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5 Tools for Harnessing the Power of We #bad12

Today is blog action day, and this year’s theme is “The Power of We.” But for some of us, harnessing that power is a major challenge.

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Image courtesy stock.xchng user srpatel

One of the most common complaints of bloggers I speak to is that they want to collaborate more effectively with their audience members, customers, or readers, but also with other bloggers in their niche, industry leaders, mentors, and more.

To me, collaboration is as much about attitude and personality as it is about process. That said, tools can make a big impact on how well we collaborate. So many of us work alone, or with collaborators in different cities, regions, or timezones, that collaborative tools are a necessity.

So in this post I want to show you five common tools that we use to help us collaborate here at ProBlogger, and to show you how we use them. While we’re not exactly pushing the envelope in terms of the way we do things, I hope that these ideas might help you try some new approaches with your own collaboration, and prompt you to share your own tips with us in the comments.

1. Email—and email redirects

Like many bloggers, all my blogs’ email addresses were funnelled to my own email address for years. But as my blogs grew, that arrangement became less and less feasible—I became swamped with email, and managing reading and responses became a massive burden.

Despite that, I really believe email is a useful collaboration tool. It’s had some pretty bad press in the last few years, but it has many advantages—including the fact that it doesn’t require you to coordinate time with the person you’re emailing (like a call or IM does), and that most email programs store email, providing a handy archive of conversations that, again, aren’t always available for real-time conversations.

One thing I’ve done recently is to set up email redirects to various members of my team, so that they receive the emails they need to respond to directly, rather than having me forward them on. It sounds elementary, but for the solo blogger, handing over that level of control can be daunting. I’d recommend it, though—once you’ve trained up your team members so that they, and you, know what to expect from each other, this is a good way to streamline your processes.

It means that the people who approach my blogs as writers or collaborators get a quicker, more personal response, but it also means that I can spend the time I used to spend sifting email collaborating with others. For me, more efficient email management means I can focus on opportunities to collaborate.

2. Basecamp

My team uses Basecamp quite a bit, particularly in the process of creating products. For example:

  • To-do lists: we might use these to set and manage tasks associated with product development
  • Projects: we use the discussion-thread-style “Projects” to manage discussion around projects, though it’s often supplemented by email
  • Whiteboards: these can be handy for scoping and brainstorming product ideas and topics as a team.

Again, one of the benefits of Basecamp and tools like it is that your collaborators don’t need to be online simultaneously, so you can get a lot done without having to fit it into everyone’s schedules at the same time. It also provides an excellent record of the evolution of product ideas, strategy, or whatever you’re using it to discuss.

Combine Basecamp with something like Dropbox for exchanging really large files, and you have a good system for creating products collaboratively, wherever your colleagues are located.

3. Google Docs/Drive

Google Docs—or Google Drive, in its new incarnation—is another good tool for collaboration on posts (with authors and content managers), sales content (with marketers), and more.

Like email and Basecamp, Google Docs allows for solid collaboration over elapsed time, but importantly, it has a great real-time editing feature, that lets you collaborate with others simultaneously on the same document.

This can be especially handy in high-pressure situations—when you’re trying to nail your sales copy in the hours leading up to a product launch or announcement, for example. You might combine Google Chat (or some other IM tool—or even a live phone or Skype call) with real-time editing to explain your copy tweaks to your collaborator as you make them, then watch as they tweak your tweaks!

This can also apply to your collaboration with authors on posts, or even with your accountant on your budget spreadsheet. If you haven’t tried real-time editing yet, have a look and see how it might fit your collaborative style.

4. Skype and Call Recorder

My team uses Skype a fair bit, not just for meeting calls, but also as an instant messenger tool. Despite being slightly notorious for sound quality issues, we find Skype pretty reliable for collaborating in real time. Since most of my team members work from home, we can also usually arrange to meet within reasonably short notice if we need to. (Though if Skype’s being flaky, you can always try a Google Hangout instead.)

One of the tasks that Skype’s proved very handy for is content creation. We’ve used it, combined with the tool Call Recorder, many times to interview topic experts for blog posts and products we’ve created.

Recording interviews like this can give you a lot of material that you can reuse in posts and other content you’re developing—with the interviewee’s permission, of course. And that’s material you’d never remember from an unrecorded conversation, or be able to get through an emailed, Q-and-A-style interview.

5. Social media

You may not have been expecting this one to be on the list! But social media can be a great collaborative tool.

I’ve mentioned before that I use Google+ to engage with readers and others through longer form content than I can post on Facebook or Twitter, and Jade mentioned recently how we’re engaging with potential DPS contributors through Pinterest.

Engagement is the first step in collaboration. I’ve found a good number of authors through social media collaboration—and not just by contacting, or being contacted by, those people myself. Often my team members will spot something or someone on social media, DM me about it, and spark a collaboration that way.

The other advantage of social media has been as a collaborative content creation mechanism in itself—on G+ I’ll post an idea or perspective, get feedback and input from my connections on that network, build on those extra ideas, then use everything I’ve learned as the basis for a post on either ProBlogger or DPS.

I have a hunch that some bloggers still see social media as a promotional platform, and—at most—somewhere to engage with individual readers for a short period of real-time before they disappear into the ether again. But if you let it, social media can fit into your collaborative toolset in a really productive, rich way.

Harnessing the power of we

These are just five tools that my team and I use to harness the power of we on an ongoing basis. If you’ve heard about certain tools, and think they might be helpful for you, but haven’t give them a try yet, I’d really encourage you to do so.

You don’t have to commit yourself to them for life, but if you can just give them a go, you might discover that they do a lot to help you harness the power of we with collaborators around your blog.

What tools—or other offline approaches—are you using to harness the power of we in your blogging? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.