You've got questions? We've got answers
As a professional in the media industry, you may have questions about your digital business – lots and lots of questions. Someone in the industry has answers for you that are accurate, concise, and most importantly, actionable. But how do you find that person? eMedia Vitals recently launched Vital Answers, a Q&A product, to address that very problem. Vital Answers gives readers the opportunity to ask questions of their peers and allows the industry to share knowledge and experiences with other professionals.
Why develop a Q&A product?
One of the philosophies that guides eMedia Vitals is the belief that transparency will aid the publishing industry's growth and transition. Providing a place where industry professionals can ask pointed questions about their immediate issues was a good opportunity for us to assist decision-makers in overcoming hurdles. By publishing the question and answer dialogue, those facing similar problems can benefit from the community's experiences and those that regularly come up with creative solutions can get some credit for their efforts.
eMedia Vitals benefits by becoming a resource for the industry while helping to increase reader participation, catalyze community, and create user generated content (UGC).
Why it should work
The Q&A product is equal parts forum, article commenting, and natural dialogue. It facilitates issue-based conversation in a topically focused environment. The structure is instrumental in maintaining on-topic one-to-many peer communication, where like-minded people confer and deal with specific and current issues. The moderated environment fosters quick rounds of solutions-based discussion – a sharp contrast to the generally open, often hard to follow discussions in forums that are prone to sidebars and trolling. Unlike article commenting, where the topic of conversation is editorially determined and responses to questions may not come, the Q&A allows the reader to address their immediate needs through logical, natural interactions. Due to the dialogue-like exchanges, the outcome is predictable (i.e. there will be an answer, not flaming). When a user’s expectations are managed, they are far more likely to interact and trust.
Community provides momentum; the moderator provides direction
In a successful UGC product, the community provides the momentum, but without active involvement from the brand, the product will languish. Readers will not spend time on a product if its value to the owner seems uncertain. New user communities require a lot of care and feeding to get them to "critical mass", where the conversation has enough momentum to sustain itself. The moderator plays a key role in encouraging community members with direction and positive feedback.
Managing scope and quality
Managing the scope of a UGC product occurs on several levels. As happens often in forums, the topic of conversation can easily be derailed if not managed. Expect this on some level no matter how much effort is expended but setup a roadmap to repeatedly reinforce the direction and purpose of the product.
Naturally, the parent site sets the tone. While this works to provide general influence on the questions being asked, it is not enough. Other factors that determine direction and corral the discussion include:
FAQs or lists simulate behavior you might expect from a Q&A product. Displaying such content as reference material provides a sense of scope.
Editorial oversight is necessary to not only maintain the product's direction but also to manage problem users. Moderation can be complicated. Depending on your set of tools and workflow, moderation strategy should be planned beforehand and possibly explained on the site so users see consistency.
Registration requirements are no guarantee in filtering out problem users but do add one extra layer of protection. For Vital Answers, registration is required to manage and edit questions, however, questions are posted anonymously so readers do not feel intimidated in asking. (Answers are displayed with credits)
Directions, examples, and verbiage
The words a site owner uses to explain how to work within a tool also suggest the expected behavior of the community. To reinforce our intentions, Vital Answers has instructions with examples using industry terms to set scope and direction.
Designating a handful of power users blurs the lines between moderator and moderated; neither spy or police, they are more like community organizers. Power users should ideally be chosen from the community. Their regular activity on the site reinforces direction while giving the product life and quality.
How to set up a Q&A tool
Several tools are available to develop your own Q&A product such as StackOverflow, Shapado, and YouSaidIt. Because Vital Answers required integration with the eMedia Vitals regestration system, we chose to build our own Drupal version. As a result, the tool does not yet have the bells and whistles of some of the more mature products on the market.
More to come
In the coming weeks we plan to integrate features that are common among other Q&A tools and some that will be specific to the needs of our industry.
These allow users to rate questions and answers so the best rise to the top.
If you've asked a question, or are just interested in one, we'll keep you notified via email (or maybe Twitter).
Sorting, search, and navigation
For all intents and purposes Vital Answers is still in beta, so some of the finer points in navigation and search haven't quite made it to the site yet.
Sometimes the solution might come from a sponsor. While their answers will be subject to ranking too, sponsor will have the opportunity to weigh in on issues their services can solve.
Try it out
Vital Answers is a work in progress, but we're excited about its potential. I encourage you to join and ask a question. I think you'll be pleased with the quality of answers you receive.