How Quora Is Dominating the Search Engine Game

Sarah Smith, VP of Advertising Sales and Operations at Quora, joins the Social Pros Podcast to discuss the future of search engine selling and why their customers are beating the competition in conversions.

In This Episode:

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Full Episode Details

Searching and Converting

It’s hard to put Quora in a box. Is it a social platform? Search engine? Professional networking locale?

In many ways, it is all of these things combined into one tidy package of reliable conversions.

Having been in it as a user since the beginning, Sarah understands the opportunities Quora presents to social marketers as a unique outlet that combines the best of search, social, and career building. Their approach to cultivating a safe space through a strictly enforced Be Nice, Be Respectful policy has led to a platform that users trust and rely on for information and opinions on a wide variety of topics.

This built-in trust has made Quora an impactful last stop on a buyer’s journey through the funnel, and therefore the perfect site for targeted, respectful paid advertising.

A slam-dunk opportunity for a savvy marketer, the realm of social searching is quickly rising through the ranks for paid advertising.

In This Episode

  • How a strict policy of being nice leads to a boon for user-generated content
  • Why controversial content that is well-organized means increased interest from nervous advertisers
  • How intentional search engine placement leads to an uptick in conversions
  • Why a searching customer means a higher probability of conversion

Quotes From This Episode

“There’s so much knowledge trapped in people’s heads that is really valuable for the world.” —@sasmith4

We have people coming from a variety of sources and with a variety of objectives. Click To Tweet

“There is a cohort of people who are very comfortable writing, and then there is the rest of the consumer base, which is much, much bigger.” —@sasmith4

“We believe that there is knowledge that would not exist on Quora or anywhere on the internet if there wasn’t the ability for people to share anonymously.” —@sasmith4

“We’ve built a great product that allows us to sort very quickly through different types of content which can give a lot of assurance to advertisers.” —@sasmith4

“We are big enough as a site that we are really starting to map to the general demographics of the world.” —@sasmith4

“How do we condense our marketing message into something that is meaningful and actionable in three seconds?” That’s the reality of where the world is going. Things are speeding up.” —@sasmith4


See you next week!

Get a Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the Social Media Operations at Sam's Club

In this 5-episode social media Deep Dive, you'll learn how the busy team at Sam's Club operates their social media strategy. Meet 5 different team members and find out how Sam's Club uses social across their entire business. All 5 episodes are available now, so get ready to binge! Listen to episode 1 of the Sam’s Club Deep Dive now.

