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Leveraging Tools for More Meaningful Networking

Here at FullContact, we spend a lot of time thinking about ways to be more awesome with people. Whether it’s an introduction or a business card exchange, an email or a phone call, the genesis of everything that we do is the desire to be more fully connected. Because of the time that we’ve spent, our team has come up with some great ways to use (often existing) tools for more meaningful networking, so today we’d like to share a few with you.

First thing’s first, you’ll have to understand that we’re operating from the belief that network is not a verb. Every interaction that you have is a chance to build your social capital, but it’s important to do so with the right intentions. It’s not “I’m doing this to get _____”, but rather “I’m doing this because it’s the right thing.”

So with that in mind, let’s dive in and talk about the tools that we use.

Email

Everything from business deals to relationships, life events and all points between happens over email these days. It’s probably the single biggest way that I network with people, and the “paper trail” that it provides is invaluable. But as we discussed in an earlier blog post, email is time management. If you don’t take the time to manage it, email can become an overwhelming force in the life of any professional.

For me, the liberal use of filters and auto-responders helps me to keep my sanity.

Use whatever email client you want, but I’d highly recommend one that allows for quick and easy setup of filters and folders.

As far as your quick tips, here’s what you need to keep in mind:

  1. If you can handle it in under 2 minutes, do it now.
  2. Keep your replies short. I like the 3 Sentences method.
  3. Move all task-based emails to your to-do list.
  4. File important emails that don’t require a reply.
  5. Move interesting emails to your read-later service (I like Pocket).
  6. Delete anything that you’re not using right now.
  7. Turn on auto-reply, go about your day.

Twitter

No really, hear me out for a minute. As much as people like to sling mud at Twitter, it’s one of the best networking tools I’ve ever used. But — and this is a big one — you have to use it well.

First and foremost, keep one point in mind: Twitter is not a megaphone. The goal isn’t to gather as many followers as possible, then broadcast messages and hope that someone interacts.

Twitter is a tool, like any other. But unlike many tools, Twitter gives you the ability to find out a lot of information about someone without ever crossing the “creepy line”. Twitter is where people share what’s happening through their day, and not just what they’re eating for breakfast. They’ll talk about what’s important to them, so you’d best be listening.

First and foremost, keep one point in mind: Twitter is not a megaphone.

I use lists to help keep my sanity on Twitter. Though I only follow somewhere around 300 people personally, I have lists for the different sections of my life where I follow literally thousands of different accounts. There is some overlap, such as “Product Managers” and “API People”, but largely the lists help keep my attention in buckets where I can interact as I need to.

Take some time, set up some lists (the search functions on Twitter.com and most any third-party client will help you find the right stuff) and start listening. Just remember to mind your manners when it comes time to connect.

To-Do Lists

We all tend to think of to-do lists as our taskmasters, but they can be used for so much more. Use whatever system works best for you, but I’ve found NowDoThis and my Tags function inside of FullContact to be a pretty robust combination.

Sure, schedule your daily stuff like sales reports and meetings, but make sure that you put some items onto your list for building your connections as well. I like to take the following approach, with every step going into my to-do list for the appropriate date:

  • New Connections – Follow up 1 week later, ask how I can help them, schedule next step.
  • Next Steps – Update on progress, schedule follow up. Typically 3 months.
  • Ongoing – Drop an email, tweet or phone call as scheduled on to-do list, schedule next follow-up.

As our networks grow, both personally and professionally, it can be incredibly difficult to keep up. But with a bit of forethought and some task management, you can easily have meaningful relationships with literally thousands of people.

Business Cards

Chances are, you’re probably using business cards all wrong. The goal isn’t to collect as many as possible, but rather to fully connect with the people from whom you do collect a card.

When someone hands you their card, treat it as if they are just as interested in you as you are in them. Find out about them, take a few notes on the back of their card and then make sure to do something useful with the card when you get finished with your day. We’re obviously partial to FullContact Card Reader.

You might not like them, but business cards can be an incredibly powerful tool when put to good use.

LinkedIn

Contrary to popular belief, we’re actually big fans of LinkedIn, we just wish that the company was more about connections and less about walled gardens. So to start, follow these instructions to download your LinkedIn data, including all of your first-degree connections. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait up to 72 hours, but it’s your data and you want to make sure that you have access to it.

Now that you’ve done that, it’s time for some house cleaning.

Like many people, I used to connect with just about anyone who requested over LinkedIn. But a few months ago I went through and purged everyone with whom I hadn’t worked directly, or communicated with regularly. Ever since then I’ve been more particular about what I do when I get a connection request. If I don’t know the person, I reply to their request with my personal email and I start a conversation with them. What I’ve found is that about 40% of those people are interested in truly connecting, and the rest are just grabbing numbers.

What I’ve found is that about 40% of those people are interested in truly connecting

Once you’ve purged, it’s time to change your behavior. Instead of following LinkedIn’s notoriously bad suggestions about congratulations and anniversaries, work those connections into your to-do list and start following up with them on a regular basis. That way, when it does come time to tap into the value of your network, the net worth is much higher than it could have ever been before.

Your Calendar

No I’ve not lost my mind. Yes I know that your calendar is already packed. Just hang tight for a second and hear me out.

The fact of the matter is that you’re never going to fully connect with people unless you allow time for yourself to do so. Your calendar is your weapon of choice here. Though it may seem slightly crazy, block out some time each week to keep up with your connections, both new and existing.

What’s worked well for me is 30 minutes, twice a week. We have a company rule of no standing meetings on Monday, so that affords me the chance to get in touch with people that I’ll be doing projects with through the week. On Friday, I take my 30 minutes and catch up with the people that I’ve met through the week. Sometimes it’s a phone call, but more often than not it’s an email that takes me no more than 3 minutes to type and send, while also scheduling a follow-up on my to-do list.

As easy as it is to connect with people today, the influx of new relationships can easily get overwhelming. But with just a few tools (that you’re probably already using) and a slight shift in behavior you’ll be able to take your networking from something of a chore to the building of meaningful relationships.

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