Two years after I started following Quora, I wrote my first answer there.
What took me so long?
First, and honestly, I didn’t feel I had anything to contribute. Quora attracts the best and brightest in their fields, from the theatre to astrophysics to writing to…well, you name it, you can find at least a few experts. What did I, a jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-few, have to offer on a site where the vast majority of contributors knew WAY more about their topics than I did?
Second, I was there to learn from these people. I started off following writers, astrophysicists, astronauts and marketing gurus. But over time, I found my feed evolved and changed as I discovered people who share my interests and off-hours hobbies. Before long, the ruthlessly intellectual approach had subsided, replaced by finding the ideal intersection between my business and my personal life.
Two years later, I have developed a modest but devoted following in areas which, at first glance, have only the most casual relationship with Internet marketing and writing in their purest forms While writing is still a staple of my communication with the people who ask questions on Quora, I am less concerned with marketing than the dissemination of knowledge and information.
The point is not to market myself.
Except it really is.
By standing at the intersection of my interests and skill set, I can represent myself authentically and without the need to hide or censor myself. In the course of one day answering questions, I can go from scathingly critical to compassionate to businesslike to direct and back again. All of these are honest reflections of who I am, narrowed and laser-focused through the prism of the question I’m answering at the moment.
And the results have been consistent, stable and measurable.
With this in mind, here are five things answering questions on Quora have taught me.
You cannot predict virality.
Quora sends out specific questions in its Daily Digest. How these questions are chosen is a mystery to everyone except Quora itself. I’ve spent hours agonizing, polishing and refining an answer to the most infinitesimal detail, making sure every last syllable builds on itself to a precisely planned and orchestrated crescendo…
Only to get 10 views.
Then there are answers I’ve dashed off in less than 60 seconds which have been sent to 1,000, 10,000 or 25,000+ people in the digest!
Online marketing works the same way. There’s just no way to predict what is going to go viral. This doesn’t excuse you from doing your best, but it does suggest there is such a thing as trying TOO hard. Marketing is a popularity contest, absolutely…but you’ll find you achieve more when you say what you have to say, simply and directly, and let your audience do the heavy lifting for you.
Popularity doesn’t really matter.
You’ve seen it on Facebook, Twitter, in your email inbox and even on billboards and in print media: That ad, post or article which leaves you shaking your head and thinking, “Someone actually got paid to write this? And it’s doing better than my content?”
Yes. Yes, they did. And yes. Yes, it is.
But why? And how?
That’s both the mystery and the reason why chasing popularity makes no sense from a long-term marketing perspective. Hitting a home run once in a while is just a matter of playing the odds; sooner or later, you really can’t help but knock one out of the park. It’s the home run everyone’s chasing in Internet marketing, that one post that hits a million monitors, Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds.
And while you’re swinging for that home run, how many singles are you missing which could have gotten you a greater incremental profit over time than the one perfect hit that wound up in the cheap seats?
One-hit wonders are a dime a dozen. Look at the Billboard Top 40 going back as far as you like. Consider how many Top 10, Top 5 or even #1 singles represented the beginning and end of an artist’s career. Now look at the same period and the perennial entries, the people who don’t top the charts but are consistently present with at least one, sometimes two or three entries representing a stable, successful, decades-spanning career.
This is the choice marketers are often faced with: the sure, sustainable but slower results they know will work versus the expectations of clients who see the viral campaigns and ask, “Why can’t you just replicate that?” without understanding which is more likely to be the vehicle that will get them where they want to be. When confronted with this choice, of course you should go viral if you can…but a sustainable, predictable growth curve you can impose control over is far better than a runaway rocket which will take you to unimaginable heights but crash just as quickly as it took off.
If you try to take on the best of the best on their own turf, you’re almost certainly setting yourself up to fail. A low-midlist author isn’t going to be much competition for an answer written by someone the likes of Mercedes R. Lackey, who is a fellow Quoran and one I follow avidly. Her primary product is answers about writing, but she also answers many questions about avian care, feeding, handling and rehabbing. This places her in a unique niche, allowing her to stand in an intersection where few if any others on Quora can realistically compete while increasing her reach exponentially even among people who wouldn’t recognize her name from the annals of SF/F authordom.
