1,000,000 Monthly Views: How I Moved From Development To Thought Leadership on Quora and Beyondby@SchusterDEV
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1,835 reads

1,000,000 Monthly Views: How I Moved From Development To Thought Leadership on Quora and Beyond

by Brian SchusterDecember 13th, 2017
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On the evening of October 13th, right around the time that <a href="" target="_blank">Matt Hunckler</a> was telling the Indy Powerkeg meetup to stop viewing their crypto-portfolios, I opened up Quora and saw this screen.

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On the evening of October 13th, right around the time that Matt Hunckler was telling the Indy Powerkeg meetup to stop viewing their crypto-portfolios, I opened up Quora and saw this screen.

Within 30 days of taking on a new discipline, one requiring daily writing and focusing on the basics, I grew my monthly Quora views from 300K to over 1M monthly views.

I was absolutely stunned. Quora had already been a great channel for me before, but I never expected to grow to have one of the most view set of answer across Quora period. Here’s a view of the most viewed writers in cryptocurrency as of December 13th.

I haven’t always been a content producer. About 18 months previous to this, I was primarily a developer, with an odd hobby of researching cryptocurrencies and writing about BI applications. No one at work particularly cared, but that was fine. I enjoyed it for what it was. But over time, this hobby eventually turned into a full time career, one where Quora and my other social channels became important to my business.

In this article, I want to go over the things I did to start and eventually grow to +1M monthly views on Quora. In addition, I’ll go over some of the ways this has translated into my other social channels and how it has worked to influence my business.

Everyone Starts from Nothing

I originally joined Quora back in 2013 and then promptly decided to not use it for two years. Then, in January 2015, I decided to answer a few questions (you can see the blip under the ‘5’ in ‘2015’). I then decided to forget about Quora again.

It wasn’t until mid-2016 when I decided I wanted to become a better writer. Writing was always something that had interested me, but not an activity I could integrate into my life. I had tried long form blogs before (like you’re reading now), but had never found a rhythm that worked. However, once I decided to write and re-discovered Quora, I realized the Q+A style felt intuitive. It reminded me of the old Q+A forums that LinkedIn used to have that I was quite fond of. So, Quora become the way I started writing.

The next question was what should I write about? Many of the most popular writers on Quora tended to write about very broad categories, like Philosophy or Life Advice. While I considered doing this, breaking into those categories is quite challenging and something that takes a lot of reputation to pull off. I had none of this when I started, so that wasn’t an option. However, I did have one thing: I was a self-taught developer who used MOOC’s and online tutorials to move into a new career. The categories for these on Quora were tiny… but they were available. So, that’s where I started.

I decided to write on Quora as a daily discipline, focusing on Business Intelligence, Big Data and MOOC’s. I set a goal to write four posts a day, every day, for a month. There was no expectation of success in the form of views, just the personal goal of hitting my four articles to become a better writer.

From this experience of writing everyday came the first set of ‘optimizations’ in writing for Quora:

  • I made Quora excessively available to me, on both my computer and my smartphone. I made Quora an app on the first screen of my iPhone, and made Quora the default tab whenever I opened chrome. It was nearly impossible for me to go a day with seeing Quora, making it very easy to answer questions.
  • I tried a bunch of different strategies (aka stealing generously from other people’s format). I tried some long-form posts, some blogs, some very short/quick posts, some with bolded section, some with pictures, etc. By experimenting with a lot of formats, I got a sense of what worked and what didn’t.
  • I just kept writing on a daily basis. After a while, it became so easy to open up the app and type out an answer that it became second nature. This became critical to the next stage of this process.

Finding Cryptocurrency

After writing for a few months, I had built up some new habit, but it didn’t build into anything substantial. This was fine, as my original goal was to just write for it’s own end. But eventually, I wanted to make something bigger… and it became clear that focusing on my MOOC/Dev niche wasn’t going to cut it.

My first lucky break came in the form of a meetup. In January 2017, I had been learning about blockchain and cryptocurrency casually for about 12 months. When I was in NY for business, I learned about a blockchain meetup featuring Joseph Lubin (Founder of Ethereum and Consensys). I thought “Great, this will be the perfect opportunity to see how other entrepreneurs were working in the industry”.

