As I typically do at the end of every year, I spent some time in December ‘cleaning up’ my LinkedIn account. Specifically, my goal was to look through my 1200+ contacts and take inventory of which of these ‘connections’ I actually knew; understand how we were connected; remember if we ever had a ‘real-world’ interaction; and cull those that were no longer appropriate. Eventually, I found myself laughing out loud at the irony of using technology to assess my relationship status with others and to determine if these are in fact people I should be ‘connected to.’
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Technology is a wonderful tool for maintaining the many and diverse relationships in our lives and our business social networking circles. However, I suggest we may have a problem when it becomes the sole and exclusive manifestation of those relationships.
An Idea Is Born
Back in 2008, I read a New York Times Magazine article about a gentleman who tried to host a ‘real-life’ gathering for his 700 Facebook friends. Almost nobody showed up.
Since my objective was to clean up my LinkedIn contact list, I decided to turn this mundane task into an adventure. Instead of scrolling through pages on a website, I would actually initiate contact with everyone on my list. A real-life interaction (or an absence of one) would serve as the litmus test for keeping or removing each contact.
If I couldn’t meet with someone on this list, even briefly by phone I reasoned, we probably shouldn’t be connected. Whether I couldn’t reach them or decided to avoid them or they didn’t want to meet with me; failure to connect would signal the end of these online business relationships.
I set aside ten ‘catch-up’ conversation slots every week for three months reasoning this would get me through the first 120 or so. My LinkedIn contacts were exported to a spreadsheet and I select 50 at a time for import into Salesforce.com where they are queued for a call from my assistant, whose task is to reach out with the goal of securing a brief 15 – 20 minute phone (or in some cases, in person) meeting. The stated purpose of our meeting is a catch up conversation or, if appropriate, an introductory call.
The First 50 Were Easy…
My plan requires getting through all 1200 connections, and the targets are chosen 50 at a time. Not surprisingly, identifying the first fifty was simple. My selections tended to be old friends, business acquaintances, past customers, as well as a sycophant or two. As soon as the first group was complete – within about two weeks with a 100% connection success rate I should add – it was time to identify group two.
Starting from the top, I noticed myself passing over individuals for a second time. I didn’t think much of this and didn’t have any problem coming up with the requisite 50 before reaching the end of the list.
Another two weeks passed again with 100% success and I embarked on my third pass. Once again, my journey began at the top of the list, but this time I reached the bottom of my spreadsheet with only 32 names selected. Had I just run through a list of roughly 1,100 (remaining) connections and managed to come up 18 short?
This caught me by surprise, and I considered a couple of causes of my predicament:
– Some of the 1,068 remaining possibilities were people I didn’t know or couldn’t remember.
– There were people with whom a potential conversation seemed tedious or just plain annoying.
These two factors alone couldn’t account for the shortfall so what else could be going on? Surely call reluctance and resistance weren’t to blame? After all, I was selecting people for somebody else to call!
Catching Up With Old Friends and Making New Ones
More than anything, this effort has allowed me to connect with people I hadn’t spoken to in a long time. This has been the best part of the experience and in itself made the project worthwhile.
Connecting with people is not only rewarding for me, it turns out THEY appreciate it as well. After all, doesn’t it make you feel good when someone says: “I was just thinking about you and wanted to reach out.” Overwhelmingly, the response has been, “So great to hear from you. I really appreciate you reaching out.” It’s even better when I share the bigger picture story of what I am doing and it inspires them to reach out as well.
Wrestling With Anxiety and Avoidance
I’ll just come out and say it: I was nervous about calling some of the people in my business social networking group. This seemed strange considering I was using a database of those who were supposedly friends and business relationships.
I categorized the anxiety I felt in a couple of ways:
1) Selfishness: Do I even feel like talking to this person? Are they worth my time? Will I be able to get off the phone? Are they going to start asking me to help them, etc.?
2) Insecurity: Would they even take my call? What would Marisa say to explain why I was calling? Would they find my assistant calling rude? Would they bristle at the thought of such an informal meeting?
3) Humility: Would people think I’m just looking for referrals or would they spend our time together trying to figure out my ‘angle?’ Since the list includes people I don’t know and there are some I know I connected with simply because of their network, did I need to confess this if we met?
Crazy right? I train others to prospect and am not afraid to pick up the phone and cold-call anyone yet was experiencing anxiety and resistance myself.
Moving Through My Resistance
The irony, of course, is that some of my best calls have been with those I was most reluctant to put on the list in the first place. To manage my reluctance, I simply redoubled my commitment.
Back to the top of the list I went, more aware than before, of those I passed over and why. At this point, there are some I’ve skipped 3 or 4 times already. It’s going to be interesting to see whether I am able to work through this reluctance or follow through on my plan to sever our connection.
When I share this project with others, everyone asks the same question: “Has anyone said no?” I am happy to report the answer is yes and her name is Judy.
Judy is a Denver based sales recruiter whom I have known of for at least 15 years. We have never spoken or met in person or emailed.
When Marisa called to set a meeting, Judy’s response went something like this: “I don’t know who he is or what the point of the conversation would be.”
To which Marisa replied: “Well you are connected on LinkedIn and Townsend is looking to reach out and connect with his Network.”
Judy answered: “I am an executive recruiter and have lots of connections. I don’t have the time for those kinds of meetings.”
We used to share 63 connections.
You Should Try This At Home
I know you’re thinking: “I don’t have time for something like this, and I certainly don’t have an assistant.” Let me assure you this is not a complex undertaking and you probably won’t ever need to pick up the phone.
If you want to keep it simple, all you need to do is come up with a short email. In this email, let them know you want to catch up for 20 minutes by phone and suggest three time slots on your calendar. I guarantee you will get at least a 50% response rate from this alone. They will either reply saying: “Great, let me catch up, this time works” or suggest another time.
A Challenge (or Polite Suggestion Depending On How You Look At It)
As one of my long time connections said: “I am going to make 2013 the year for personal connections.”
Why not use all this cool technology at our disposal to do what human beings are supposed to do – interact with one another.
I really want to encourage you to give this a try. Of course, I’d like you to reach out to everyone in your business social networking circle, so why not start by picking 20 people you wouldn’t otherwise call and make a personal commitment to reconnecting with them.
Engaging with others outside of a 100% purposeful context is fun and makes you feel good. Who knows, you might even pick up some business along the way.
Don’t forget to leave a comment sharing your experiences.
By Townsend Wardlaw