Formspring.me is still relatively new and I thought I'd share why I think it can be valuable to use. I know several people aren't interested in it or don't really know what it is. Even if you don't end up using if for yourself, maybe this post will at least help reveal some of its appeal.
Ease Of Use
Formspring.me is not particularly amazing in terms of it's look or innovation. However, it is easy to use. Signing up is pretty straight forward. After you sign up, you can choose to connect it to other social media networks (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr). Once you do this, you are able to let your followers and friends know about your link.
You can also choose which networks (if any) you want to send out per question. There are check boxes allowing you to be selective. Contrary to popular (negative) belief, using formspring.me does not equal auto spam of every question. While I still stand by my rant the other day, I personally choose to only tweet a few questions and answers sporadically (but even that can annoy some people).
The system starts you off with about three random questions that you can choose whether or not to answer, and you can request random questions to be generated if your inbox is empty. You can choose to follow other people's answers, which makes it easier for you to go ask them questions as well without having to search for them each time. The system does not tell you who is following you.
People can leave you questions with their formspring.me information or anonymously. If someone does not have an account, they can only leave an anonymous question if you have not checked the box which requires someone to sign in. Anyone with an account can remain anonymous if they so choose.
People can leave you questions 24/7 and they will remain in your inbox until you are ready to answer them. Do not feel obligated to answer every question. You have the ability to delete inappropriate or hateful questions.
I've heard some people ask why someone would use “yet another site” for Q&A. Others have stated people can just tweet questions at them, email them, or leave a comment on a blog post.
For me, formspring.me keeps questions organized and in a central location for those interested in my answers. When someone tweets a question at me, it might get overlooked or buried in my timeline. My answer may take more than 140 characters. Others who might be interested in that Q&A will likely not see it because it will be scattered – or they might not even know the question was asked if they don't also follow the asker. Another thing I considered is that not all of my readers are on Twitter.
Then there's email – sometimes well intentioned emails get flagged as spam, which is a folder I screen now and again, but not on a daily (or even weekly) basis. Again, the question could get buried and forgotten. If I don't answer an email right away, it often gets buried by new incoming messages. I also have two choices when answering an emailed question: 1-Reply to them individually or 2-Reply in a blog post.
Replying privately is great for that person, but what about if someone else was curious? Or emails me the same question two days later? I could post it, but perhaps its not quite appropriate for a blog post? (Being inappropriate for a blog post isn't the same as an inappropriate question, by the way.)
So, why not just ask in a comment? Bloggers love comments, right? Well, depending on the question, perhaps there isn't a fitting post to leave it at and answering them in the comments may not be the best method – especially if it is unrelated to the post.
TL;DR – It keeps Q&A in one central location for all interested parties and is like an interview that keeps going and going and going.
Making Yourself Approachable
This brings me back to the thought, “I have lots of ways to be reached! Why not use them?” Although I have several ways people can contact me if they are curious enough to ask me a variety of questions, they might not feel comfortable doing so. Maybe they feel their question is silly or too personal or I might ignore them. Having a formspring.me account and advertising the link says, “Hey! I'd love to answer your questions!” It gives a sense of your willingness to partake in Q&A – not just of answering your own questions, but asking others as well.
Also, giving people the ability to ask questions anonymously can help break the ice. Maybe they don't feel comfortable publicly asking or don't want to give out their email for whatever reason. Perfectly appropriate (and good!) questions can and have been left anonymously. I think it takes some of the tension out of it.
Ideas For Further Discussion
I know Anna and Arrens have received some great role playing questions, questions that resulted in multi-paragraph answers! This is wonderful because it allows for a more lengthy discussion on topics that are hard to discuss through tweets. They may even inspire blog posts! And some questions get asked as follow up to an answer – which could be asked by someone who hadn't asked the initial question.
I have this one at the bottom of the list because it's not really my priority, but it can be a tool for self promotion. You can link your site on your formspring.me profile so if someone is curious to see what you are up to because they like the Q&A, they can check it out. Maybe you will receive a question that you already answered on your blog – link it in your answer!
And, of course, it can help strengthen the blogger-reader relationship. This is not true for everyone, but many of us enjoy those we read and we want to know them. It verifies we're human and not just a pseudonym. (This doesn't mean you have to reveal more personal information than you are comfortable with, but people can still learn more about your human interests beyond your blog persona.)
Most importantly, have some fun with it.
Side note: Once upon a time, I did not “get” the value of MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter… (you get the point). Granted, I do not utilize all of these social networking platforms, I do use some, but not always to their full potential. Something new and different can be somewhat off-putting at first until one realizes how it could be used by them in a meaningful and beneficial manner.
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I saw a tweet from Sideshow about this, and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Or what it was.
It certainly is an interesting idea, if nothing else.
While I still list my e-mail at my website, my icon for e-mail actually links to my formspring. I figure, this way people can peruse other questions, and it makes sure that I don’t end up missing reader comments in my spam box.
@Nim – It at least interesting reading other’s Q&A!
@Windsoar – That’s a good idea! Yeah, it definitely helps with keepin’ those questions out of the spam folder. Mine’s usually pretty good, but sometimes stuff goes in there and I’m like “wtf how’d you flag THIS but not THAT?!”
If it wasn’t for you I’d never discover anything – it looks like of cool but I’m scared of all this networking stuff 😛