by Dave Kerpen Yesterday, Facebook rolled out a new product, Questions. The product is being tested on 1 million or so users in beta before it goes, likely in the next few weeks, to Facebook's entire 500 million+ user base. Essentially, the product mirrors several existing ones, such as Quora, Yahoo Answers and LinkedIn Answers. Anyone can ask a question about anything and get instant answers from friends, connections, and strangers - and answers are rated by whether they're helpful or not, so ideally, the best content rises to the top, and spam becomes inconsequential. The beta version is a little buggy, but eventually, you'll likely be able to seamlessly search questions and answers by topic, follow questions and topics, and even integrate the Q&A into the News Feed. Those Q&A services above range from good to excellent. But Facebook Questions has 2 things that none of those products have:
1) 500 million+ users
2) A profound understanding of each user's social graph - that is - his/her friends, friends of friends, likes, and organizations connected to.
First, let's look at the product from the user's perspective, and then from the marketer's perspective. Fundamentally, search, which up until now has been basically powered by Google, seek to answer people's questions. We may not often put an actual question into the Google search bar, but if I Google "best sushi in New York", I'm essentially asking, "What's the best sushi in NY?"
Now, I can ask that question on Facebook, and get the answer from my friends, my friend's friends, sushi experts, NY experts, and anyone who wants to answer my question. With so many potential users answering, the best content will get rated up to the top, and I will be able to get a trustworthy answer to my question, instead of being given the sushi restaurant which has spent the most on paid search or SEO. A big win for the user. As I played around with Questions last night, I found myself getting great answers to questions - not from my friends, but from my friend's friends, and thinking, "She must be smart. She's friends with x."
Marshall Kirkpatrick of RWW has a really bullish view of how powerful this may be, not just for users, but for the world, collaborating and interacting with one another.
From the marketer's perspective, Facebook Questions is also HUGE. Facebook is allowing Fan Pages to ask and answer questions as well as individuals. Now, surely there will be spammy, push marketers who see this as an opportunity to answer questions promoting themselves or their clients ("My sushi is the best! Come visit us now!") but the beauty of the rating system is that those marketers will lose, and the ones who will win are the ones who answer questions by truly bringing value to the question-asker and ecosystem. ("Here is the list of the top 10 Zagat- reviewed sushi restaurants in New York with links to their websites. Ours is ranked 14th but is a little less pricey than most on the list. Let us know where you end up going!")
Companies can spend lots of money on advertising, but the way to win here to spend lots of time asking questions to gather insight and data, and answering questions to establish value and credibility. This will surely be a win for savvy marketers and small businesses who go about it right. Will it scale for big businesses? Frankly, I'm not sure - but I'm excited to try to find out.
And the next time I want to find a great new sushi spot, I won't be Googling it.