Monday, August 6, 2018

A million Quora answer views; how to be popular on Quora

Awhile back I wrote about getting into Quora, participating in that question and answer themed social network site, related to being named a 2018 Top Writer.  This post is a bit of retrospective on how Quora goes, triggered by reaching a million answer views there.

Quora is like a further developed version of Yahoo Answers.  Of course for me it was another place to talk about tea, to answer questions about that subject.

Tea really is a bit of an obsession for me, and it's also about discovering how people use online social networking through a subject interest.  I had been into Buddhism earlier but didn't feel as actively involved with that subject when taking up that review.  I'm an expat in Thailand, and I participate in groups related to that, but it's odd self-identifying as a foreigner, as being from somewhere other than where you are.  Defining yourself as an American expat narrows that, but Americans abroad seem to keep to themselves compared to Brits and others.  So tea it was as a central discussion theme, and still is.

I can pass on thoughts on how people become popular in Quora, and what metrics identify that.  Thinking through what one's goals should be before trying to achieve them makes sense.  To be honest I'm not a "popular Quoran."  I have yet to really take that up as a goal, especially since I'm still figuring out what it means.

My profile mentions a million views, 691 answers, 156 followers.  That last stat isn't very impressive, and the upvotes count--not shown--also aren't.  This also identifies the "Top Writer" recognition that I wrote about last time, and the subjects I write about most:  Tea, Thailand, and Travel.

Looking back to that earlier post here I had 65 followers then (in March), 447 answers written, and 343k answer views.  It's hard to say if either set is really a good stat or not.  If being read is a goal both seem fine, with a million views sounding better.

What does a million answer views mean?

It's a bit hard to place, and using the stats as some form of personal scoring doesn't necessarily make sense.  Upvotes seems better anyway, since that's an indication someone liked the content, not just read it.

That readership number is really high compared to how blogging works out.  This blog has over 250,000 page views, with the better part of 200k of those in the last two years, and not much viewership those first three years.  The Quora stat seems to just relate to people scrolling across answers, not necessarily pulling each one up to read it, so it's easier to cover a lot of ground there.

views for a week; it was a busy week for posts due to writing on a holiday weekend

one-month blog audience location stats; from all over

Is it really a lot though, for Quora?  More popular individual posts for more popular Quorans--they really do use that form--might draw a million views (perhaps not many, but hundreds of thousands is common).  With those numbers that high, and shifting based on content theme, those people seem to keep score more through upvotes, the Quora version of likes, or even upvotes / view ratio. 

I think it works to say that number of views is a lot compared to the main tier of Quora participants who don't put that much time into writing lots of answers or being concerned with readership.  I do write a good number of answers (691 writing this, two more during editing it), but to some extent it's all relative.

To me it's not really about tracking any stats, more like posting to a discussion forum.  It's a way to read around some ideas, comment a little, and write out a couple of paragraph long responses.  Most people stick to a sentence or two, which is enough to capture a couple ideas, but not enough to really develop them.  One word answers are accepted there, just not picture-only answers, per my understanding.

Background on types of users and Q & A themes

Subject specialists might use the site in a different way than general topic writers, and people tend to split along those two lines.  It's not necessarily a bad thing that one group runs with the informative database theme, a little closer to Wikipedia in character, and writes complicated, link-supported answers, and another talks about life experiences, tells stories, offers advice, and posts pictures of themselves.  Social websites seem to thrive when they can be different things to different people, and can evolve to change functions and form to support continued interest.  There's no reason someone couldn't embrace both themes, but it seems to not tend to work out like that.

As for that diversity, being different things, I'm not talking about Facebook being a dual-natured echo chamber for liberals and conservatives through feed filtering.  It's more related to how Reddit sub-forums separate that meta-forum framework into hundreds of different topic-specific partitioned areas.  The old form of Reddit had a "random sub" button that would click you over to a completely random subject page (maybe still available somewhere), and clicking that a few times was interesting, but felt particularly disorienting.  That online world seems too large once you venture out so randomly beyond however many parts that are familiar. 

Quora feeds show you more of what you looked at before, so to some extent both levels of filtering might be occurring, just more at the subject level, perhaps not so well screened for perspective within a subject.  Quora is mostly liberal anyway, as US political inclination goes.

The "keeping score" idea in any of those other online sites or forums just depends on what you are accustomed to.  If you get relatively few Facebook likes in general drawing 10 for a post is an expression of social approval.  If you tend to receive 100 for posts that becomes your norm, until the exceptions above that number make you tend to expect that higher number instead.  I'm not sure why anyone would care what their karma score is on Reddit.

Pros and Cons of the site design

The premise works really well initially;  you can learn about any subject (a little), and can contribute to those you already know about.  It's like posting to Wikipedia before it had developed to where it was (which I didn't do, but I suppose the analogy still works).  The bar is set really low for passing on a better than average answer, and it's not even clear that's really the point for most people anyway.  It can be about improving writing, or social interaction.

