Helping The Experts Get Answers

by Jeff Atwood

on April 5, 2011

In A Recipe to Promote your Site, Robert provided a great set of guidelines for organically growing your Q&A; community. Buried within was this observation:

Reach the right kind of publications and bloggers. Make sure that the key experts in every field know about the site; not just the “Martha Stewart” big names; we want to talk to the people who go to these conferences.

But how do you reach writers, bloggers, and other notable experts in the field?

Help them get answers to their questions, too!

I've had the privilege of meeting Tim Bray once in real life at CUSEC '08. I wouldn't say he is a friend, per se, but he is certainly someone I admire and respect -- and he is a notable expert on a number of topics.

So when I saw Tim posit this question on Twitter ...

... I said to myself, hey, there's a site for that!

Since I like Tim, and I genuinely want to help him get an answer to his question, I asked the question on his behalf:

Amazingly, even without any promotion, this question was answered in six minutes flat -- correctly! The timestamps don't lie. (Yes, I did subsequently retweet the question to give it more attention, but my tweet was after the first answer arrived.)

By the time Tim saw "his" question, it was already answered, excellently! What better way could there be to introduce an expert to your community than presenting them with an immediate answer to their question? Every Q&A; community we operate is predicated on this simple idea of paying it forward, of peers helping other peers learn together.

If you want to attract notable experts to your site, don't ask what they can do for you -- ask what you can do for them:

  1. Ask great questions on their behalf. If they write a blog entry or mention something (on their blog, twitter, or facebook) that contains a question -- actual or implied -- post it as a question! Do what you can to promote it, then wait and see what kind of response it gets. Edit the answers, as I did, to make them exemplary. Then bring it to their attention. "I thought you brought up a great question, and it got some interesting answers here {question link}."

  2. Invite them to weigh in on 'best of' interesting questions. Pick a really interesting question, perhaps from the 'week' or 'month' tab, and appeal to their authority for a definitive expert answer. "We're not sure how to answer {question link}, do you have any advice for us?"

I want to be absolutely crystal clear that you should only do this because you genuinely admire this person, and honestly want to help them -- otherwise, why would you be stalkingfollowing them on Twitter or Facebook, or reading their blog?

If you want someone to go out of their way to help you, go out of your way to help them first.