What’s Your Nerd Strategy?

With the ascendancy of comic book movies and the global freak-out over the new edition of Star Wars, nerd culture has climbed out of its parents’ basement and into the sunlight.  Has your marketing followed suit?

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Roll saving throw vs. direct sunlight, 16+

Taking a step back, I should define my term.  I use “nerd” in the sense of “expert” or, perhaps, “obsessive.”  Car nerds, for instance, have existed since Henry Ford polished the fender on his first Model T.  To automakers, gearheads represent a key segment of influencers, namely the people whom non-car nerds ask questions like “the Accord or the Camry?”

In addition, nerds represent an early warning system for the brand.  Nerds care enough about a brand or a category to give feedback, albeit unfiltered.  While often volatile, nerd opinion allows brands to tweak their offerings before they become better known.

As a multi-faceted nerd myself (I still use 35 MM film and ride a fixie), I’ve long recommended Quora as a resource for reaching other nerds.  For the uninitiated, Quora allows members to pose questions to self-appointed experts while other experts chime in and vote responses up or down.  Functionally, it sits between Google, which works best at answering specific questions (“what’s the atomic weight of mercury?“) and Wikipedia, which offers more generalized background (“how was the light bulb invented?“)

As an example, I asked a question about why people watch golf on TV and got a series of thoughtful answers explaining that some people use the pros’ swings as a tutorial, others relish the strategy and still others just like the peace and quiet.  Even though I answered the question four years ago, I still get responses every so often.

So Quora serves as a playground for curious minds, but what does that mean for marketers?  Of all brands, I think Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has hit on a great use for it: establishing expertise.  [note: while I’m a big fan of Senator Clinton’s, I’m not here to make a political argument.  Feel free to say hateful things in the comments.  I will delete them.]

Recently, I received an email from Quora featuring responses to (mostly) political questions from the Hillary campaign under her name (presumably written by a staffer):

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Go ahead.  Insert your own “Clinton email” joke here

I can’t tell whether the Clinton campaign paid Quora to send out this email or whether Quora simply recognized a good communication opportunity via an algorithm.  In either case, the Clinton campaign clearly maintains a strong presence on Quora, giving the candidate an opportunity to make her case to policy and politics nerds.  In turn, these posts give the nerds the ability to make their case for Hillary to interested friends.  Or strangers on a bus.  Remember, we’re talking about nerds here.

Brands with a strong fan component should develop a strong presence on Quora.  Here are some ways to do just that:

  • Make sure to select your category and brand as topics you follow.  And make sure that you get frequent updates about those topics.  These settings will allow you to keep tabs on what nerds want to know and how they answer questions.
  • Participate as a brand representative rather than as a non-affiliated individual.  No one likes a sock puppet.
  • Genuinely solicit feedback.  Nerds want to be heard.

While Quora represents only a small part of a brand’s total audience, its access to nerds should make it a higher priority than its traffic suggests.  Remember, we wouldn’t be flocking to look at cat pictures on Facebook if nerds hadn’t done it first.

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