When I arrived, I was in a room with about 200 other entrepreneurs that were interested in learning about Ethereum. I spoke to a few other people before the event, but nobody knew a ton about blockchain, they were just there out of curiosity. When Joseph started talking, he asked a question “How many people own Ethereum?” I rose my hand… with about a dozen other people.

That shocked me… how could a room full of people interested in hearing from Joseph Lubin not be that invested in Ethereum? After the event concluded, I spent some time talking to the other attendees and realized that the only people who seemed to have a better grasp of the technology than me were working at Consensys.

I took this as a hint: even though I didn’t feel like I knew that much about blockchain, maybe I knew more than the average person and could contribute. So by altering my habits I had built to write about Business Intelligence and Online Course, I started focusing on writing about Ethereum.

Within about two or three weeks of starting, I had already doubled my daily volume of activity, consistently getting over a couple thousand views a day. During this period, I did not significantly change the quality of my content… that would have been too big of a jump. Instead, I used what I had learned over the last six months and shifted focus, learning how to write about a new subject.

Within about three months, I had become one of the top writers among Blockchain, Bitcoin, Ethereum and Cryptocurrency, back when the top writers in those subjects were consistently <100,000 views over 30 days. After this, it was time to expand.

Brand Building and Networking

During this time, I had started to create a brand to start capitalizing on the position I was able to get with Quora. This ended up being a challenge. While I appreciated the position I had, Quora does not easily lend itself to a business model.

On Youtube, if you want to monetize, you click a button and your videos will automatically bring in ad revenue. On Instagram, you can sell posts to advertisers interested in getting exposure to a larger audience. Neither of these avenues work for Quora. So my job became figuring out how to use this following for something greater.

In April, my co-founder and I decided to create a website and brand around what I was doing blockchain (we weren’t sure at the time if it was consulting or something else). We called it Hivergent, created a logo and built a simple website. Within a week, we had a new channel to start experimenting with, including a blog.

One way we’ve considered ‘monitizing’ Quora was by writing an article, finding relevant questions to post about and inlcuding a link to our article. This was not effective for a couple of reasons:

  1. Quora posts tend to be a very closed-looped (so much so that they don’t register a link reference in Google Analytics), so posting an article leads to very low conversion.
  2. I’ve heard multiple stories of people getting banned for a week due to posting an article (likely due to ‘undisclosed promotion’). This has never personally happened to me, but the stories were enough to stop me from messing with this strategy for too long.

Posting articles from Hivergent on Quora never panned out. However, we were able to include links to Hivergent in my personal profile, which allowed people to find our site. Since we’ve optimized this, people have consistently come to the website and signed up for the newsletter. Not as many as we would have hoped, but it’s a channel we rely on.

The most useful technique I have found for using Quora is through networking and building relationships. Today, this is the primary way Quora helps build Hivergent’s business. When people follow you, you have the option to directly message them. I have personally sent hundreds of messages through this medium, and it has been the best way for me to connect with people personally. The best, most engaged users have come through this medium, and has resulted in things like:

  • Opportunities to teach classes and write books on various subjects
  • Meeting with entrepreneurs in the blockchain space, who need everything from consulting to additional connections
  • Writers looking for opportunities to write for Hivergent
  • Investors looking for coaching
  • Speaking opportunities

Building this sort of networking and getting consistent results requires a large reach, but you can augment this by taking the first step forward and reaching out to people and asking how you can help. All of my current networking and dealings have come from this willingness to reach out, and now Quora is become my best way of accomplishing this.

Pouring Gasoline on the Fire

While I was able to find early success in Quora and my website, all of this was done while maintaining my job as a developer. Cryptocurrency was a fascination of mine, and one that was starting to take up more and more of my time, but I was still working a full time job in New York.

However, in September of this year, that changed. After realizing all the energy that was coming from this industry and and opportunity to capitalize on it, I left my job to pursue this full time. Leaving my position didn’t leave a void… my nights and weekends just switched to my days and work continued as normal.