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Episode Transcript

Adam:Welcome to Social Pros, the real show for people doing real things in social media. This is Adam Brown. Very glad to be with you today. I'm executive strategist of Salesforce Marketing Cloud. I am not, sadly, for the second week in a row joined by my colleague, the master of ceremonies, the man that makes this show what it is today and has been for five years, Jay Baer. Jay, again, is traveling this week. I am going to try to very capably take over the reigns and channel my inner Jay Baer for a great Social Pros show today. We are lucky this week to have a fantastic guest on the show and a fantastic guest from an equally fantastic platform that has been near and dear to my heart, been a place that I've spent time on. That is Quora. We have Sarah Smith, vice president of sales and operations of Quora on Social Pros today. Sarah, how are you?
Sarah:Great to be here. Thanks so much for having me on.
Adam:Our pleasure. Our pleasure. Now I want to kind of start out with, for those who may not be familiar with Quora, I think that would be surprising, but again, you never know, love for you to kind of tell the story of Quora, how it started, and kind of how the platform has matured over these really interesting couple of years.
Sarah:Yeah. We have been around for a little while, and certainly more and more people know about us now than when I first joined the platform. Quora started in 2009. Our two co-founders had left Facebook and were really interested in the knowledge space and just the idea that there's so much knowledge really just trapped in people's heads that is really valuable for the world. They believe that there would be basically a better world in the long run if we could capture more and more of that on the internet or other formats, frankly, in the future that people could easily find and access that knowledge. We have been building very diligently this platform since 2009. I actually joined the site very early. I was the 45th user, so pretty much on day one that there was a prototype to try. I have literally seen it from the beginning asking and answering some of the first questions on the site, and then joined the company a few years later when we were about 40 people as a company. Now we have grown quite a bit. We currently reach over 200 million monthly unique visitors from all over the world, about half of those coming from the US. We've launched this year outside of English, so that's been a really exciting development that we are now moving into more international markets so we can reach even more people in the globe. We're now live in Spanish, French, German, and Italian. We'll be continuing to roll out in more languages.
Adam:200 million uniques, that is impressive. It's great to see the growth of the platform, as you said, just over almost eight, nine years. You know, Sarah, a lot of Quora's identity kind of revolves around the concept of trusted sources. So often online, I think, especially with search, we're basing the ability for us to get the right answer kind of on an algorithm. What I always liked about Quora is it adds a human element. When you're able to see a person and kind of their pedigree, how they answer questions, the upvotes and how people have kind of blessed them with trusted source credibility on a certain topic. My question kind of is do you see as an internal person Quora more kind of like a search engine, more kind of like a Wikipedia, which in some way has a lot of the same types of information sharing and kind of confirmation, or more of a pure social media network? As I look at it, I see kind of all three pieces being in there.
Sarah:Yeah. I think your assessment is actually spot on. It's part of why I came to Quora is because I felt like there was strength in some of the best of all of those platforms combined in one that would be really useful to people. We have some elements of all of those. Certainly we have the elements of search in that people are seeking some kind of information. They're looking to learn something. They're looking to make a decision. They're trying to find some sort of credible source to make a good decision for themselves. From that aspect, we have the similarity of intent of search that people come with, but in terms of being a trusted and credible platform, that's where Wikipedia is a tremendous platform for very factual based knowledge, things that really can't be disputed. That is something that we certainly also have, but it is supplemented by the fact that there's a lot of more subjective knowledge that people have where there isn't necessarily one right answer, but maybe there's a variety of answers or experiences that you may want to read about or learn about. That's where it is different from Wikipedia in that we can accommodate a variety of opinions, a variety of viewpoints and experiences, and then with that, the social aspect, which is understanding who is it that's actually writing that answer or contributing to the platform. In that way, we do have somewhat of a social aspect, because you have the real name of the person, you have their credentials, their background and experience to help make a judgment for yourself of how much weight you want to put in that particular piece of content or knowledge. Not quite, I would say, social as far as Facebook where maybe most of the content you're looking at or interacting with is with your circle of real life friends. On Quora, you certainly could see things from your friends, but you also may want to know what a world expert thinks about something who certainly may not be your personal friend, but someone that you maybe trust. It's interesting to kind of think about this. Now working on kind of more of the ad side, that question has come up more and more of are you search or social, because that's how a lot of marketing teams are structure. It's something that I think I'll be curious to see how other people answer that question. I think the way you have summed it up is really spot on.
