Taking an Expanded View of Collaboration

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symphony collaborationWhen most small business owners think collaboration, they generally limit this thinking to the kind of collaboration you might naturally do with a supplier charged with completing some aspect of a larger project or perhaps a strategic partner required to mesh together a complex solution.

I would like to suggest that in today’s social media world the concept of collaboration is expanded to encompass a much more strategic role.

In fact, collaboration might just be the ultimate social play. Collaboration in this expanded view can and should include collaboration with prospects, customers, partners, providers and staff. Technology now enables any business, regardless of size, to orchestrate the marketing and management effectiveness and efficiency that a great collaborative effort can bring.

I believe that this expanded view of collaboration 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 your marketing promise.

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.

With Prospects

Rate and review – by allowing your prospects to voice their opinions and rate their likes and dislikes with simple scripts like JSKit 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 features, or a more active commenting system like Disqus, to engage prospects in a conversation and effectively collaborate on the creation of content

With Customers

Success Stories – Using low cost video (youtube, viddler) and audio (audio acrobat) tools you can capture testimonials and case studies from customers and make it very easy for them to collaborate in telling your marketing story.

Peer2Peer Selling – By creating in person or web based (iLinc, Simple Event) panel discussions with active customers mixed with prospects 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. (Basecamp, Trello)

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

With Partners

Workshop Partners – Create a network of strategic partners to both participate in and promote web based events (Calliflower, GoToWebinar)

Podcast – Interview your strategic partners and record each session to create content for your website and extend the content with low cost transcriptions. (Casting Words, Libsyn, Skype)

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 Providers

Project Collaboration – Use online tech tools such as Central Desktop, Office Live Workspace, or Google Docs to bring together providers for project management with shared customers and real-time collaboration

Closing Loops – Collaborate more efficiently by using tools such as Trello that allow you and your staff to rate, review and approve work from providers

File Sharing – Sometimes you collaborate on 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

With Staff

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.

Email Management – Using an email management tool like Email Center Pro allow you to assign email stations so multiple people can respond and manage email directed at specific requests or departments with a reporting function that lets you view all activity.

Communication – There are some great tools, such at Jottvoice memo to 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.

So, what are your favorite ways to collaborate?

Photo credit: foilman

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audio acrobat, basecampe, Central Desktop, colaab, Disqus, dropbox, Google Docs, jskit, meebo, WordPress

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