This is when things started to get more serious, with a larger focus on my social brand as a critical component to my business. Given how important Quora was, I decided to do some more research and experimenting to understand what the algorithm was looking for. Here are some of the high level things that were important to being successful:

  • You need to post consistently (multiple times daily) in order to stay relevant in the algorithm.
  • You need to focus on questions that have a low answer/follower ratio.
  • You need to focus on only a few topics (no shotgun approach)
  • You need to pick questions from the answer feed in each topic you want to dominate.
  • You need to include several ‘section headings’ or bolded lines to draw people’s attention.
  • You need a picture. And not just that, but pictures with people’s faces. I’ve tested this over hundreds of posts and this is one thing that consistently helps with engagement.

After this research, it was time to put this into practice in a consistent way. For 30 days, I would make sure to follow these principles and post daily. Not necessarily looking for a specific result, but continually doing these things everyday, even on other people’s ‘off’ days. What would be the result if I could keep this up for the full 30 days?

The Result

After implementing this, I had an opportunity to post on Thanksgiving. After using some of the methods mentioned above, I answered this question: Will Ethereum crash again in the near future? I felt I had an interesting insight here, but then again I feel a lot of my answers are ‘interesting’. So overall, I didn’t expect anything huge.

By posting every day, I had already put myself in the good graces of “the Algorithm”, so I had momentum. Couple that with the fact that most people who write on Quora don’t write on holidays, but audience members still read on holidays, and I hit a sweet spot. Within 24 hours, that single answer had garnered over 20,000 views and 80+ upvotes, resulting in the biggest single day spike I’ve ever received.

After this point, I just continued posting and, with the growth of the cryptocurrency industry and the attention that brought, the rest took care of itself. Despite only implementing this strategy for 22 days, I had reached 1 million views. For the first time, more messages and questions werecoming to me than I was sending out, expanding beyond Quora and going to my website and my other social profiles. The work was paying off.

A Few Surprising Things I Learned About Quora During This Time

  • Despite being penalized for not posting daily, the most viewed content for this period was rarely ‘new’ content. In the screenshot below, you can see which content is ‘New’ and which is evergreen. Evergreen content is the most viewed. You can also see examples of questions below that and how some continually get activity, while other fizzle, even ‘big’ questions.

All Answers

What is it like to be a Bitcoin Millionaire?

Will Ethereum Crash Again in the Near Future?

Which one is the better investment, Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin or Ripple?

What might happen to Ethereum after Bitcoin Crashes?

  • In growing categories like blockchain technology, you will get penalized for not posting consistently. In some categories, evergreen might be able to keep your content relevant, but considering the number of people posting about Bitcoin and Blockchain, missing a day means someone else’s content is getting distributed by the algorithm. You can see how content completely stalls in October a couple of times when I decided not to post, and then the subsequent ‘jumps’ that happen when i get back on.

  • It’s very easy to get kicked off the top as the ‘top’ writer. A month ago, an entrepreneur named John Young wrote this article about using content marketing to improve his brand. Within days, he was the top person on the Bitcoin top writers. This happens all the time. If Vitalik Buterin decided to get on Quora and do a Q+A, even just one, he would be the top writer for the next 30 days. Focusing on being the ‘top’ is a losing strategy, but you can become one of the top writers in a category.
  • Each channel has it’s own way of communicating, and moving to another medium is like starting over. One personal example: I have been posting daily on LinkedIn for about three months, trying to figure out the medium. The most successful posts I have will only reach 1,500 views max with minimal engagement. Compare that to my recent Quora post on James Altucher’s new masterclass, which received ~50K views, 200+ upvotes and a ton of comments. The experience on Quora helps (I’m now connected with many of my Quora followers elsewhere), but not nearly as much as one would expect.

Moving Forward

I’m very grateful for everything that has happened, but there’s a lot of work to still be done. But Quora has given me something that I’ve never had before in my career: pervasive credibility. I’ve been networking for years and, when you’re an unknown, you’re always fighting for credibility. People you talk to don’t know you from a stranger on the street, so you’re constantly proving yourself. You can do it, but it’s a long process you always repeat from square one.

By consistently writing great content and reaching a wide audience, you build credibility with people you’ve never met. When you eventually do meet, instead of talking about what you bring to the table, you jump immediately to solving problems and making things happen.

And that’s where I’ve always wanted to be.