Adam:I liked a couple of things that you said there, Sarah. First, you said it's often times what people think about something, that the answers and questions contained in Quora are, in some cases, very subjective. They're often times answers to questions that don't actually have a one right or one wrong answer. In fact, if I look at my Quora news feed there, like right now as we're speaking, I see questions that are very kind of topical or factual based upon things that I've said that I'm kind of an expert in around marketing and public relations. I see a lot of questions around Coca-Cola, because I spent four years leading social there. I also see a lot of things that are very subjective. People are asking advice or opinion, everything from what's the best way to get from Nashville to Orlando, Florida, to I'm having this problem in my relationship. What do you guys think? That has to be kind of interesting as it relates to findability. My question for you is, and I think you answered this a little bit, Sarah, but do you find that most of the people who are coming to your platform are looking for a very specific answer or looking to ask a very specific answer? Or do you also see people who are kind of browsing? I could very much hear a time suck happen when I'm on the Quora home page just sitting there for 15, 20 minutes and just reading these questions, because it really kind of is the Zeitgeist or the pulse of what people are thinking or talking about.
Sarah:Yeah. We have people coming from a variety of sources and with a variety of objectives. That is something that is a real opportunity and challenge for us to manage is how to make sure we have a great experience for everyone that feels personal, that feels helpful to them as they land on Quora. People may come to us through ... They might actually find us on search. They might Google something. For example, you're at Salesforce. If you're someone at a company and you're thinking about selecting a CRM for your company, you might wonder, "What are all of my CRM options? What's the best CRM for my company?" You Google that, and Quora may be one of the top entries, because we have a lot of content in that area. Some people might hit us through a very high intent query on Google search and come to us that way. Then there are other people who come to us, because we have a lot of other entry points, like we have a digest email that we send people with what we think is some of the best content that they might be interested in, knowing what we know. In your case, you have an interest in Coca-Cola, so if we have some good new content around Coca-Cola, we might send you a digest email that has that highlighted. Then a lot of people tell us exactly what you said about essentially the idea of going down the rabbit hole. They might come in looking at one question they found interesting, but then find that they spend hours on the site reading about other topics. We really do service both ends of the spectrum, in terms of just discovering interesting new content that someone might not even have been thinking about until they saw it in digest, or they saw someone share it on social media, or they saw it published. We have publishing partnerships with a number of different outlets, like Forbes and Ink and Huffington Post. They might discover us that way, or they might find us through some very direct intent query where they either found us through a search engine or through an article that they read that's related to sort of industry news that they were trying to follow.
Adam:One interesting topic I also saw on Quora that I wasn't quite expecting, but as a marketer and as an advertiser, it started getting my wheels spinning. That was around businesses or corporations, but more about employment at it. In fact, as I read some of these questions about, "Hey, what's it like to work at Salesforce or what's it like to work at brand X?" It made me realize that in some cases, Quora is kind of an amalgamation of LinkedIn and maybe a site like Glassdoor. I'm curious if you're seeing that as VP of sales and operations, and obviously advertising being a big key portion of your role, are you seeing companies beginning to leverage Quora to help kind of present best places to work, awards and recognitions, or things like that for potential recruits who are thinking about joining a company?
Sarah:Yes, we are seeing this. In fact, we've been seeing this for years, but more and more so obviously as the talent market gets even more competitive, companies are looking for richer ways to build their employee brand that feels really genuine and authentic, and also helps select for the right people that are going to do well at their company. On the organic side, we see companies leverage the platform usually through writing, getting their employees or former interns to write answers about what it is like to work at the company, what's special about the company, what to expect when you're there. They often tell us that people have discovered companies and job opportunities by reading about it on Quora. It also makes sense, because a big part of our audience that we've developed over time, a lot of people discover us while they're in school. If you remember maybe writing book reports in grade school or high school using Wikipedia, certainly Quora is a huge resource for students when they're in school or in university. We have a lot of penetration at the university market. That's a time that people are often starting to think about different career choices, or paths, or opportunities. They come to Quora, and they read about what's it like to be a product manager? How should I become a great computer scientist, or what should I know to build a career in marketing? Those are the kinds of questions we have a lot of really rich content. We find that a lot of people are discovering career opportunities on Quora. That makes sense that employment brands, companies would come to Quora to also connect with those people in that moment. On the paid side, then certainly companies are also using Quora to target potential candidates they can target by topic. If they're looking for a specific type of ... I keep coming back to engineering, because that's such a competitive talent pool, but if they're targeting JavaScript engineers, they can run ads on question pages that are related to questions that those types of people would be reading about. Maybe new developments in JavaScript or tangential technologies they might want to be targeting. That's a great way for them to get their brand in front of those really qualified candidates in a very niche audience.
