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Posted on Sun, Feb 24, 2013 : 6 a.m.

Mix your networking medium to keep your contacts engaged

By Greg Peters

You've scheduled in your regular networking time. You've got your log to track what you are doing. You've got your list of people to contact. Now there's only one thing left to do.

Decide how you're going to do it.

There are so many different mechanisms you can use these days, it can be a bit overwhelming to even think of it, so we tend to fall back on only one or two. For the longest time, my main system involved calling people. It worked and there were a lot of positives to the practice, but there were one or two limitations, too. Let's take a look at some of the options.

  1. Email: Upside: Easy to do. Very rarely will you meet someone without an email address. You can send out one in a fairly short time, allowing you to get more contacts in the same amount of time. Downside: It can feel somewhat impersonal. Everyone knows it's easy to do. To counter this, you may have to spend a little more time making it as personal as possible. Bring up details about the person that you know through your association with them.
  2. Phone: Upside: Much more personal. Much easier method when you are trying to plan something (such as a coffee or lunch). Back and forth on emails can take days whereas a phone call can take only a few minutes. Downside: Takes longer than an email and can be seen as intrusive. Not everyone has time for a prolonged phone call. To mitigate this, be sure always to ask whether this is a convenient time to talk.
  3. Voicemail: Don't even try to tell me that you haven't hoped at one time or another that you would get someone's voicemail. Upside: Time requirements of email with the personality of a phone call. Downside: Hard to predict when you will get to use this mechanism. No interactivity — they hear you, but you can't find out anything about them. Also, some people get nervous when being recorded. Be sure to practice your voicemail technique. I recommend leaving your number at the beginning and at the end of the message.
  4. Text messaging: Upside: Especially good when dealing with a younger audience. Time requirements are almost nil. Downside: Limited message size. Even less personal than email.
  5. Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter/etc: Upside: There is a social media site for almost every demographic you could want to contact. Once primarily for the young, now almost everyone under the age of 65 is available somewhere. Downside: Still fairly impersonal, though many will reveal more information about themselves. Largely ineffective with the 65+ market, as they are vastly underrepresented on the social media sites. Also, if you aren't careful, the sheer amount of information that any given site generates can be a huge time suck with no significant return on your time investment. To combat this, set strict time limits and specific tasks to accomplish while engaged with the site.
  6. Handwritten note or letter: Upside: Definitely stands out. Almost no one sends anything handwritten anymore. A well-crafted letter can make someone feel like they are on top of the world. Downside: Can be time-consuming. Less convenient than email unless you develop a system so that you always have stationary, envelopes, pen, and stamps on hand. I've heard of a few approaches for this, including keeping a box of pre-stamped envelops and stationery in the car.
  7. In person: Obviously you'll almost always have to use one of the other methods in order to arrange the face-to-face meeting, but after that... Upside: Very personal and interactive. This is where you are likely to find out the most in depth information about your networking contact. You almost can't get to the "Trust" level without at least some one-to-one time. Downside: Much more time-consuming than any other method. Juggling schedules and locations can be a pain if you are both busy people (and who isn't?).

There are so many different ways of maintaining your contact with your network. Make use of more of them to not only maintain your own interest, but also to leave your network always wondering where you are going to turn up next.

Greg Peters, founder of The Reluctant Networker LLC, writes, speaks and coaches about good networking practice. For more tips that can help your connections count, go to 52-tips.thereluctantnetworker.com.