Note: This is a guest post from Todd Brison. He is an author who has been featured on CNBC, Apple News, and Inc. Magazine. You can find Todd and get some exclusive resources on his blog.
Nobody has to tell you what to write on week one of your new blog.
On week one, you are fueled by ideas and adrenaline and coffee grinds. Surely you are The Chosen One. The Muse came down from her holy mountain and selected you to be her vessel. You write with passion to the mere mortals among you.
On week one, you are unstoppable.
Then week two comes, and life isn’t quite as zippidy-doo-da.
Week three brings a heavy dose of writer’s block, self-doubt and (wait for it) reality.
If you hang in there until week six, you are a shriveling mess. What made you think you could write long-term? How could you be so foolish?
It would be nice if you could get your hands on an infinite source of ideas. What if there was a place where potential readers fall in line to ask relevant questions on any topic you want to write about?
Welcome, my friends, to Quora.
What is Quora?
Quora is a writer’s best friend. The thing is, almost nobody is using it well. Best of all, it’s free. The only thing you’ll be spending on Quora is a lot of time. But the return on that time is definitely worth the cost.
As a writer, you must have a process for coming up with ideas. I have a daily offline practice for this, but Quora is my 2nd favorite.
Quora is a place where people get tailored answers to specific questions on almost any topic. Anyone can ask a question on Quora, and anyone can answer. Much like other social media sites, the best work rises to the top via an upvote system.
Here’s the link to the site. You can jump right in if you want, but I recommend sticking around. I’ve been obsessed with Quora for over a year. I’ve written 110 posts there (most of them in the last few months), and I want to give you a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.
In this post, I’ll walk through how to use this site to find ideas for your audience, and also get your work found by some of the world’s biggest publications.
I’ve used Quora to:
- Test ideas that, with a little tweaking, have become staples of my work
- Get over a million views from a very targeted audience
- Be published in Inc. Magazine and Apple News
- Put a big footprint on another social platform (which is helping me look like I’m everywhere at once)
All those benefits pale in comparison to this one: when you know how to use Quora correctly, you will never wonder what to write about again.
If that sounds good to you, let’s get started:
Step 1 — Register on the right foot
The first (hopefully obvious) step is to sign up for Quora and follow the subjects you write about.
Let’s pretend you run a film blog. You talk about everything from the opinionated — greatest movies of all time — to the technical — how to get the perfect shot for your scene. Quora makes you select 10 topics you are interested in, so knock that out first.
After you get past this part, Quora will ask you what topics you know about so they can give you the best questions to answer.
First, select the topics with the largest amount of followers (“Movies,” in this example). You should also take a look at more targeted topics with a medium amount of followers.
The reason for this is simple — you want to be a part of the big conversations AND the smaller ones. The large communities give you the opportunity for more visibility. The smaller ones allow for deeper connections.
In this scenario, you would definitely want your voice heard in the biggest category — “Movies.” After a further search, you might also find section like “Independent Film.” With 70,000 followers you access a sizable but very focused audience.
Quora is full of small, tight communities around specialized knowledge. The more you know about an obscure topic, the better your chance of making real impact in that area.
Once you choose whether to add your Facebook friends (or not), Quora will create your personalized feed.
Pro tip: Okay, only picking the topics to write about in the onboarding is the laziest way to do it.
As you move into step 2 and start to get familiar with Quora, make sure to keep an eye on the topics listed above all questions. These will show you what else you might be able to write about.
Always be looking for more topics to follow and write about.The deeper you get, the greater your opportunity.
Step 2 — Lurk like a pro
I’d recommend taking a while to read the questions and answers. Quora is still pretty fresh, which means the community is still very wary of people who are coming to sell them things. Pitch too aggressively, and you will get eaten alive.
Study everything, especially the most popular answers. Usually they have:
- A well thought out point (300–750 words or so)
- A picture
- Some kind of humor (especially sarcasm)
- A list of some kind or another
The key to success in Quora is to become one of them. Read the top answers and get comfortable.
As you scroll, also recognize how answers appear in the feed. Just because you’re here to source ideas doesn’t mean you shouldn’t avoid making waves on Quora itself.
Take a look at the picture below:
Both these pieces of are laid out pretty similarly. There’s profile of the writer, the question, a picture, and then the start of an answer.
But in this case, the cropping of the picture made 10,000 upvotes worth of difference! Who would want to click on a black square combined with a forehead?
In order to master Quora, it helps to think like a user.
Pro tip: As you browse, take a look at how the best answers are formatted.
Quora is unique because it only offers three types of formatting: bold, italics, and quote type. Robbed of the usual size and font changes you can use on your blog, you’ll have to get creative to keep your answers from looking like a grey wall of text.
Using the tilda (~), the less than (>), or the caps lock button (HELLO) are all acceptable methods of formatting.
For optimal formatting in action, check out this answer.
Step 3 — Answer questions to make your mark
Don’t waste your time with the newest questions (at least not yet), go find the most popular ones.
What you’re looking here is the amount of followers a question has. This is where we run into Quora’s unique mechanic:
People follow questions, not answers or people. That means your writing has just as much a chance of reaching people as someone with thousands of followers.
The best part? Even if a question been answered hundreds of times, everyone following the question will get an email when a new answer is posted (unless they’ve opted out).
So by simply answering a question, you send a direct email to a stranger with your content. What other social platform offers that kind of power?
Put answers on the popular questions first and watch the views roll in. Once you’ve got down the culture and the atmosphere of Quora, move along to the newer questions and try to be the first one in on a potentially hot question.