Adam:As you look at your audience, and you said 200 million uniques just in the past month and how that's evolved, any site like yours, as I mentioned in the opening, you've got contributors and you've got consumers. Typically, the old parlance has been there's usually like a 10 X or sometimes even 100 X between consumers of content versus contribution. I'm curious kind of if you have any numbers around the average core user and if you have seen that evolve, if you're seeing kind of a move to creation rather than consumption, or are we seeing that kind of disparity between those two audiences is getting bigger?
Sarah:That's a great question. I don't actually have any numbers. My sense is that it's similar to what you do see really universally across the web and probably really in most any publication platform. There is a cohort of people who are very comfortable writing, and then there is the rest of the consumer base, which is much, much bigger. One thing I would say that we have definitely made an effort though that's probably different from other platforms is that we try to make Quora a very safe place for people to write. As a woman, I've certainly experienced this in other platforms if I write something or tweet something or post an update somewhere. Sometimes you can face some pretty nasty comments on the other side, and certainly this is true for a lot of groups of people on the internet. I think that's caused a lot of people to be very cautious about writing anything publicly elsewhere. We have made a lot of efforts with our moderation to make sure that we basically don't tolerate hate speech, we don't tolerate people who are being disrespectful to others on the platform. It makes it a really safe place for basically any minority group to participate on the platform. In fact, one of our policies on the site is called Be Nice, Be Respectful, BNBR for short is what we call it. That is just a much higher bar that we hold compared to most platforms. We do think it's a unique place for people to write, and we see that more and more people are willing to write. Then they have a really good experience when they write that first answer compared to other platforms. Then we hope that means they will continue to contribute in the future.
Adam:I know one of the concepts kind of in and around that that you didn't start with when Quora was launched, but something that you've recently added is the ability to be able to post questions anonymously without it kind of being associated with your credentials or your topic for fear of any type of retaliation. I'd love to hear kind of what the thought process was behind that, how it's going, and how you're kind of continuing to evolve the platform to truly enable that free speech, but to still again, as you said, be nice, be respectful, and try to keep to those tenants of a polite public square.
Sarah:Yeah. Anonymity is a really interesting concept and topic to manage, in terms of how you moderate a site. We've actually always had the ability for people to ask and answer questions anonymously. What we have done is we try to be very, very careful to make sure that that content that people contribute cannot be associate with their actual account. That is something we've always been very, very careful about. As you can imagine on our side, though, it's also a challenge in that we want to make sure we prevent trolling or other bad behavior from anonymous accounts. That's something that we do spend a fair bit of time on on the moderation side. I think we believe that there's a lot of really valuable knowledge that can be quite sensitive that we really want to make sure is out there in the world, because it can be very helpful to people. We also want to make sure we can hold people accountable for their actions on the site. This is something we're just constantly balancing. We believe that there is knowledge that would not probably exist on Quora or, frankly, maybe anywhere on the internet if there wasn't the ability for people to share anonymously. We certainly some of our best answers that we've gotten over time that people tell us has really made a difference for them have been written anonymously. Certainly in general, we prefer if people are comfortable sharing their real name, that does obviously lend a lot of credibility to the answer and how people judge whether, okay, this answer from this person, this actually helps me make a good decision, because there's a lot of similarities between this person and me, or I respect their opinion, because they're an expert. When you do answer something anonymously, you lose all of that. There's a trade-off there, but we certainly want to make sure people have the opportunity to share maybe more sensitive answers than they feel comfortable sharing publicly. We do allow for that.
Adam:Yeah. I think there is a place for both types. I think you articulated that perfectly. Certainly as we saw in the last presidential election here in the United States, a lot of information in social being bandied about very polarizing, we saw the advent of the whole term "fake news" and things like that. I think as part of that and as with some of that fake news, we also saw a lot of other social platforms or sites that have advertising have to kind of deal with some repercussions. We saw YouTube and Google have to kind of back down from advertisers who were concerned that their posts, or I'm sorry, their advertisements could be associated in some way with content that was controversial or even just grossly inaccurate. I'm curious kind of as leading the advertising and sales side of Quora, how you're kind of managing your product stack and how you've kind of built the advertising platform, which you launched in 2017, the kind of be ahead of those types of concerns and issues?
