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The Difference Between Social Networks and Q&A

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We all agree engagement is important, especially in our careers and at our place of work, but what’s the best way to achieve that in a positive and productive way? There are different ways to go about community engagement, two of them being social networks and Q&A Systems. Initially, it might seem like a social network, because of the word social, would be the “better” way to engage, but Q&A systems have become much more social in nature, and actually lead to more productive engagement.

Recent and successful Q&A Systems are moving away from the search engine model, or standard question-answer model, and becoming more social. Social Networks and Q&A Systems have many similarities - you can post questions to your connections on a Social Network, and you can start a conversation on a Q&A System - but there are some key differences in use, outcome and application that distinguish the two.

What are the differences?

A Social Network is an online service, platform or site that facilitates and builds relations among people who might share interests, activities, backgrounds or real-life connections. (mashable.com)

A Question & Answer System is a platform that creates a forum where users can interact by posting questions and answering each other’s queries. Social Q&A Systems help people find answers by connecting them with others, and allowing them to comment on the helpfulness and relevance of different answers. (research.microsoft.com)

The most popular Social Networks are names that we should all be familiar with. Networks like Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, MySpace and Google Plus. The most popular Q&A networks might not be quite so well known; places like OSQA, Stack Overflow, and Askbot.

Similarities, Both Systems:

  • Can help you connect with your existing clients and potential customer base
  • Give the opportunity to answer questions
  • Start conversations
  • Free (most social networks and some open source Q&A systems)
  • Users make a profile (not anonymous)
  • Can feature “liking” or voting system

Uses

The biggest difference is probably in how people report using the two different platforms. A social network is most often used for purely personal reasons like keeping in touch with friends and entertainment.

While a Q&A System can be used for entertainment (maybe you like learning new things!) the most popular use is finding information, namely questions to specific answers.

Both will create conversations, but the kinds of conversations and interactions fostered will be different. Users of Social Networks often post statements and wait for reactions, which may or may not be given. Often the type of information posted might not be related to the workplace or professional in nature.

A Q&A System will foster productive interactions and conversations where at least one party is benefitting in the form of an answer, and the other might receive a system reward. The benefits of a Q&A System are also lasting; all interactions can be reviewed in the future.

Community Engagement

Work intranets can certainly be considered a social network, and they can be beneficial by facilitating employee communication and information dissemination – everyone gets the same message at the same time. Employees like to be heard, and a social network is a good way to provide a place to make statements public. It also creates a more unified feeling and strengthens the company brand.

A Q&A System does more than just create a place for employees to talk – it allows them to help each other and benefits the entire group. This often leads to employees feeling they are valuable to the group and increases cohesiveness. A Q&A System allows employees to first search to see if anyone has previously asked a similar question. If no one has posed a similar question, the employee can then create a new question and post it for anyone else to answer. This is much more efficient than a social network where there are often conversations between limited groups that the larger organization can’t access (lost knowledge), and interactions aren’t saved or indexed in a way that is easily searchable.

So while employees can certainly ask a question through a social network, it’s much more efficient and beneficial to use a Q&A System. The Q&A System saves all exchanges, and makes it easy for others to sort through, benefitting future employees and the organization as a whole.

Conclusion

While it’s difficult to definitively say one is better than the other, hopefully it’s clear that a social network and a social Q&A system are quite different, and will have different applications and outcomes. It’s up to you and your organization to determine which model best fits your needs.

- See more at: http://answerhub.com/article/the-difference-between-a-social-network-and-a-q-and-a-system/#sthash.2ZGhtVDG.dpuf
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Published at DZone with permission of Chris Smith, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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