Likewise, I stand at my own intersection of multiple interests. If you want to know what that intersection is, you can check out my Quora profile. You have your intersection. Your company has its own intersection. The intersection is the place where multiple, seemingly unrelated interests converge and unite. By locating the places your competitors cannot follow or meet you on your own ground, you can set yourself apart and develop a greater presence in multiple spheres of influence simultaneously, drawing more attention, interest and creating more value over time.
People want to feel like they’re talking to actual people.
I know it’s passe nowadays. Voicemail, IVR menus, email autoresponders and other cybernetic gatekeepers keep people insulated from human contact on both ends. There are good and valid reasons for this in some cases, but the entire point of Internet marketing is to start a dialogue. Without communication and the ability to exchange ideas, information and feedback, communication dwindles to contact and then to nothing.
As corporate speak becomes more popular at every level of business, it also creates its own version of “banner blindness.” Buzzwords and phrases such as “drilling down,” “interfacing,” “overqualification,” “low-hanging fruit” and so forth are so ubiquitous as to be devoid of meaning. It’s language for robots, droids and drones, not living, breathing people with minds, interests, mental, emotional and physical needs, cravings, yearnings and desires. It’s bureaucracy run amok, an infection, a festering cancer in the mind of the consumer, and the best illustration of this is the phrase “I understand,” employed when something goes wrong and a consumer displays annoyance, irritation or frustration.
No one cares if you understand. Empathy is useless without a willingness to try to correct the issue. Scripted communication vastly reduces the possibility of actually correcting the issue, because instead of managing the issue, the person is now trying to manage the consumer. The consumer knows this, and is likely to push back against it. The consumer doesn’t need managing, the issue does. When a client demonstrates anger or frustration, they want to know they’re dealing with someone who not only understands and empathizes but is willing to do something about it. Compare the two examples below.
“I understand, sir. As it happens, there’s not much we can do about it.”
“You know, it pisses me off when that happens to me too. I’m not sure what we can do to make this right, but I’m going to find out and do everything I can for you.”
The first is corporate-approved, HR-sanitized and VERY poor communication. It places the speaker in a position of authority and gatekeeping, making them an obstacle against the client’s interests and needs while telling the client, “Sorry about your bad luck.” By contrast, the second feels more real by far. You’ve made an ally because you’re using real, honest language. You’re demonstrating real feeling and commitment to helping find a workable solution. You don’t sound like a drone, but like a fellow human being, and people respond to that even when they don’t appreciate the message you’re delivering.
This doesn’t mean everything you write needs to be peppered with invective, cussing or swearing to be effective. But if you’re going to use the initialism “AF,” why not just go ahead and spell it out clearly and explicitly? You’re a grownup, writing for grownups who live, work and function in the adult world. A little adult language or even salty humor can go a long way toward establishing authenticity and building relationships.
No one remembers the mush-mouthed HR-pleasing drone.
But the guy who tells the joke about building bridges and churches, and not being remembered for them, but his single indiscretion with a sheep…
That’s the guy who gets remembered.
And called back when there’s a need.
Consistency is key.
Branding and marketing are not one-and-done deals. Just like you can’t expect to hit one home run and rest on your laurels thereafter, you can’t change things around every other day, week or month and assure stability or consistency in the results you achieve. If you can show how even the unexpected, surprising or more private aspects of your personality are still part of a cohesive, consistent whole, you are more likely to develop the confidence of your audience. This, in turn, improves your odds of finding clientele who will remember and reach out to you when they need the services only you can provide.
Looking at my Quora answer history, you might think there’s a disconnect between my professional and private lives. This is not, in fact, the case. Every topic I answer questions in is one which interests me. It’s part of my story, a facet of my reality. Some of these facets intersect in my personal spaces, others in the professional spaces, but they are inextricably linked by one simple fact: They’re all ME.
In the same way, your branding and marketing should tell a consistent, cohesive story. It should show not only what your brand is and what it can do, but take the viewer behind the scenes to the mind(s) who created it and why. The more dependable and solid your brand becomes on its public face, the more likely it is to attract the clientele with whom you can interact best: those whose intersectional realties most closely mirror your own.
The point of all this, boiled down into one sentence, is simple.
Be yourself. Let your brand be itself. Seek out authenticity and consistency. The more of this you do, the greater your chances of success become.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Asif for allowing me the opportunity to post my thoughts and opinions here, and you, gentle reader, for taking the time to read them. I welcome any comments, questions or discussion, so please don’t hesitate to leave your thoughts! I will be responding as quickly as possible to any remarks. In the meantime, I wish you good luck and successful marketing!
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