I read about LinkedIn shuttering their Q&A or Answers section and my first thought was: about time. LinkedIn Answers had become stale and pointless, dominated by a select few self-marketing “Answer Heads”. The people who are moaning most about the end of Answers are, unsurprisingly, the people who had most to gain and now to lose.
The Answer Heads as I call them, are the LinkedIn equivalent of Talking Heads on TV. One dimensional characters who achieve prominence based on a topic or point of view. These folks don’t have an equivalent in real life, they’re entirely manufactured by the medium they appear on. There are approximately 50 regular Answer Heads roaming the Answers page. If you’ve ever spent a little time on LinkedIn’s Q&A section, you know who they are. New Answer Heads have come and gone since the introduction of the Q&A section in 2007 but a core of 50 have ruled the Q&A roost throughout the years.
“Best Answer” and “Top Expert” always struck me as vapid, meaningless terms. Couldn’t LinkedIn come up with better descriptors? But, regardless of what the titles were, people who played this game, played to win. The opportunity to appear on a LinkedIn front page, even if it was a lesser page, buried under the ‘More’ tab had value to them. Did it add to their bottom line? Did they profit in other ways? You’d have to ask them. To focus their efforts on a distinct part of the LinkedIn ecosystem for so long and get their name noticed ahead of the millions of LinkedIn members deserves credit. They should have seen the writing on the wall when the New Profile design which debuted in December scrubbed all traces of their so-called expertise.
Answer Heads may have many reasons for participating in the LinkedIn Q&A section but the primary motivation was usually the same: to appear in the league of “This Week’s Top Experts”. To be listed in the top 5 for that week was the goal. If that league never existed, neither would Answer Heads, there would be no reason to answer dozens of questions on a daily basis, for little or no gain. What would be the point? Answer Heads needed to get something tangible out of being the Q&A Top Dog, some kind of ROI. Profile, prominence and perhaps some version of peer credibility all came with appearing in the Top 5 and best of all, being crowned as the reigning “Top Expert”. That was the goal. Some played the game honestly, some cheated. Some answered to the best of their ability, some answered with short, unhelpful answers merely to get their answer count up in hopes of qualifying in the Top 5 by Midnight on Sunday.
I WAS A “TOP EXPERT”
How do I know all of this? Because I was for a very brief period (March 23, 2009) LinkedIn’s “Top Expert”. I was in my second year of exploring everything that LinkedIn had to offer and I watched the happenings on the Q&A section with interest. I then became curious about what it would take to become a Top Expert. Obviously, I would have to try and become one. So I spent roughly 40 hours of my life over a 6 day period in early March 2009 answering questions to the best of my ability. I initially kept to subjects which I was familiar with but as time went on, I attempted to answer questions I had no clue about, simply to keep my answer rate up, using Google to research my answer. In order to qualify as a LinkedIn Top Expert, you needed to have one of your Answers graded as a “Best Answer” by the person who asked the Question. The barrier to entry was set low. I already had a Best Answer before commencing my campaign to become Top Expert so I was off to the races. You can see my interloper status in the screenshot below – all of the other 4 Top Experts placed in the top of the league for that week had double (and some triple) digit Best Answers in various topics, I only had single digit Best Answers. They knew what I was doing and they probably hated me. Josh did, for sure. I nudged in front of him by a mere 5 answers by the end of that frenetic week. I can’t recall if I purposely chose a slow week to try and become Top Expert but I can confirm that the competition these days is much stiffer. The reigning Top Expert this week has logged over 550 Answers. The bar has been raised. Dave is in the top 5 as I write this post, he’s also answered over 70,000 questions.
The 90-9-1 Principle
There’s a relatively well known rule in regard to participation on the Internet. You may have heard of it. This rule states that 1% of people create content, 9% edit or modify that content, and 90% view the content without contributing. I see it in action in my LinkedIn Groups on a daily basis. Answer Heads were on the content creation and editing side of the equation in the Q&A section. If getting noticed was the objective, they had a potentially massive audience. Much more publicity than any activity in any LinkedIn Group could ever have provided. I estimate that less than a thousand people can lay claim to ever having been LinkedIn’s #1 “Top Expert”. That’s a select group out of 178m LinkedIn members. So what will the Answer Heads do now? I’m ambivalent. I ran with them for a short while and got to know a few of them during my study. They were working the system and working it well. Egos? Strong personalities? Opinionated? All of the above. But there was also a willingness to support and assist strangers and this undoubtedly made LinkedIn a warmer and more welcoming place. We simply don’t know why LinkedIn Q&A is closing. Declining quality of questions, ebbing engagement, too many trolls, too much spam are all intelligent guesses. I understand that all Questions and Answers will be deleted at the end of this month (Jan 31st) to be replaced by “new and engaging ways to discuss professional topics“. Whatever that means. I expect Answer Heads will be taking screenshots to preserve history, if not their status. They should have built Groups instead.
There’s a lot of chatter about LinkedIn buying Quora now that they don’t have their own Q&A channel. I don’t see it. LinkedIn could have copied the Quora model introducing voting and credits and it would have cost them nothing but man hours. I expect to see LinkedIn making more of Skills, Endorsements, Groups and Search in 2013, see some of my predictions for the year ahead in a prior post.
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That’s all from me for this week. Please take a few moments to share this article with your network. I read and respond to all comments.
By Andy Foote