6 ways journalists can use Quora as tool to report, share ideas

Quora, the fast-growing question and answer site, has become increasingly popular among journalists.

In a phone interview, Quora co-founder Adam D’Angelo attributed the site’s recent growth to an increase in media coverage and traffic from Twitter, among other factors. Because the site auto-follows users’ Facebook and Twitter accounts, it makes sense that its user-base would spread quickly once a few influencers begin using it.

“Originally when we built the site, we didn’t have new users automatically follow all their Twitter contacts,” said D’Angelo, former CTO of Facebook. “But since, in the vast majority of cases, people want to see what their friends are doing on the site, we changed it to automatically follow the people who we can detect that they care about via Twitter/Facebook. This helps growth a bit but it actually wasn’t the reason why we did it.”

Quora has some work to do as it looks for ways to maintain high quality questions and answers. But even despite some of its glitches, the site has potential for journalists who are seeking new ways to find sources, reach targeted audiences and contribute to discussions about their news organizations.

Below, I’ve addressed how Quora is different from some other sites and list six ways that journalists can use it.

Use questions as opportunities for localized content.

Earlier this week, TBD experimented with Quora as part of a community blog feature on local pizza joints. “Looking for good pizza in the Washington, D.C., area?” the piece read. “Here are 13 joints recommended by local users of Quora, a social question-and-answer platform.”

TBD encouraged its users to add their thoughts in the comments section of the story and to the Quora thread. TBD also suggested that readers add the “TBD” topic tag to any local Quora questions that they think TBD should follow.

I like the idea of news orgs asking readers to alert them to interesting questions on Quora. I wonder, though, how effective it is to ask readers to comment on both a story and on Quora. When given two options, wouldn’t readers be inclined to fall back on what’s most familiar? Not necessarily, says TBD Social Media Producer Mandy Jenkins.

“I think with any new and growing tool or technology we may try in our work, we should offer a way for people to participate both inside it and out,” she said via e-mail. “We can introduce ourselves to users within Quora and, on the flip side, introduce our existing readers to a community they may not yet know. We take the same approach with other crowdsourcing projects that rely on outside tools (like Twitter and Crowdmap) as a way to let everyone get involved.”

Find story ideas, sources.

Quora is a good resource for finding out what people are saying about the topics you cover, and what questions they want answered. TechCrunch, for example, has been following Steve Case’s activity on Quora and recently wrote a story based on the AOL co-founder’s response to the question: “How much did it cost AOL to distribute all those CDs back in the 1990′s?

Business Insider also wrote a story about Case’s response, while the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a roundup of Case’s answers to this question and others.

Salon and CNN have also used Quora to quote sources — a practice that journalists are debating. In a related question on Quora, some have said they would “absolutely” quote sources on Quora, while others worry that responses would be taken out of context. I look at Quora in much the same way as Twitter and Facebook; all of these sites are good starting points for finding story ideas and sources, but they shouldn’t replace interviews and deeper reporting.

Checking the validity of sources and finding ways to contact them is easier on Quora than on other question and answer sites, D’Angelo said. “On a lot of these other sites, you have usernames and you can’t figure out who’s behind an answer,” he said. “On Quora, you can click on a link and get back to a Facebook or Twitter page, so if you’re going to source information for a story, that’s really important.”

Shape your interview questions.

TechCrunch’s MG Siegler recently used Quora to crowdsource interview questions. In preparation for an interview, he posted this: “What should I (MG Siegler) ask Charlie Cheever about Quora on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt?” A few people responded, giving him a chance to see what others wanted to know about Cheever and tailor his interview accordingly.

You could just as easily ask for suggested questions using Facebook and Twitter. One of the advantages of using Quora is that you can reach a more targeted audience by filing your question under specific topics. For instance, if I had wanted to get journalists’ input on what to ask D’Angelo for this story, I could have searched for “journalists” or “bloggers” and then filed my question under those topics. 

Explore buzz, interest surrounding a topic you’re covering.

When I want to gauge people’s interest in a topic I’m covering, I often link to a related tweet for some context. I could see Quora being used in much the same way. While searching the “journalism” topic on Twitter, I came across this question: “With next to everyone on Twitter and Facebook claiming to be a ‘social media expert,’ what defines SM expertise?

More than two dozen people have responded, making for a lively discussion about what it means to be a “social media expert.” Had this discussion started prior to a story I wrote last month about The New York Times eliminating its social media editor position, it would have been great to reference.

Similarly, in preparation for a Poynter.org chat this Friday, I used Quora to ask: “How should journalists handle errors in tweets?” Quora allows users to edit questions, so the question. Within two hours, the question had generated seven thoughtful responses. The responses gave me some new ideas for the chat, and they helped demonstrate that people care about this topic.

Monitor what people are saying about your news organization.

After NPR’s Andy Carvin joined Quora, he began to see questions about NPR and public radio, so he responded. He and NPR staffer Kate Myers have been using their personal accounts to respond to people’s questions about NPR, such as: “Why doesn’t NPR have a cable TV station?” and “Who chooses the music interludes in NPR programs?” Mashable Co-Editor Ben Parr has used Quora to answer questions like this one: “What do the big tech blogs such as TechCrunch or Mashable look for when they hire writers?

It’s easy to search for your news organization and see when it has appeared in questions and answers. It’s not as easy, though, to create an account for your news org. Quora does not yet allow organizational accounts, but may at some point, D’Angelo said.

While there’s nothing preventing a news organization from creating an account, the folks at Quora flag such accounts when they see them. Recently, for instance, they asked The Huffington Post to delete its account. Quora also deleted TBD’s account.

“The next time I went to log in after logging out the day I registered, it was gone,” said TBD’s Jenkins, who set up the account. “I guess Quora cut us off at the pass.”

When asked why Quora doesn’t allow organization accounts, D’Angelo said: “It’s not that we don’t want them. It’s just that we’re a really small company and we just built this product, so we haven’t been able to build support for organizations yet. We have a lot of support for users to show what news org they’re affiliated with, but we want to tie each account to an individual person.”

Share your expertise, give feedback.

How can reporters benefit the Quora community? Joy Mayer, associate professor at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, recently addressed this question on Quora. Mayer pointed out that journalists are subject-matter experts, so it makes sense that they would use the site to share their expertise.

Beat reporters, for instance, could type in the topics they cover and then answer related questions — an exercise that would introduce them to a new community of users and potential sources who share their interests. Journalists have already been using the site this way to share their expertise among themselves.

It’s been encouraging to see journalists give each other feedback when answering questions such as, “How can you increase listenership in public radio?“;”What are the most effective ways to engage news audiences?” and “Should AP style apply to tweets or incorporate Twitter jargon to allow room for retweets?

How could The Poynter Institute use Quora?

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