Facebook and Twitter get a lot of the credit for all of the conversation that is going on around the web these days, and they certainly account for a great deal of it. Still there is public conversation happening in many other channels - blogs, Q&A sites, news sites, YouTube, other social networks, and forums.
Google's newly redesigned SERPs place a great deal of emphasis on conversations, as I mentioned in this article about optimizing for this new design. There is increased emphasis on social search and real-time search, which both utilize Facebook and Twitter to a great extent, but I want to talk about the Discussions option.
When a user chooses to view Google's "Discussions" results for a query, they are presented with options for time: anytime, past hour, past 24 hours, past week, past month, past year, and custom range. They're presented with sorting options: by relevance or by date. They're presented with options for all discussions, forums, or Q&As. They can refine this even further by filtering for discussions of any length, short, medium, or long. In addition, they can sort by standard results, sites with images, and page previews, and by all results and results from nearby locations. That's some pretty deep down drilling.
Anyway, no matter which parameters you choose to search by under discussions, the non-everything options are Forums and Q&A.
Businesses looking for increased exposure and visibility ought to consider answering questions from consumers in areas that they are qualified. This has always been something to consider for a successful online marketing strategy, as forums and Q&A sites not only attract targeted traffic, but appear in search results, not to mention it just helps you sell your expertise in your line of work. The difference now is increased visibility. Google's search options may not be new, but they're more visible now, and you can pretty much count on them getting used a lot more.
Q&A sites are also not new, but lately it seems that we're seeing an increased focus on them from a variety of players. Yahoo, the top Q&A site recently served its billionth answer, but others are bringing different elements to the Q&A table. Some are integrating local business listings with them to provide. Others are finding their own unique spin. Google itself even purchased Q&A property Aardvark recently. It will be interesting to see if this becomes more heavily integrated with the Discussions option.
Read more about why forum participation can benefit your marketing strategy here.