E-mail stinks for collaboration. No matter how many Outlook folders you create and quirky naming trends you invent to keep document versions straight, you can't change the facts: E-mail in general (and Outlook, in particular) is a clunky way to manage evolving documents, discussions and intellectual property (IP). And it also fails to tap into the broader collective knowledge in your company, contacts, customers and industry. It is like applying 1990s, AOL-CD-in-the-mail-for-your-dial-up-Internet technology to the age of the cloud.
Luckily for us, social media provides a broad set of tools and platforms that can help you leverage the collective IQ of a broader set of collaborators-all while operating in the cloud, above the maze of file folders in Outlook, your desktop and intranet.
"Aha!" you say. "So that's what all of this talk of the cloud is for!"
Yes. But before getting too excited about all of the opportunities for utilizing Squidoo to get pulled pork tenderloin BBQ recipes and Hootsuite to follow Shaq's every move, let's focus on how social media can help you collaborate on your pressing work requirements. In other words, how can social media make you a better employee? How can it make you the one who gets praised by management for being in touch with technology-and the one who gets promoted? (And the one who can then afford to buy that new car with built-in Twitter functionality.)
Social media and collaboration
The strength of social media for business collaboration is in two areas: First, it helps you work more efficiently with the people on your team. Second, it helps you get valuable feedback from a larger group of people in your company, field, role, region or customer base.
On the first point, no one would argue that the combination of e-mail, conference calls and documents on the intranet is a very effective way to work together. With that challenge in mind, Google put a team of developers on the case to answer the question, "If e-mail were invented today, what would it look like?"
Their result, although still in a very restricted access beta mode, is Google Wave. Google Wave combines the best of documents, instant messaging (IM), e-mail and wikis. It's a tool that lets cross-functional teams spread over time zones collaborate in real time, literally seeing each other's typing take place. Google Wave is in beta and it's got a long way to go before prime time. But once they work out the kinks (and this is Google, so they will work out the kinks eventually), it could be a great tool for businesses.