Sarah:Yeah. We've been very fortunate in building this platform in that we now can really reap the benefits of having spent years and years building systems that make anybody who comes to this site have confidence that it's going to be a high quality experience. Because of our BNBR policy that I mentioned earlier, be nice, be respectful, that alone takes care of a lot of issues that other platforms were facing this last cycle. We've really come from a position of strength already from just be very diligent about this type of moderation. You're absolutely right. In our conversations with advertisers and agencies now, this is very much top of mind when they think about brand safety, brand equity, what are they going to be up against when their ad is on the site? We've been extremely careful up front to make sure that we are careful about objectionable content and that we don't show ads on that. Basically the advertisers can feel really good about the brand safety that they have on Quora. In fact, we practically lead some of our early discussions with advertisers with that, because we know that it is so top of mind, especially not only during the election cycle, but I think particularly through this whole year there's been just so much in the media that some brands feel really uncomfortable being next to. We certainly understand that. Yeah, we're very fortunate. Really what enables us to do that is that our whole site is built around this topic architecture. That also gives us a really great ability to exclude certain content from advertising. If you think about it, every single question on Quora has a topic associated with it, at least one. You could imagine if we wanted to not show ads against any topic or any question that has, for example, the gun topic associated with it, that's really easy for us to be able to do that. We've just built basically a great product that allows us to sort very quickly through different types of content. That can give a lot of assurance to advertisers.
Adam:I think that topical architecture, as you articulated, Sarah, is so interesting. Again, as someone in marketing, I would think that that's really powerful. I would also think that before any major purchase, whether I'm buying a coffee maker or I'm buying a new car, people are going to Quora to kind of proverbially kick the tires, ask questions, so to speak. I'm curious how you kind of approach marketers or marketers and advertisers approach you and say, "Hey, listen, how do we make Quora part of that consideration journey? Then how do we also make sure that those people even know that those questions are being answered at Quora?" What does that whole lifecycle of someone who's considering purchasing a car, there's great reviews and insights around all the idiosyncrasies of that car on your platform? How do you kind of approach a marketer and say, "Hey, this is why this is a great platform for you?"
Sarah:The good news is most of them are approaching us, because they have already seen such high quality traffic coming from Quora. They have analytics set up, and they have seen for years that they're getting incredible referral traffic from Quora. Right now we're in a really nice position that most marketers are really just excited to see that we have finally offered a paid option for them to increase their reach on Quora, because what they see is that just what you said, there's a funnel. There's a journey that people go through when they're first even starting to even think about or becoming aware of a product to actually finally making that purchase. They are very skilled in using the different opportunities in the funnel for raising awareness. Typically, you think of top of the funnel being things like television or print or even Facebook, platforms that have a lot of reach across a certain demographic as a way to build awareness of the product. Then they think of search as being the place where they want to get in front of that consumer right when they've already ... Pretty much at that decision point, they've either already made the decision, they're in Google or Bing or other search engines searching exactly for the product they want to buy. For a lot of marketers, I think what they've found over time on the digital side is that by the time people are hitting search, they've often already made the decision. They're looking for places where they can influence that decision after someone's become aware of the product, but before they've actually made their final selection. This, for me, is one of the most exciting parts of Quora and a big reason why I came to Quora in the first place is that I felt like we were in a very unique position in the funnel where we capture people as they are very seriously considering a decision, often a high stakes decision where maybe there's a lot of dollar value associated with that, if you think about the major purchasing decisions you make in your life. You mentioned buying a car, but you could be considering what university to attend, or how to go about buying a house, or getting a mortgage, getting a loan, or if you're in industry, you might be selecting some sort of software or vendor management for your company. These are really high stakes decisions. You're going to take the time to do some research to really understand the different trade-offs, what might be the best selection for you. There's just not that many places that people can go that they can really trust to find good information at that stage of those really important decisions. Quora is absolutely one of those places that people come to. For marketers, it's sort of a no-brainer. If they want to hit people between brand awareness or product awareness and actual decision making, they already know that Quora's one of the rare places to do it. Then like you said, we allow them the opportunity to basically target their ads based on topic. They can reach people that they know are actively reading about something related to their topic space. It's an exciting place for them to be. Then we recently launched re-targeting as well. If they're trying to capture people who are in that middle of the funnel, they've already come to their website, they've already started to read up on their product, but haven't yet made a purchase, with the Quora Pixel, they can now re-target those same customers when they're on Quora. It's a pretty exciting proposition for marketers, and they've been aware about it for a long time. They tell us that they're really excited that we finally now have an ads product for them to leverage.
