A business’ online presence is obviously a great way to communicate with customers and to help build a community and a following around a brand, and a big part of that is because of the ability to interact directly with customers. Contests and trivia games and thanking fans for their loyalty are a great part of this, but all manner of Q&A’s can do so much to add to the knowledge of customers and solve potential problems quickly that you really can’t afford to ignore the idea as part of your social media or general online strategy.

Why they work

Answering common questions preemptively (or even less common questions) saves your customers time and limits strain on your service resources – Because of the power of search engines to continually index added information, any time you answer a question online, that information is then (barring a few exceptions) available to anyone who subsequently looks for it. As a customer, if I can do a quick Google search and find an answer, I don’t have to (necessarily) call or email a business’ support team, wait on hold or in a chat queue, and work through explaining the issue and waiting for a resolution before I can get on with whatever I was trying to do in the first place. Being able to easily find the information myself means that not only do I have a better experience as a customer, but your support resources can be devoted to the things that really do need personal attention. And if I was able to find that information on your website or otherwise provided directly by you, the business seems that much more on top of things.

There are a lot of formats and platforms to use to answer customer questions – There’s Quora, Reddit, Yahoo Answers, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, to name just a few. Some of these are obviously question and answer specific sites, like Quora and Yahoo Answers, and some are social media sites that simply give customers a forum to either ask a company directly or to just generally talk about a product or brand, but all of them are a way for you to find out what people want to know and give them that information. You can and should go where your customers are and answer questions directly (which will typically also add your answer to the search results if and when another customer has a similar question) rather than waiting for customers to come to you. Especially places like Quora and Yahoo Answers, a business also can answer questions that are relevant to the  brand and that they have people qualified to answer but that aren’t specifically about their product (answering general skin care or beauty tips if you’re a health and beauty brand, for example, or general style tips if you’re a clothing brand), which increases brand awareness and positive associations.

The same information can be used in lots of ways – Even if the resources required to answer a single question only resulted in that question being answered, it would still likely be worth it, but that same information can go to work for you in many different ways. Maybe the answer to a question inspires a blog post, maybe you see the same question asked a number of times and it leads to a revamped FAQ or a how-to video, or maybe it leads you to realize that there’s a gap in the available products that can be addressed. Answering questions is rarely going to lead to just those answers if you pay attention.

How to use them

Pay attention if you see the same or similar questions being asked frequently – At the very least, this is something that should be addressed in an FAQ or support documentation on your own website in addition to being answered directly where possible. Beyond that, it may highlight a gap or shortcoming in the documentation you include with your product, the information your sales team is giving to new customers, or something in the product or service itself that should be addressed. That may sound scary, but it’s a huge opportunity for improvement!

Give people an easy way to ask you a question directly – Social media is huge for this, but also consider some sort of user forum (that’s both directly searchable and accessible by general search engine results) or chat support for quick questions or issues during non-business hours. Between time zones and the reality of people probably being caught up during work hours doing their work, you want to try and offer an alternative way to access support. Email support is also great for things people don’t want to sit and wait on hold to deal with and don’t need an absolutely immediate answer to but that do need to be resolved reasonably quickly, say within 24-48 hours.

Look through your search terms for clues – Look through the search terms that are bringing people to your site and see if these lead you to specific recurring questions that you could answer more thoroughly or clearly than you already do, or that could inspire other related content. If you see the same question a handful of times, imagine how many other people would want to know but haven’t taken the time yet to search, or just didn’t make it to your site when they did?

Go looking for questions – Actively go look through things like Yahoo Answers, Quora, user forums for your type of product, or social media to see if people have questions that can either be directly answered or have an answer already available in your FAQ or support documentation to which they can be directed. This is a time to be proactive.

Whether you set up scheduled social media Q&As, continually update and tweak your support documentation, or simply do your best to answer all questions that come to you, never underestimate the power of making your brand accessible. What’s one question you wish you could get answered by a brand you work with? Share in the comments, and thanks for reading.