowledge are invited to contribute. The ban on self-promotion could have potentially led those with direct knowledge, but continued vested interest, to avoid participating.

Marc Bodnick's Announcement of the Policy Change

While the floodgates are now open for any brand to insert a representative to start answering questions directly or tangentially related to their products, Bodnick reiterated that disclosure of affiliations (and therefore potential bias) was still required, such as whether you work for the company, are an investor, an school alumnus, etc.

While there is some debate about Quora's ability to cross the chasm to more mainstream users, it's clear there is significant potential in a high quality alternative to today's collaborative knowledge bases, without the relative anonymity and dryness of Wikipedia. Meanwhile, many people are extremely bullish on the company, given its objectives and its founding from well-respected early Facebookers, Charlie Cheever and Adam D'Angelo. See Wired: Does Quora Really Have All the Answers? for one particularly recent effusive take.

As Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn all crossed the chasm from early adopter plaything to mainstream acceptance, brand advocates and marketers followed. Similarly, Foursquare has gained tie-ins with marketers and advertisers, while other recent tech hits like Groupon and Zynga have always been all about the money. With Quora becoming a magnet for high quality discussions, and the shackles being taken off self-promoters and marketers, there's a chance that one person's insight could be seen as another person's spam. The good news is that with Quora, the community's upvote and downvote capabilities might be able to keep the sleaziest of the gladhanders away and let the quality float to the top.

If you've represented a brand and to date, Quora's ban on self-promotion had you slinging your wares elsewhere, the game is now afoot.