Answers is a service LinkedIn provides so that members can ask questions—on any number of topics—and receive answers from other members of the community. Answers is like a free Help Desk for all your business needs. It’s staffed by volunteers—other members who take the time to answer questions—but these volunteers also happen to be experts (well usually) in the topics for which they provide answers.
According to LinkedIn’s Answer FAQ:
LinkedIn Answers is designed to allow professionals to exchange expertise. Members with greater than 5 connections are allowed to ask up to 10 questions each month.
As a business reference, Answers is invaluable because it gives you access to specialists in areas ranging from accounting to Web development, but if you answer questions it can also help you enhance your personal brand.
Answers as a research tool: the most common use
If you’re working on a project and unsure about the best way to do X or Y, Answers is a good place to look. To start, go to the Answers section and search on some keywords related to your question. Answers has been online for a few years now, so someone may have already asked and answered your question. If that’s true the answer you need may already be there. You may find it either by browsing through the question topics, or by doing a specific search.
For example, let’s say you’re a marketer. You want to drive more traffic to your site and want to know what you can do to get on the first page of search results for Google. In that case you might type “get on front page of google results” in the search box and be presented with this list of questions.
As you scroll down the list you’ll notice a question quite similar to yours, “How do you answer the question: How can i make my site appear number one on Google, to those that know nothing about SEO?” If you click through to that question you’ll find answers that explain more about how sites get to the better spots on Google and also learn that getting to #1 really shouldn’t be a goal unto itself.
If that (or the other results) answers your question, then you’re all set. If not, then you can ask your own question addressing your specific concerns. Over the course of the following days you should receive several answers that meet your needs.
Answering questions supports your personal brand by demonstrating your expertise
If you clicked through to the Google question you’ll have noticed that there were 12 answers in total, 2 of which were listed as “Good Answers” and one of which is marked as the best answer (in this example, the best answer was mine). After you ask a question you are encouraged to select which answers were good and best. When you do this, the people who answered will get credit for providing a good or best answer and that information will appear in their profiles showing they have expertise in the topic(s) to which you assigned the question.
These credits for expertise also appear under someone’s name, when they answer questions, so that the questioner and others can see whether or not they have a proven track record in the topic. This system offers an incentive for people to not only answer questions, but to take care to answer them correctly.
Answering correctly is critically important if you want to earn a best answer. Many knowledgeable people area already answering questions, so to compete you need to be thorough. Here are a few suggestions that should help you improve your answers:
- Read the question carefully. If you peruse it too quickly and don’t answer precisely what is being asked your answer could be wrong and you may look foolish.
- Don’t answer a question unless you are sure that you know the answer and are well-versed in the topic. If you are less experienced in a field you may not realize how much you don’t know. If your answer isn’t based in sufficient experience it may be shot down by someone who knows more, and again you may look foolish.
- Don’t answer questions that have already been thoroughly answered. If you have a new point to add, that’s fine, but if there is nothing more to contribute, just pass this one by. Agreeing with everyone else won’t add any value to the discussion.
- When applicable include links to Web sites that offer further information to support your answer. If you blog, feel free to link to your own blog entries. I do this a lot and it also helps drive traffic to my blog. Just make sure that the articles you link to are clearly related to the question and will provide the questioner with more information on the topic.
- Read the other answers carefully. Note when you agree with someone and correct misinformation if you find it. When pointing out the mistakes in other answers, be gracious and polite. Your role is to clarify the information so the questioner gets the best information; it is not to mock other participants.
- Play nice and don’t taunt the questioner. Some questions will seem utterly inane. You may think that even a 4 year old should know the answer, but to someone just getting started in a field their beginner questions are legitimate. They really want to know something that you already know. So just try to be patient. Some questioners may be off-base. They may pose questions to drive traffic to their sites or they may produce spam. Use your best judgment, in most cases the best thing is to just ignore these.
I’ll readily admit that I like having those stars next to my name for providing best answers. It’s a nice way to show that I have knowledge in topics like web development, blogging and Internet marketing. But in the process of answering questions I also learn from others and begin to connect with fellow users who may add me as a contact, ask me additional questions or even ask me to submit a proposal for a project.
A few of these contacts have become regular “pen pals,” as it were, with whom I regularly trade information and ideas. We also follow each other onto other spaces such as Twitter and Facebook. While I may have started answering questions to further my reputation in my field, I’ve gained far more than that in the process.
Perusing Answers for professional development and idea generation
Like anyone else, I don’t have all the answers. Web development and social media are fields that are constantly evolving. To keep up I need to read a lot. While I get a lot of information from blogs and other sources, I also learn from LinkedIn. When I peruse the questions in these topics and read the various answers I’ll often find new tips and suggestions offered by my peers. This is a great way to learn about best practices and gain other useful insights.
As a blogger I’m also always looking for the next article idea. Sometimes I have a large list of topics I want to cover and other times I’m stumped. In particular though I want to write about the subjects that are of most interest to my target audience. Answers is a good place to find these. When I see that several people have been asking questions on a specific topic, it lets me know that this is something I should probably write about.
Whether you have a problem to solve, or have the time to help others, LinkedIn Answers provides a great way to participate more in the LinkedIn community and to forge new connections. Give it a try, go ask (or answer) a question today.