Adam:What an interesting kind of ad product. I love the re-marketing piece of that, too. I think that's an underserved kind of area. I think that's one that we're going to continue to see kind of evolve in this space. Speaking of continuing to evolve in this space, time for some quick advertising messages. These are typically what Jay does, but I'm going to be doing them since Jay Baer is not joining Sarah Smith and me today. First ad is actually a product that's near and dear to my heart and an e-book that's very near and dear to my heart, because my team and I spent some time on this. It's called "More than Marketing: Exploring the Five Roles of the New Marketer", and certainly the things that Sarah Smith VP of sales and operations at Quora and I are talking about here are very apropos to this, this idea of new marketing skills that we need as marketers, as communicators, as advertisers, and as almost data scientists to make sure that we are kind of evolving in our career. We are evolving the organizations and companies that we are doing this with. We've compiled together interviews and stories and interactive features to really help you get started and hopefully give you two or three actionable steps that you can use almost immediately to continue mastering your talents. Very happy for Salesforce to put this together, and I hope you will try to take a look at it as well. You can download a copy of the "Five roles of the New Marketer" at That's C-A-N-D-C for Convince and Convert, Jay Baer and the Convince and Convert team also have another really exciting e-book that I hope you will take a look at. It's called "Three Types of Social Media Metrics and Why They'll Get You Promoted". I think that's something that we certainly all want to do and aspire to, to move up in the trajectory of our careers. We know the way to do that is to show our bosses how we're either making them money or we're saving them money. This e-book does both and shows the important ROI steps that we as social media professionals and as marketers need to use. I hope you will download this book as well at That's the number 3 social metrics. Two interesting books, exciting books that I hope you will download today. We are back now with Sarah Smith, Vice President of Sales and Operations at Quora talking a lot about this fascinating platform, the evolution of the platform, the abilities now as marketers and as advertisers for us to be able to tap in to the core user. That really kind of, Sarah, brings me up to my next question. That is what does the Quora user look like? What do these 200 million people that have used your platform look like from a demographic standpoint, from a psychographic standpoint, or I'm going to guess with numbers that pervasive, it's very much the general demographics of the online user, yes?
Sarah:Yes, that's exactly right. We're now hitting an inflection point where we are big enough as a site that we are really starting to map pretty much to the general demographics of the world. That said, we have seen over time that we have some concentration, at least in the US, we have some concentration on the coasts. We are a little bit heavier on the west and east coasts than in general. A little bit more concentrated in urban areas. We also have a really highly educated population, compared to the average internet population. Again, like we were talking about earlier, a lot of people discover us when they are in school or in university. It sort of makes sense that that would map to a pretty highly educated market. We have really deep penetration, though, across a variety of verticals. Our roots were in tech. We started out here in California in the Bay Area. A lot of our early users were from the tech community, but we now have got deep penetration across pretty much every topic that you could imagine. We have experts in all different areas. We've had people, VIP types host sessions, which is sort of like a specialized Q&A product.
Adam:You had the Hillary and Tim Cain Q&A last year, right, during the elections?
Sarah:Yeah, exactly. Yep. We've had Justin Trudeau this year. We've had Barack Obama actually answer some questions. We have had a number of politicians. We've had TV show producers. We've had Nobel Prize Laureates, famous economists, people from the Federal Bank. We've had legal experts, social experts. Just really everything you could imagine is now on Quora. It is really broad reaching.
Adam:I'm going to assume that the contributors probably slightly different demographically than the consumers. That may or may not be the case, but my question is more with your advertising platform, can you say, "Listen, I want to target those contributors. I want to target those people who are probably considered influencers on other channels or other platforms because they're the type when they share something, other people listen, other people respect, other people upvote them." Are those types of kind of focuses available inside of your advertising platform?
Sarah:Great question. We don't currently offer that ability to target just the writers or certain influencers. Where we do offer more granular targeting from a demographic standpoint is really based on geography. If you feel like the influencers that you're trying to reach are typically in certain cities or urban areas, you can target by that. You can do radius targeting on certain areas as well. We do allow for that type of targeting. Then other than that, we offer, as I mentioned, the topic targeting. We also offer the ability to target by platform. If you want to reach people only on desktop or only on mobile, or you're trying to do app installs, you can do that as well. Right now, that's the most granular that we offer.
