Crowdsourcing can be one of the most effective tools in your collaboration tool box to provide the benefit of collaborative solution delivery, engaging extended partners in your network and developing new partners for your network.  Crowdsourcing incorporates social networking tools into a framework that will quickly and efficiently engage participants to resolve a business challenge. The nature of crowdsourcing aligns with collaboration and supports the maintenance and development of your collaborative network.  It is important to incorporate a range of tools in your collaborative tool box in order to efficiently and effectively maintain and extend your network partnerships. 

Developing and maintaining your collaborative network is one of the most difficult factors in delivering long term value and benefits to the network.  You must overcome the natural tendencies for your partners to drift away and eventually abandon the network.  I think the most effective and even efficient methods to maintain the network is to encourage participation and then make that participation easy and interesting.  Providing a framework supporting easy and interesting participation can be difficult and requires the addition of a tool to support.  This framework is crowdsourcing and the tools are social networking tools.

A good example of a crowdsourcing framework is the hash tag communications practice in Twitter, that has spilled over now into so many areas of communications and networking.  The concept is very simple; define a topic as a hash tag and then all communications that include that hash tag can be tracked as one group for response and information.  This concept has been around for a very long time, from the grocery public notice board to email groups and chat groups, Twitter however has really taken the concept one leap forward by introducing the method to social networking and providing a tool that will broadcast the information, questions, comments publicly for the world to react.

I am referencing Twitter here to clarify the concept and the methods for developing your crowdsourcing framework, obviously you would not want to use an open public social networking framework for your extended partner collaboration framework.  However, I suggest that you should use the Twitter capabilities as your requirements starting point when you are going through your own crowdsourcing definition and tool selection process.  I also suggest that you focus on open and free networking tools to start with as you are developing your methods and process.  These tools should be easy to use and free so that your partners are encouraged to try. 

In order to be successful in developing the crowdsourcing collaboration across your extended partner network you must first eliminate as many hurdles and objections that you can.  Cost, availability and ease of use are three key hurdles that must be overcome.  I suggest following the Twitter model as your framework because it brings ease of use.  Then free networking tools address the remaining two hurdles; cost and availability.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

How do you incorporate the different methods of communication to support your collaborative network needs and objectives?  Do you have a formal maintenance communication plan that your partners have participated in developing?  How does the informal communications methods impact and support the formal communications?  Have you developed an evaluation plan for your communications methods, a type of continuous improvement process for your communication methods and communications plans?