LinkedIn Crowdsourcing: Writing Questions

adviceLinkedIn is a community of immense talent that you can draw on to solve any challenge you have, any many that you can’t imagine yet. LinkedIn Answers is your window into LinkedIn’s vibrant discussions, which are categorized according to topic area. Although the “Answers” vernacular is idiosyncratic (? ask “questions” to use “Answers”?), the forum is excellent.

To use Answers effectively, you need to master two basic skills: how to write engaging questions and how to answer questions so you add the most value. Here we will tackle writing questions, so read on for our first installment of LinkedIn crowdsourcing.

Behind the Curtain

To write effective questions, it will help you to answer others’ questions so that you can appreciate the point of view of people who answer questions. When you write a question, they are your customers, in a sense. Many traditional executives do not understand why people take time out of their day to help other people. There are two motivations:

  • Most people enjoy helping other people and getting appreciated for their contributions.
  • Many forums have systems to reward people for their contributions, and LinkedIn enables people who post questions to designate one “best” question and multiple “good” questions. When you award someone a “best” question, they get a green star that recognizes their contribution.

However, most people on LinkedIn are just like you: busy. They have crazy schedules and, for whatever reason, they have taken a moment to look at LinkedIn (it’s likely in their workstream) and your question caught their eye. The key insight here is that questions must give “answerers” gratification within the context of their work. They must be specific and focused so that someone can recognize what the question is asking and answer it quickly.

Writing Questions CSF*s

  • Write an engaging title
  • Categorize the question appropriately
  • Briefly explain the context
  • Ask a specific question
  • Follow up and engage
  • Use keywords and specific terms but not jargon

Step One: Draft

Write the question in TextEdit or Notepad. Think about what kinds of answers you are looking for. Set the context by briefly outlining the challenge you face. Use specific terms to outline the challenge. Ask the question, which should have no more than three parts; ask separate or serial questions that are specific rather than one question with multiple parts. State how the answer will help you with some kind of action.

Step Two: Test

Now the question is written, you need to test it. Empty your mind of the contextual information you have around the question. Read it. Does it make sense? How could you respond to the question? Have you set the context well enough?

Step Three: Deploy

Quickly browse the venue(s) (“category”) in which you think the question will elicit best responses. What are the last ten questions, and how were the responses? Could you imagine your question in there? Select a venue. Write the title that refers to the challenge and captures what you want to know. Don’t hesitate to ask the question in a couple different categories, tweaking it as needed to increase relevance.

Step Four: Follow Up

Monitor your question and the answers, and thank people for responding. Add clarifications (that is, adjust the question) based on the feedback you get. When you’ve had enough responses, close the question and rate the best response. By the way, you can close a question when you have had enough advice, but you can reopen the question later.

Concluding Points

Crowdsourcing often seems counterintuitive to experienced executives. “Why should I put myself out there and trust a bunch of strangers?” they question. There are subtle forces operating that mitigate the risks of crowdsourcing:

  • The question and answers take place in a public forum, so people generally put their best foot forward. They want to look good in front of their peers.
  • It is easy to click on an answerers’ profiles to view their backgrounds to more fully appreciate their expertise… and to view other questions they’ve answered or asked.
  • You will get a wide spectrum of responses and a good perspective. From here, you can ask a separate, more specific question. Or “clarify” the question. You can iterate.
  • If you have a good title and post in the right forum, responses can be fast. The best people include references in their answers.
  • LinkedIn Answers is very powerful, and I urge you to experiment with it; more members get involved over time, so as it becomes mainstream, you will tap an increasing portion of the LinkedIn community.
  • By the way, the default is that you ask the question of the entire LinkedIn community, but you can also restrict it to your first degree connections, the people you trust the most. In this case, when people respond to you, they do not see each others’ responses. You might want to ask confidential questions in this way.

*Critical Success Factors

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