Adam:Sarah, you've got a very interesting job, being able to wrestle and wrangle all these things. You mentioned a little bit earlier before joining Quora, you, like the founders of Quora, were at Facebook. Even before that, I know sometimes between that and the rest of your life, you also attended Stanford School of Business. Love to hear kind of how you got to this role at Quora and kind of what suggestions or recommendations you'd give our Social Pros listener who are thinking about similar types of careers.
Sarah:Yeah. I have definitely a non-traditional path, I think, to other folks. In general, I was at Stanford at a time when social media was really starting to erupt. If anybody out there was ever on Friendster, I actually had been on Friendster really, really early on.
Adam:Oh yeah, Classmates and Friendster. That's going back.
Sarah:Yeah, probably remember these painfully slow downloading photos and all of that. It definitely was a time where actually when I joined Facebook, Myspace was still bigger than Facebook. There was other social networks like Hi-Fi, and Meebo, and a number of different platforms out there. I was at Stanford from 2005 to 2007. A lot of these platforms were really just in their infancy and starting to take off. Facebook platform launched right as I graduated, and the iPhone came out at that time as well. The app economy really started to take off. I had virtually zero experience in online or the internet when I graduated from business school. I started by working at actually a very small lead gen shop. That's how I really got my start in understanding online marketing. It's really classic affiliate lead gen in the financial services space. This, again, was 2007. This was before the 2008 downturn, but I learned a lot in that year of working on just building business online and understanding paid acquisition and how to monetize traffic, the good and the bad. Think we've all been there. We've seen the variety of different offers out there in that time period. Then fortunately there was an operations position open at Facebook really for general management is what they were looking for, which I had had at that time. I came over to really start building the mid market account management team, as well as open a number of operations and sales offices around the world. Then spent my last couple of years there running the Austin office. I cannot tell you that I would have been able to predict, even at the beginning of going into business school, that I would have landed at a place like Facebook. Frankly, Facebook barely existed when I started business school. Quora didn't even exist yet. I think the main advice I have for people who are looking to do this kind of thing is to just really keep an open mind and not expect that their path is going to be linear. The more that you can kind of read up on what's happening in the industry, where are big areas of growth happening, and try to be really flexible about what that might look like in your next role, I think that's where for me it's been great to just kind of have a feel ... I'm a gut person. I just trusted my gut. I felt very strongly about the power of Facebook before I joined. It felt very addicting. It felt very meaningful and useful as well to be able to be so close to friends and family. I grew up in Wisconsin, so it felt like a time where I actually was able to reconnect with a number of people I hadn't seen in years. For me, that was a really important factor in joining the company. Then with Quora, I was friends with the founders and, as I mentioned, an early user. For me, I had a similar feeling of just, "Wow, the quality of the content and what people are writing, and knowing that ..." If you could imagine a world in which you could go back in history and have first hand accounts from people that were in the room when major events happened, how powerful that would be if everyone had access to that? If you think about history, all of this is really edited by people who are trying to use some primary source, letters, transcripts, and things like that, but it's not actually hearing directly from the people in the room. To be able to see even today a similar thing, to be able to hear directly from a politician or directly from an executive, "Why did you choose to join this company?" Or, "Why did you choose to leave this company?" Sure, they may be biased, and they may be putting their own spin on things, but it is coming from them directly. There's no editor. There's nobody mincing their words, and you can trust it as actually them. To your point about fake news, to have a platform like Quora where when you read somebody wrote something, you can trust that they actually wrote it and nobody has edited that or changed that or taken it out of context. To me, that's an incredibly powerful thing. I guess just to get back to your original point, I think for people looking for career advice, it's really following your gut and focusing on areas of growth and products that you feel are just really meaningful to you personally.
Adam:Sure. I think that's a great answer. In fact, I didn't realize it, but I was actually asking you one of the two questions that we always end a program on Social Pros with. That is what's the one tip that you would give somebody who wants to be a social pro. I think you've done that perfectly. Before I get to the last question, and I promise I'm going to save that one to the very, very last, I am curious kind of where you think this is all going. I know one of the things, it's Salesforce that my team has been working on and something that we've announced over the past couple of weeks is around what we call Einstein Vision. It's around non-textual content, how can we take all the insights that we can glean now from textual content as it relates to language and sentiment and Boolean searches and all those, and start to do the same thing with non-textual content. I'm curious from were you sit, where do you believe that type of content is going to go, in terms of the curation and actionable ness of it, and just kind of what your thoughts are on this entire evolution of more and more non-textual content, beginning to enter these social platforms, again, like Quora?