Pro tip: Okay, I thought this might be a little-known tactic, but I didn’t know HOW scarce until I researched this post.
Every topic on Quora has a topics page. If you take a look at that topics page, there’s a very small button under the header that says “Topics FAQ.”
These are the questions topic moderators have considered to be most representative of the topic. They are always pinned to the page and always going to be seen if a person comes to that part of the topic.
But look at this — almost nobody is answering them!
If I were writing on a specialized topic like movies, I would definitely try to write comprehensive, long, helpful answers on every single one of these FAQs. In my mind, it’s a no-brainer.
Step 4 — Take your answers to write posts on your site
Fair warning: Quora alone typically doesn’t lead to Internet fame.
I have to confess, when I first started answering questions on Quora in late 2015, I stopped almost immediately.
I wasn’t getting any traffic back to my website even though I had plenty of links to do so. I wrote it off and moved along.
Thank goodness I got a chance to overcome this shortsightedness.
Quora acts like a walled garden in most cases. Once you’re in, you don’t normally click things to go somewhere else. It does, however, give you a clue about what is resonating with your audience.
If you don’t have that many followers yet, it doesn’t matter how many upvotes you’re getting. What you’re looking for here is percentage of upvotes. If you see a few early upvotes (even if only 15 people have seen your answer) that’s a good indication the idea is resonating.
Here’s a prime example of how that could work.
I stumbled across this question one day:
I can't find the right career, which upsets me. I'm a 25- year-old introvert with too many interests yet too much ambition. What do I do?
I knocked out an answer pretty quickly on my phone. Although the answer was pretty well thought out, I didn’t edit or format it very much. Look at the stats on the bottom of this question.
Only 9 upvotes. This post is a flop! Right?
Let’s look again.
Right at 1,000 views. Honestly, that’s not many. Half of this views and all of those 9 upvotes came in the first 24 hours. This tells me the idea itself is not flawed. It just hasn’t had enough eyeballs on it.
I re-wrote the first couple sentences, expanded on a few more of the thoughts, and published to Medium, where it launched over the 500 recommends mark (a big milestone).
I have a much larger following on Medium than Quora, so that accounts for a bit of the boost, but still — since you can give your work a fresh boost through another channel for no extra effort, why wouldn’t you?
And if it’s really working on Quora, it will likely work elsewhere too. I wrote an answer on my phone riding to a hotel which did quite well on Quora, and then EXPLODED on Medium. To this day, it is my most popular post.
Take a look at the side-by-side comparison here. Notice I didn’t just copy and paste each post, but have put thought into the introduction of each one.
You can see the all the changes I’ve made (which aren’t many) right here:
Pro tip: Okay, I almost feel guilty for admitting this one. Immediately after my guilt, though, I feel hesitation. This trick is SO easy, I almost want to keep it for myself.
But I love you too much to do that.
When you are trying to grab the attention of a world scrolling through their feeds at a million miles per hour, writing a good headline is 95% of your job. No kidding, If I spend an hour writing a post, it often takes me 20 to 30 minutes to pick the right headline.
Sourcing ideas from Quora removes that problem. How? When you find a question on Quora that’s worth answering, and it’s followed by a lot of people, your headline writes itself.
Scroll back up and look at the two stories I transferred from Quora to Medium. The headlines are very similar to the questions themselves.
It’s almost like cheating.
Step 5 — Bring your existing work into Quora
In addition to using Quora to source content to pull out, you can also bring in work you’ve done on another medium.
Like I mentioned earlier, make sure you tweak what you’ve said a little bit to answer the question asked directly. This is a great way to increase the impact of work you are already proud of.If you are afraid to recycle old content (like I was), ask yourself this question:
“Has every single person who could learn something from this post gotten a chance to see it yet?”
For me, the answer was a resounding NO. I finally got over the hump, and posted an answer to a question from a blog post I had written over a year ago.
Nearly half a million views, thousands of upvotes, over 100 comments. Oh, and one request from a Quora editor to republish the work on Inc. Magazine’s website.
Not half bad for work I had completely forgotten about.
A final thought
Hopefully by now, I don’t have to convince you Quora is an excellent way to further your impact, source ideas, and grow deeper roots into your niche.
Still, I can’t help but leave you with one last thing. The other day, I was scrolling through my feed looking for questions when I saw this post:
“That’s odd,” I thought. “This post is dated November 2012. Wonder why I’m seeing it in my feed in 2016…”
Sometimes, I am not very smart. A few days later, though, I was offered a chance to understand what was going on with this post:
Again, a post from 2012.
This time, I got it.
I’m seeing this post because Quora’s algorithm gives readers the best content possible, no matter when it was written. (For the record, Medium is starting to do the same thing).
When you publish a post on your personal blog, it’s gone in an instant. On Quora, new readers can discover your best work by chance, even if it’s months or years old.
So, we’ve got a platform which offers you:
- Infinite ideas
- A chance to connect with targeted readers
- Direct emails to those readers with your writing
- Free recycling of your old work to new people
Knowing all those things, I only have one question left:
What are you waiting for?
Never run out of ideas
To tell you the truth, even if Quora disappeared off the face of the planet today, I would not run out of things to write about.
Why? Because coming up with infinite ideas is a mindset, not a tactic.
For a deeper look into this mindset, sign up for my email list and get a copy of my free eBook — The Ultimate Guide to Infinite Ideas.
Where do you get your creative ideas? What inspires your writing? Share in the comments.