BtoB's AskInc. builds community

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Late last month,, the companion website to Inc., launched a new section of the site called AskInc. The section, built in partnership with Mahalo, is a search engine created and curated by members of the social network.

For, the platform powers a question-and-answer community designed for entrepreneurs and business owners to connect with each other and tap the experience and expertise of community members. To get a better understanding of the strategy behind AskInc., Digital Directions spoke with David Grossman, director of business development for, and Mike Hofman, the site's deputy editor .

DD: Why invest your resources in getting people to come to a community on your site rather than engaging with them on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, where they already are?

Mike Hofman: Our goal is to interact and engage with our audience in as many venues as we can to build a strong sense of community. We've had a presence on Twitter and Facebook for some time, but one of the things that's fundamental to the entrepreneurial audience we serve is peer-to-peer exchange. AskInc. is designed to harness that.

David Grossman: It's not about getting people to do something on your site rather than another site. You have to find something you can do that is unique to your brand and build a property that works in synchronicity with Facebook, Twitter and others. The Inc. brand focuses on creating service content for entrepreneurs and business owners, and question-and-answer content plays very well in social media and indexes very highly with search engines.

User-generated content has helped us grow our audience organically because of the additional content and through search. We had 1.2 million monthly unique visitors in July. That's a 61% increase compared to July 2009 (according to Ominture).

DD: Tell me more about how the user-generated content works.

Grossman: The economics of content creation have changed. It is very important to have and promote high-quality editorial, but you have to go beyond the traditional [journalistic] model in order to see a lot of scale. In a question-and-answer community, people on the one side are getting value by having their questions answered. People who answer get value by getting their names out and enhancing their reputations, which is particularly important to entrepreneurs. The byproduct of that exchange is user-generated content.

DD: How is AskInc. contributing on the business side?

Grossman: Beyond growing our audience, we want to learn more about them and get them more engaged with our brand. We've seen ad performance that's phenomenal on AskInc. compared to other sections of the site because the engagement value transfers over to advertising.

In order for people to participate in the platform, they have to register. We capture their email address and when they complete their profile we get all these great demographics on their job titles, companies, where they are and what they do. Our goal is to learn more about our audience so we can position products to them more efficiently.

We look at it all as a conversion funnel. First, we get them to register for newsletters and magazine subscriptions. If they opt-in for site announcements, we can market more of our products, such as webinars. If they [fully] opt-in, we can send announcements about third-party products and services. The next phase is the positioning of premium products, and we're going to do more and more of that. For 2011, we're putting together a strategy that is built around our expanding database of registered users.

DD: Why did you partner with Mahalo?

Hofman: Mahalo has a great platform and they've created a vibrant community online. With their help, we're discovering a lot of techniques we can put to immediate use.

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