Sarah:Yeah. It's super exciting to think about the future and where we're going. If I think about where we're going, a couple things come to mind. One, I think things are speeding up very quickly for people. People expect to be able to get the information that they want much, much faster. They have just less patience for super long marketing messages. They know the information probably exists and the platforms that serve that up more quickly and in a format that helps people get to that decision faster are going to be very successful. If you think about one trend I heard about recently was some advertising executives frustrated that people aren't watching videos for more than one to two seconds or three seconds. One approach is to say, "We're only going to pay if they watch 30 seconds of this video." Another approach would be to say, "How do we actually condense our marketing message into something that actually is meaningful and actionable in three seconds?" I think that's the reality of where the world is going. Things are really speeding up. Then to service that, I think it's going to be a bumpy road in that we have more and more and more data every day, which allows us to personalize to a very fine degree exactly what we show each person to make sure that it's really relevant and helpful to them. That's, I think, a really exciting value proposition for the average consumer. At the same time, I we have this bumpy road in that because it's still relatively new, if you think about just sort of the arc of the last 100, 200 years of advertising, this ability to do this extreme personalization, it's still relatively new to a lot of people and can feel scary. Everyone's read about sort of the journey that Google's gone through with Gmail ads and whether or not to use the content of those emails to better personalize the ads they show people. On one side of the camp, you could say it's great to have ads that really surface exactly it is that I'm looking for. On the other side, people are really worried about their privacy, and rightfully so. You want to make sure that the data is being used for something that's actually good and helpful to you, and not detrimental. I think there's a lot that's going to have to get sorted out over the next 5 to 10 years or longer about how we think about that trade-off between better personalization, better value to the consumer, and protecting their privacy and making sure it's not used for malicious reasons. I think it's going to be exciting to see how it plays out. For me, a lot of this, even to the point with your new initiative, I think it's really being able to personalize the experience and helping people really get to those decision points in getting the information that they're looking for much, much faster.
Adam:I couldn't have said it better myself. The whole balance between personalization or just the intrusiveness of advertising and its usefulness or function. This started with the first television or radio advertisements. This idea of, "Wait, you're going to interrupt my program?" We all at that point said, "Okay, well this program is good enough, then I'm going to wait 30 seconds or 60 seconds to get back to it." Same thing, I thnk, with personalization today. As long as you're going to show me something that's going to be more relevant, I'll be interested, but again, I'm trusting the advertiser, the platform to do the right things with that information. I couldn't agree more. Sarah, it's been so great having you on the show. Time for our last question, typically two questions, which you already answered the first one. My last question for you today on Social Pros is if you could do, Sarah Smith, vice president of sales and operations at Quora, if you could do a Skype call with any living person, who would it be and why?
Sarah:Oh wow. That's a great question. On the spot, there are so many people. Honestly, not to be super political here, I think I appreciate that Quora's a very neutral platform. I'm not saying one party over the other, but I'm very intrigued by what Barack Obama could do for the rest of his life. He's relatively young and had obviously a lot of exposure to the global economy and different forces, and I know is in an obviously an interesting challenging position of not wanting to interfere with the current administration. I think it's really interesting to think about what kind of impact he could have, and obviously his wife Michele as well. It'd be a toss up between the two of them. I think for a lot of groups that feel like they're sort of in the minority, I think there's a lot of good that the two of them could do. I'd be really interested to have a conversation about some types of initiatives that he or they together might be able to run in the future. That would be a fascinating conversation.
Adam:I would agree, and president Obama has been, and Michelle, have both been very popular answers on this show.
Sarah:Oh really?
Adam:By the way, we announced from Salesforce this week, Michelle Obama is going to be a keynote speaker at Dreamforce this year.
Sarah:Oh wow.
Adam:I'm looking forward to her hopefully maybe teeing up some answers to that particular question. It should be good. Sarah, so great to have you on the show. Thank you for participating. Love your platform and everything that you're doing with it, not only as a marketer and as a marketing executive, bu also just as a user. I think it's an exciting platform. Thank you for spending an hour or so with us. For all of you who are listening, thank you for listening to our show. Social Pros exists because of you, and Jay and I cannot thank you enough for continuing to make our show one of the most listened to marketing podcasts, if not the most listened to marketing podcast in existence. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your reviews. As Jay always says, let us know what you think. We take each and every email or review or comment from you seriously. We want to make this show as actionable for you as it is us. Until next week, I am Adam Brown, executive strategist of Salesforce Marketing Cloud. Jay Baer, founder and president of Convince and Convert could not be here, but I know he is with us in spirit. Thanks and we look forward to speaking with you next week.  
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