Developing a network of professionals is obviously important to personal branding, as this topic has been covered on the Student Branding Blog many times before.
Just making new contacts is not enough, though. For your network to be effective, you must keep in touch with contacts and continue to demonstrate sincere interest in whatever is going on in their lives, professionally or personally.
To be honest, this is not a strength of mine. I love meeting new people and enjoy hearing what friends are up to, but I’m energized by being alone, not by being social. So if left to my own devices, I will more often than not choose to spend time on a hobby or hang out with a few close friends instead of being super social.
It’s important, then, that I make a conscious effort to incorporate more relationship-building activities into my routine.
Tips to help even the non-super social individual build meaningful connections
Sending snail mail
Getting snail mail that isn’t junk mail makes my day, because it rarely happens. Though I appreciate a message posted on my Facebook page, an actual card or letter via mail really stands out.
Keep track of your contacts’ birthdays and drop them a note when their birthdays come around. Holidays are good for this, too. If you really want to stand out, send a snail mail note for no reason at all and you won’t have to compete with the other b-day and holiday card senders. It’s a thoughtful gesture that tells the recipient you are willing to do a little extra to brighten their day.
Pay attention to updates on social networks and send a follow-up message
With information feeds, status updates, tweets and whatnot, it is relatively easy to stay on top of your contacts’ activities. Instead of just reading these updates and navigating on, take time to send a message to someone to congratulate them on a new position or inquire about a project they mentioned.
LinkedIn makes this super easy. In the “Profile Updates” section of your home page, you can click “Send a message” underneath a contact’s update and a message with a congratulatory subject line automatically pops up for you to personalize and complete. Simple.
Visit and comment on contacts’ blogs
Bloggers purposely and visibly discuss their ideas, opinions, and/or current projects. If individuals in your network have their own blog, take advantage of the opportunity to touch base with them by leaving a comment or emailing them with a question or contribution.
Does commenting on a blog make you nervous? Check out these suggestions for better comment-writing.
Connect on Twitter
If you are someone who posts your own updates on Twitter and reads those of others but rarely reaches out, make an effort to do more connecting one-on-one. It takes only a few moments to send a quick @reply or Direct Message to someone via Twitter, so ask someone how they’re doing or comment on something they tweeted about. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll reach out more often. By popping up in a contact’s “Mentions” page, you’ll remain on his/her radar.
Schedule reminders to touch base
Whatever system you use to keep track of your calendar, schedule some time to connect with people. Or, set a reminder to contact someone on a specific day – most email or electronic calendar systems have this feature.
For example, if I know someone has an important meeting, project due or article to write, I’ll schedule a reminder so I don’t forget to ask how it went. It’s not that I don’t want to or can’t remember on my own; it’s just too important to forget, so a reminder never hurts – especially when my work and/or personal life is extra busy.
…Or, take advantage of otherwise wasted, non-scheduled time
Waiting for the bus? Sitting in a cab? Hanging out in the doctor’s office waiting room? These are great times to leave a voicemail or send a quick email or text to to let a contact know you are thinking of them.
Send regular email updates
When I was studying abroad, I would regularly send mass emails to friends and family to update them on my latest adventures. Instead of repeatedly sharing the highlights of my time overseas, I could easily share them once with everyone I cared about.
There’s really no reason why you can’t continue to do this as part of “regular” (non-study abroad) life. Sure, the frequency of updates may decrease and news of your promotion might not be quite as dramatic or exciting as international travel can be, but sending a personal newsletter is one option to keep many contacts updated at once. The key is to limit updates to a tolerable number and to make sure the message is well-organized, concise, and consistent with your personal brand. Do not simply push your own agenda. Instead, encourage those on the recipient list to respond with any news they want to share.
Maintaining the personal touch
Although these tactics may initially seem insincere, too robotic, or as if they take away from the thoughtfulness of a spontaneous call or message, using them does not make someone any less interested in maintaining connections. Being deliberate about staying connected means you consider relationships important enough to put in well-planned and conscious efforts to ensure they do not deteriorate over time, even if relationship-building doesn’t energize you or come naturally.
Ultimately, you want contacts to know that they matter to you and you’re thinking of them. Find ways to remind them of this, and you’re on your way to a stronger, more effective network.
Kelly is a career advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she assists undergraduate business students with all aspects of their career development. Kelly received her masters degree in Higher Education/Student Personnel Administration from New York University, and her bachelors degree from UW-Madison, where she majored in Political Science and Women’s Studies. Connect with Kelly on Twitter, LinkedIn orBrazenCareerist.