It's always important to address consumer concerns and questions directly, and as quickly as possible. One way to do this is to place an easily located FAQ section on your site. But these days the conversation about your brand or products is taking place all over the Web, not just on your website. One product of the Web 2.0 era is the development of question-and-answer sites, and their traffic numbers have exploded over the past few years. (See chart at bottom.) They have become hugely popular peer-to-peer networks because consumers feel they are getting straight, unbiased answers to their questions. As we learned recently, consumers don't exactly trust company blogs. As the conversation has shifted, we must find our consumers and address their concerns quickly, before we lose control of the situation.
Answer sites are not just for consumers. Businesses can benefit greatly by monitoring these sites. And it's not just for your own brand. These sites present an excellent opportunity to become an authority in your industry without appearing as if you're pushing an agenda. That's not to say you should try to hide your identity. In fact, if you're going to get involved in this arena, it will serve you well to brand yourself just like you would anywhere else. As you can imagine, transparency is key. As with any other Web 2.0-style site, participation is also key. Don't just answer questions about your business, but address industry-wide concerns. Some of these sites will even let you include links. It's one way to get traffic, but use it sparingly. Users can get upset if they feel you are only there to drive traffic, so don't be afraid to post links to other sites and news sources when you answer a question.
Below are five answer sites worth checking out:
Yahoo! Answers: Far and away, the leader in the space. There are categories for just about everything, and it's an extremely active space. You'll notice that answers appear almost immediately when a question is posted. Answers can be chosen as "best" by participants, and the reward is increased exposure for the answerer.
Wiki Answers: As the name suggest, this is a wiki-inspired site. Not only are answers posted, but the community can edit the answers. It's an excellent place to show your authority on a topic.
Amazon's Askville: Of course, this is a nice place to keep tabs on products, but there are many other categories unrelated to retail. There's also a "watch list" so you can keep a close eye on any question, and if you click on any question you will see other related questions. Like Yahoo! Answers, Amazon's Askville rewards good answers with points.
Answerbag.com: Here, questions are split into four main categories; Social, Expert, Local and Shopping. Therefore, it's a good site for businesses. Consumers are more open to a company answering their questions when they have already chosen a category like "Expert."
LinkedIn Answers: No surprises here. Here you can not only answer questions and brand your businesses freely, but also make connections to other businesses in your field.
Finally, check out Ask's AnswerFarm technology. Go to Ask.com, enter your search term and click "lots of answers" before hitting the "search" button. This index pulls the most frequently asked questions by Ask users and related answers. Here's an example.