This is not a political article. I cannot stress that enough. Our comments section should remain free of general thoughts about President Obama, the Affordable Care Act or any topic that is generally political and not related to community management, moderation or the circumstance I am about to describe. Thank you.

President Barack Obama joined Quora earlier this week. His first two answers, posted Monday, were both to questions about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (answer 1, answer 2). They were of good quality, in my estimation. They both answered the question asked and did so thoughtfully. The only negative is that both included brief messages encouraging U.S. citizens to sign up for health insurance prior to next week’s deadline.

Those statements take up less than a quarter of the overall message and, since the discussion is ACA related and this is the President, I can understand how they may be generally forgivable. A tradeoff for getting the President on your platform.


Then, on Tuesday, he posted an answer to “What’s it like to play basketball with President Obama?” This answer is a little different.

While the the first two sentences provide an answer to the question, the next sentence introduces the topic of sports injuries and – you guessed it – tees off four paragraphs about the ACA and enrolling in health insurance. Roughly 81% of the answer is promoting the ACA and 19% is answering the question.

Whether or not this is an appropriate post depends on the community. If it was posted on one of mine – if someone started a conversation about playing basketball with the President and he posted this as a reply – it would violate our guidelines as advertising.

Quora’s Guidelines and Stance

This wasn’t posted on my community, though, this was posted on Quora. They are less strict on self-promotion than many others. However, a document posted on their website says that self-promotion “is permitted only in the context of a sincere, helpful, and direct response, otherwise it is considered to be spam.” Furthermore, “self-promotional links that do not form a part of a direct and helpful response to the question are not allowed in answers.”

I don’t see how the President’s answer is sincere and helpful in relation to the question. In general, it may be, but not in specific relation to the question asked. Even if it is considered both of those things, it is hard to consider it a “direct response” to the question, which has nothing to do with sports injuries, let alone health insurance, let alone HealthCare.gov.

That said, guidelines come down to interpretation. That isn’t my job, but the job of Quora admins. Responding to concerns from the community, one such admin, Tatiana Estévez, did respond and said that the answer did not violate any policies. So that’s the final word on that.

Is it a Quality Contribution to Quora?

But even if it is not a violation of Quora guidelines, it is very hard to argue that it is a quality answer (how brand representatives should engage on Quora), which is what the President should be posting on Quora. Before anyone says “that’s not the President,” I realize that, but they are posting under his name so, for all intents and purposes, that is the President.

Here’s a simple exercise. If you were to substitute “topical sports cream” for “health insurance” and “IcyHot” for “HealthCare.gov,” how does the answer look?

There Isn’t Necessarily a Right or Wrong Answer

I didn’t write about this to suggest that there is a right or a wrong answer here because I feel like both answers are justifiable. If it violates your guidelines, you remove it for consistency. If it doesn’t violate your guidelines, great. But even if it violates your guidelines, exceptions can always be made and if you decide to make one for the President, that’s OK. I can see the argument that it helps you more than it hurts you and the line of “this isn’t OK, unless you are the President” is a fairly high standard, just like I can see the argument that allowing it to happen sets a bad precedent.

It is easier to make a decision if it isn’t you. If you don’t have the President wanting to use your platform, it’s a lot easier to talk about how you would do it or to take some bold stance (“we’d never allow that!”). On a related note, Reddit CEO Yishan Wong criticized the answer, and his community hosted the President a few months after he became CEO.

I also didn’t write this to suggest that the President or his team did anything wrong, though I will say that this may not have been the best way to get the message across on Quora.

The question is probably moot because the President probably won’t catch you by surprise. If the President is going to use your platform to communicate, there is a fair chance that his team is reaching out to you in advance. That will then give you an opportunity to outline some basic guidelines on what is OK and what is not. While I am only speculating, I think it is more likely than not that his team reached out to Quora to ask them if him using their community to promote the ACA would be OK. Which is totally understandable and their decision.

While it may not be a simple yes or no question, it is an interesting situation for community managers to ponder.