Here are two graphs from some data we scraped last month.
The first graph shows the average number of replies based upon the words used in the subject line.
Posts that have ‘what’ in the subject line get 3x more replies (on average) than any other type of ‘question word’.
This might lead some to conclude you should post more questions with the word ‘what’ and encourage members to do the same.
But take a look at the second graph.
This shows the word ‘how’ shows up almost 6x more frequently than ‘what’.
Two simple theories here.
The first is fairly obvious. Far more people want to know how to do something as opposed to learning what to do.
The second is more interesting. It’s clearly a lot easier to reply to ‘what…?’ questions than ‘how…?’ questions.
When you respond to a what…? question you’re usually giving an opinion. Opinions are fun to give and don’t require much effort or expertise.
But replying to a how…? question is harder. It requires genuine expertise to walk people through the steps of doing a task. It takes more time and effort. Fewer people possess both.
This is a classic example of where the tactics which drive the most engagement don’t drive the most value.
Sure you can post more what..? questions and probably get more responses. But you deliver more value to members by asking, responding to, (and nurturing experts to respond to) the how…? questions.