That format relates to a main drawback:  contributing to Wikipedia wouldn't feel like social networking, and neither does Quora typically tend to.  There's a messaging function, and the comments to answers do work for a limited discussion space.  If you and a dozen other people all followed each other, kept checking in on answers, and kept commenting it could work as a makeshift forum space, broken by Q & A topic instead of by forum threads, post comments, or retweets.

It tends to work out with smaller forums and groups that a limited number of people form a social center, maybe a dozen or so in a small environment, or a few dozen in a medium size one, perhaps with some central-group heirarchy.  There are definitely 10 or 20 most popular "Quorans," and it's no coincidence that people within that set (as much as it is one) engage with each other, an idea I'll get back to.

I somehow started talking to one guy on there, and he and I met and became friends in real life.  I'll comment on an answer here or there but it takes a lot of those to add up to approximate a forum thread type discussion; more than I ever get around to posting or being responded to.

People tend to talk about Quora more than other sites work out to be introspective:  how do I draw answer views or likes, how do they select the Top Writers, etc.  People on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter end up talking through local site culture too but the Q & A format lends to doing more with that.  Here's a real answer that ties together both themes, that of "lifestyle" topics and how popular Quorans work out as social groups:

that whole answer list of people really are attractive

my "best picture" has a baby in it

The most popular question and answer form of this goes something like "can you show a picture of yourself," drifting into a self-promotion angle just a little.  This works as a lead into how people can become popular on Quora, since being attractive, being known, and referencing well-known people in an answer or a question are all among the best ways to draw views, upvotes, and following.

How to gain popularity on Quora

There are obvious short-cuts to getting to a very high number of views fast.  One likely channel is to figure out what the Quora algorithms are doing, related to them showing other people your posts.  Some questions have a lot of followers; that makes for an easy identification.  There's a "Digest," an email announcement about posts, and getting answers shown in that is a bit trickier since how that works is never clearly identified.  Getting prior readership of a post seems to trigger that, so it's back to basics, to sorting out how to do that without the Quora site's routing intervention.

The main shortest path is the same approach that works best in every other social media channel, related to every other subject:  be an attractive woman.  To speed that up further attractive women can post plenty of photos, including a few in beach-wear, and talk about the subject of sex.  That first woman referenced in that earlier post works as an example, Sonia Cee:

Back to that earlier "attractive Quoran" answer reference, that post author described her as a dating coach in that earlier citation.  That's two boxes checked for best approach, to talk about interesting subjects and to have a pleasant look.  She probably does write well (what I saw of answers were quite good), and might even have a subject specialist training.  For example, she could be a psychologist, although it's not clear in her profile, and it usually would be.  She has 2.3 million answer views, and 2600 followers (I followed her while looking up citations for this; why not), so related to that routing issue anything she writes is going to automatically be seen by a lot of people. 

To be clear none of this is intended as criticism.  Being interesting to others on multiple levels is a good thing, and if you don't view a lot of answer topics and profiles tying to appearance you won't see that come up much.

Citing her and other popular Quorans' names in a post is one way to increase your own following, and that earlier post example shines more light on that.

That post that cited a dozen or so popular site users' names--for them being attractive--was by Saikat, the profile shown above.  It drew 17k views; around 10% of Saikat's total readership so far, following more than 70 answers that tended to not get seen as often. 

That's back to the subject of working out how a Quora algorithm works.  I only ever saw that post because it referenced those people to draw attention, and then upvotes from that caused Quora site functions to show it around, to mention it to me.  I'm not accusing Saikat of being opportunistic; to some extent he's just engaging other Quorans with in-group social discussion, in a way that could be interpreted in different ways.  Related to whether or not it seems likely that was specifically used to draw viewership the post shown in this capture ends with this comment:

Thank you for your kind perusal.  PS. I literally robot-dance when I get upvotes on my answers.

Still fair enough; it's up to people on the site to decide which parts matter to them, and how to get there.  It's all good.  As to purpose, it's great that people aren't there to argue or "flame" each other, in general.  It's a positive aspect that can be hard to appreciate since it just seems normal, relating to a negative aspect of some other places online.

Back in that other earlier post on being named a Top Writer an interesting distinction came up, related to that form of recognition potentially being used to promote or reward people for creating static content, as a draw to the site.  A subject expert would probably value being named as a Top Writer, just as a popular theme writer might naturally strive to be more popular.  As to how that affects traffic those 17,000 views--about who is most beautiful among Quorans--would come almost entirely from within Quora, users cross-trafficking with other current users.  The most popular posts, even those based on common social themes, may well draw enough traffic to turn up in Google search results, to bring in views from elsewhere, especially if they end up being referenced from outside the site.

