In Networking in the 21st Century, I spend a lot of time looking at the importance of follow up. The key to powerful networking is relationship-building. And relationships aren’t transactional, so your networking has to be more than just one-time encounters.
To ensure that this happens, it’s important to create processes and systems that allow you to touch base with your networking contacts on a regular basis.
This is where technology can really help. Social media and digital tools can give you an easy way to maintain you connections over time.
Technology Tips to Become a Relational Networker
1. Capture contact information
As you meet more and more individuals, it will get harder to keep track of everyone. In Networking in the 21st Century I look at the mental limits on how many relationships we can manage (only about 150).
For you to be successful with your networking, you’re going to have to outsource your memory. Just like you don’t remember phone numbers because you have them saved in your contact list, you’ll want to use technology to remember who you know and your conversations with them.
It is going to be helpful if you choose one location to keep the contact information of everyone you meet. It gets messy to have some of your network tracked on your email platform, some on LinkedIn, some on Twitter, and some in a stack of business cards in your desk drawer. There should be one place where all of your contact information “lives”.
2. Create follow up habits
The work involved in staying in contact with a large network will overwhelm you easily. Create specific processes, systems, and habits that will ensure that you actually follow through on your follow up. If you have to continually reinvent the wheel, it will be exhausting and things will fall through the cracks.
When you meet someone new, go through the same steps to input them into your “database”, e.g. first put their contact info into your Google Contacts, then send them a LinkedIn invitation, then see if they are on Twitter, and then set a reminder to shoot them an email in two months.
For your regular emails and other messages, create templates that you can cut/paste and customize so that you can send them out with a minimum amount of effort. Monitor your social media newsfeeds at a regular time, instead of checking in multiple times every day.
Other shortcuts can help as well. For example, I have an email rule that automatically puts newsletters or announcements from my networking connections into a separate email folder so I can easily scan through them once a week.
3. Listen to your network
That’s why the first step in engaging on LinkedIn is Concentration. As in, “concentrate on your network…pay attention to them!”
Having a solid networking relationship doesn’t mean that you have to be someone’s best friend, but you want to make sure that there is a mutual exchange of information. Just as you share information that is important to you, they are putting out information that is important to them.
This is where social media can be a great place to stay in touch with a broad network. Be sure to regularly scan platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to see what your network is talking about.
One important caveat: Don’t rely on social status updates as your sole means of follow up! Social media has given us a fantastic way to stay in touch with a broad base of people, but it has some limitations. First of all, not everyone is going to check into all the platforms with the same frequency. Also, increasingly intrusive algorithms mean that not everyone is going to see your updates in their feed, and you aren’t going to see theirs. So use social media as an important cog in the machine, but don’t use it exclusively.
4. Remember the power of face-to-face follow-up
A very simple process for keeping in touch with your network is to continue to attend industry and networking events, even after you’ve met many of the members. It’s an easy way to reconnect with a large number of people in just a few hours.
It’s also valuable to spend a small part of each week engaging in one-on-one networking activities. Grabbing coffee or lunch is a useful way to spend 45 minutes on relationship-building, even if you only meet with the person a few times a year. Put a reminder in your calendar to follow up with someone right after you meet with them. That reminder might not be for 1, 2, 3, or even 6 months, but you’ll be sure to maintain the relationship over time.