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In my view one of the most positive things the Internet and its host of associated web applications has fostered is our ability to collaborate over space and time.
Many organizations have tapped the power of online meetings, shared virtual workspace and file sharing, but few take a holistic view of the new social strategic reality of the collaboration universe.
Since we now have the ability to collaborate with anyone, anywhere, we need to start looking at the various groups or segments present in our businesses with an eye on developing business processes that take full advantage of our innate need and ability to collaborate.
This view of collaboration is partly tool based and partly systems thinking based. It is more than an efficient way to get work done; it’s an entirely new way to think about engaging your markets, building connection and community, and empowering your staff to more effectively deliver on your marketing promise.
Our collaboration universe community includes prospects, customers, suppliers, advisors, partners and competitors.
Finding ways to systematically employ collaboration at every level of your business is not really that difficult when you shift your mind to this way of thinking.
Rate and review – by allowing your prospects to voice their opinions and rate their likes and dislikes with simple scripts like Get Satisfaction you can begin to engage them in your marketing content and message in more dynamic ways.
Public customer service – using tools such as twitter to provide customer service is a tremendous way to publicly demonstrate to prospects that you do indeed deliver as promised
Comments – by creating and adding content to a blog you can utilize the software’s built in collaboration features, or a more active commenting system like Disqus or Echo to engage prospects in a conversation and effectively collaborate on the creation of content
Success Stories – Using low cost video hosting services such as YouTube, or Vimeo audio from audio acrobat) you can capture testimonials and case studies from customers and make it very easy for them to collaborate in telling your marketing story.
Account Management – Using tools such as Basecamp or Mavenlink you can manage complete client engagements and project including the orchestration of multiple suppliers involved in task completion. Project management tools also give the added benefit of streamlined communication management.
Peer2Peer Selling – By creating in person or web based panel discussions with active customers mixed with prospects using tools such as GoToMeeting or Simple Event you can engage your customers in the education process and create peer2peer collaboration and expertise sharing
Marketing Board – Inviting active customers to formally participate in the development of marketing and business strategies, including simple things such as advising on visuals, is a collaboration strategy that can benefit all involved. Using the new Facebook grouping capabilities for group chat or a tool such as colaab to convene your marketing board
Survey – Getting feedback from your customers via a tool like SurveyGizmo or SurveyMonkey is a great way to measure performance and gain insight into new opportunities
Workshop Partners – Tap your strategic partner network to create and conduct education based online seminars that can benefit your client base. Sliderocket lets you create and conduct feature rich presentations and services from Wirecast can turn your presentations into full scale media productions.
Podcast – Interview your strategic partners and record each session to create content for your web site and extend the content with low cost transcriptions. I use Skype to conduct and record my calls and then host and stream them with Libsyn. For transcriptions I prefer Casting Words.
Network Blog – Create a blog featuring each of your strategic partners as contributors in their specialty and co-market your blog as an industry or community resource. WordPress with the Author Exposed Plug-in is a great set-up for a group blog.
Project Collaboration – Use online tech tools such as Office Live Workspace or Google Apps to bring together providers for project management with shared customers and real-time collaboration
Closing Loops – Collaborate more efficiently by using tools such as Backboard or proofHQ that allow you and your staff to proof, rate, review and approve work from providers
File Sharing – Sometimes you collaborate on large files that need to be updated and changed often. Giving providers access to the latest versions of files that can be checked out and checked in to ensure accurate revisions is handled nicely by tools such as dropbox and box.net.
Brainstorming – Public and private brainstorming with staff using a mind mapping tool like mindmeister is a great way to build resources and tap the collective knowledge of your entire staff.
Operations Manual – You know you need one, so let the staff easily build an operations manual using the simple wiki technology of a tool like Central Desktop or PBWiki. This way your manual can be built, viewed and updated on the fly by entire staff.
Task Management – Using a total business management application such as Daylite allows you to keep tasks, emails, projects, calendars and notes in sync across an entire team.
Communication – There are some great tools, such at Jott that turns voice memos into email, Meebo chat, and Yammer group twitter tool, that allow your staff to quickly collaborate, communicate, and keep each other in the loop at all times
And for the mother of all collaboration resources I point you to new media pioneer Robin Good’s public mind map of over 150 collaboration tools neatly grouped by function.