While I'm on that subject there's one user's name who seems to come up most as a most-followed Quoran (who was also on that "most attractive" list post), Sean Kernan, who works as an example for the high side for following and viewer count.

161k followers, 105 million answer views, 6.9 million views this month; not bad.  His writing is pretty good, based on lots of interesting experiences, and he seems personable in the answers.  It's not as if he's just worked through social networking algorithms, and makes lots of contacts through comments and messages.  The views would taper off if the material wasn't interesting, and upvotes never would add up.

One last point:  using interesting images works to draw views too, as the graphic equivalent of click-bait.  This is the most popular answer I've written, about how people are identifiable as tourists in Thailand:

It wasn't intended as click-bait, but since I don't have a picture of "elephant pants," which are more or less the tourists' uniform in Thailand, I picked the one that stood out to me most in a Google image search.  I hadn't made the connection before that post that the picture thumbnails could drive viewership, since it doesn't work so well with images of tea. 

That post drew 207k views so far, one fifth of all my readership count.  The content is ok too; it really does describe a number of ways that people stand out in Thailand as tourists, but I suspect that one image had more to do with that readership.  I think it had to be in a popular question to gain any following though, that views only added up because it was already tied to a question that people were reading answers to.

the "175 following" can't be all of it, but readership triggers answer display

One avenue I've barely explored is asking questions.  It's acceptable to ask a question to answer it, as part of the function of setting up content as an answer wiki, of sorts.  If the question is obscure enough--about tea, for example--then it wouldn't draw so much attention.  But eventually beyond just wanting to find out answers an interest in discussing finer points of a topic might be developed through doing this, answering yourself.

Quora and real life

This has always been kind of an interesting feature of how online social networking goes, to me, the extent to which those places overlap with real life, or are designed not to.  Expat forums are the kinds of places where no one uses their real identity.  That's how it typically goes on Reddit too, for that matter, but then that did develop directly out of that older dedicated forum environment and culture.  The main one here in Thailand, Thai Visa, relates a lot to members "flaming" each other.  It's not necessarily a friendly place, unless someone is already  into that.  Another smaller prior version (Orient Expat--no longer functional) was based on a core group instead, and those guys even held periodic meet-ups.

Any social media outlet needs to find ways to re-invent itself, it seems, to endure churn in membership.  They need to keep shifting functions so that they seem new, as Facebook did by adding groups, and then live video functions and stories.

There are Quora meet-up groups; for some people in some places the two themes link.  The site isn't popular enough in Thailand for that to be practical.  In India it definitely is; the most followed members tend to either be Indian or in some cases to cultivate an Indian user following, related to the vast number of users from there.  I can't foresee doing much with real life socializing related to Quora; I only brought it up since it's an interesting sub-theme.

not "real life," but this FB blog page following instead

The main tie to real life would be if a person could become a social media influencer and use that popularity to meet or talk to people in real life, with or without the benefit of formal meet-ups.  Or there is online channel cross-over to consider.  Sean Kernan lists other Instagram and Youtube channel links in his profile, with the Instagram profile now with 7834 followers, and Youtube channel 4086 subscribers(with this video on writing tips worth a look).  Those are getting a boost but not that much of the 161k carries over.

It seems likely a lot of people would link the Quora following and networking to other types of concerns, to draw interest to a business related web-page, for example (or a tea blog).  I've not seen that much of that related to what the other "top Quorans" are doing. 

not really a new trend in online marketing (IG photo credit)

That's probably because it would be obvious to others when Quora is being used for marketing purposes, and even without heavy-handed application it would make the person (or online persona) seem less interesting.  I wouldn't click "follow" on someone's profile if they were obviously selling something.  Then again I suppose I could look past a woman holding up some slimming tea product on Instagram and still appreciate the image, so it might depend on how it was done.

Since for me this is all related to exploring social media it's interesting beyond the actual participation, at the level of how it works.  But I don't hear much feedback or stay in contact with that many people, related to either Quora answers or blog posts.  I talk to more random people in different parts of the world about tea by message than makes sense (more related to being an admin for a FB tea group), but there's a good chance this post won't draw a single comment in the blog itself.  There probably will be only a few comments in FB group link posts, even though hundreds of people will read it.

It seems unnatural to close this without mentioning any answers I've written, beyond that one example.  But it's too far off theme and this runs too long to go into that.  My Quora profile is here; it's easy to look around there.  Once there are several hundred answers filtering them by topic is more practical than reading the list, and I guess people reading this would mostly be interested in that one subject, tea.  If discussing some part of this seems in order this blog's FB page probably works better for that.  Then again this post already badly violated Sean Kernan's key advice for appealing to readers--keep it short--probably already covering more than enough.

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