If you're running a small business, one of your biggest allies is the freelancer or the remote worker—even if she's not at your doorstep (which she increasingly isn't).

But if you have multiple remote workers, building enterprise "culture" and camaraderie can be a real challenge.

Enter social collaboration tools, which help company teams stay engaged, manage projects/tasks, share documents, or collaborate, usually via the Web. (Take our beloved Podio, which lets users customize dashboards for maximum productivity.)

Today, social collaboration services are more intuitive, less expensive, and way easier to access than ever before. Sharlyn Lauby explains what they are, and why they're important to entrepreneurs, at the American Express Open Forum blog.

  • Large companies favor in-house solutions like those by Small Worlders, which has built platforms for companies like Heineken, Ogilvy, Nestlé, and P&G. Cost is a minimal issue, and security is their primary concern.
  • Small companies, like Web publications, often get by with little more than Yammer, an internal Twitter-style app that favors the quickest communication possible.
  • And there's plenty of in-betweens: group-working tool Wiggio, collaboration and organization tool Tracky, and, as we previously mentioned, all-in-one tool Podio.

The most important challenge is to find the one that works best for you and your team. "We've found that if someone doesn't immediately understand how to navigate a new platform, they won't continue to use it, unless they are forced to, which leads to a negative user experience," says Wiggio's Darryl Myers. "We even test our tools on fourth graders to make sure our platform is intuitive."

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