Following Up With Your Network (Even if They Drop the Ball)

Miriam Salpeter

One of the most challenging aspects of networking is you’re not usually as high a priority for them as they are for you. Consequently, you may follow all the networking “rules,” and the people you want to get to know may persist in ignoring all of your best efforts. How many times have you met great potential contacts, but you avoided requesting a meeting because it was awkward to ask? Every time you let a new networking contact vanish into the ether, you lose opportunities you’ll never know about.

People who do not get back to you are probably the most frustrating part of job search. How difficult would it really be for someone to respond to your email or call? It might even be better to receive a response that says, “I’m sorry, but I can’t meet any time in this century” than constant crickets—nothing at all.

You can avoid this radio silence by planning your in-person networking interactions with an eye on reconnecting later. Take these steps to prepare to follow up with a new contact after you meet, even if they aren’t initially receptive or responsive. When you follow this advice, you’ll know you’ve done everything you can to expand your network.

Make a Strong Personal Connection

We are more than the sum of our professional skills. Most people you meet have personal stories they are excited to share. They probably prefer to talk about their interests and hobbies over their work accomplishments and skills. When you network, make a point to find out what topics matter to people you want to get to know. How? Ask questions! For example, “What’s your favorite thing to do outside of work?” This atypical networking question may yield all kinds of interesting information to help you access a “hook” so you can follow up later.

For example, you may find your target contact is a Mets fanatic or she went to the University of Florida. She may be a photography buff or loves to play tennis, or she is a world traveler but hasn’t been to Greece. When you learn something personal about your new contacts, you earn virtual bonus points for being a good listener and asking questions. People enjoy talking about themselves. Who doesn’t want to reconnect with a good listener? You’re more likely to be remembered when you listen well and inspire people to tell you about their favorite things.

Another great idea to give you fodder to reconnect with people is the tool, “Help a Reporter Out” (HARO) (helpareporter.com). This is a free e-mail list that pushes out inquiries from reporters, bloggers, authors, and anyone seeking insights and opinions to write about. When you subscribe, you receive three e-mails per day with inquiries about everything from health and beauty to business and technology. If you see something that would be a good match for your network, forward the information and let your contacts know how to respond. They may land a mention in a media outlet as a result and have you to thank!

Keep Track of Information

Don’t let information go to waste. If you don’t have a steel trap for a memory (and who does?), jot down notes from your conversation. Use an app or paper and pen to keep track of what you learn, and follow up accordingly with links to useful blog posts or other information relevant to that person’s interests. It’s one thing for someone to ignore your call when they know you’re asking for a meeting they don’t have time to give you, but it’s another thing when you’re sending an article about great deals to Greece for someone who has that trip on her bucket list. Be a resource for your network, and you will increase your follow-up response rate.

Ask How to Get in Touch

The best networking follow up ends with a simple question: “What is the best way to get in touch later in the week?” Your new contact will let you know his or her preferred method, whether its phone, e-mail, text, or another way. When you know the answer to this question, it’s much easier, and less frustrating, to follow up. In addition, secure the best contact information for following up. That may mean asking for a business card or simply jotting down the correct spelling of a new contact’s name, along with a title or company name.

Send a Thank You Note

This basic step is especially relevant and helpful if you’ve attended someone’s event or party. Hopefully, you said “thank you” and told the organizer or host how much you enjoyed the occasion when you left, but a personal note in the mail is a nice touch. If you’re saying thank you for a party, send a hand-written note or card. If you really want to stand out, take some time to select the card with the perfect image or sentiment. If the person grows roses, find a lovely card with roses on it, for example. However, a thoughtful note on your personal stationary is just as nice.

If you don’t know the person well but hope to get together again, say so in the card after expressing thanks for the event. Indicate how you’ll get in touch, using whatever method he or she suggested when you met.

A caveat: When you follow up after a formal informational meeting, a handwritten thank you note is nice, but a typed letter gives you more opportunities to specify additional points or clarify items you discussed. 

Provide a Reminder

Especially if it was a crowded or busy event, don’t assume the person will remember you, even if you spoke at length. Include a detail or two to reconnect. For example, “I enjoyed sharing stories about our house hunting adventures.” Or, “I was the one in the sky blue tie.” Refer to something the two of you discussed to jog that person’s memory about you.

Connect Via Social Media

If you do nothing else after meeting someone, follow up right away with a request to connect on LinkedIn. It’s the least you can do to capture the person’s name and contact information in your network. Most people update their profiles when they move or change jobs, so connecting will help you keep in touch, even if you are not in close contact. Ideally, make this request within a day or so of meeting. Since LinkedIn’s mobile app does not easily allow you to personalize your invitation to connect, the best way to make sure the person remembers you and accepts your request is to connect from your laptop (not a mobile device). Visit the person’s profile, and click on the “connect” button you’ll find there. Personalize your invitation to connect with a memorable reminder, such as “I was the one wearing the red hat.”

When you connect, contacts who monitor LinkedIn will have a chance to see your LinkedIn updates. These reminders (known as “pings” on social media) may help you stay top-of-mind with someone you met, even if you don’t initially follow up with another in-person meeting. Take advantage of any social networks you and your contact may share. For example, follow people on Twitter, via their Facebook business pages, and on Google+. If you meet people who blog, make a point to keep an eye on what they write and comment. Consider connecting via any tool that allows you to engage socially online (Pinterest, Instagram, Periscope, etc.) Use these common networks to showcase your expertise and to be a resource, and your new networking contacts may provide just the bridge you need to keep in touch with reticent new contacts.

Leverage Technology

Sure, you can rely on your Excel spreadsheet or your notebook of scribbles to keep track of your network, but you may prefer to tap into some of the dynamic app solutions that make this easier. For example, Relately (relate.ly) provides easy access to your network and allows you to see it at a glance. You’ll know who you’ve been in touch with and who is falling further away from your network. This tool gives you a score to help track your ability to keep in touch and centralizes your important contacts and communications across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and e-mail in one place. It even gives suggestions and scripts from sales professionals to help you decide what you should say when you reconnect with people. This isn’t a free tool, but there is a free trial.

Another tool to try is Newsle. It lets you know when your contacts are in the news. You can follow up with a congratulatory note and offer to celebrate over coffee, for example. Finally, if you want to keep in touch with prominent people, consider setting Google alerts to make it more likely you’ll know when there’s news about people you’re tracking. Just Google “Google alert”, select the name or words you want to track (such as a company name) and you’ll receive messages to your e-mail.

Even if networking targets are slow to respond or extremely busy, leveraging these suggestions will enable you to be a great resource to them, and hopefully, result in opportunities to get to know them better and extend your networking potential.

Miriam Salpeter is owner and founder of Keppie Careers (http://www.keppiecareers.com/), a coaching and consulting firm helping job seekers and entrepreneurs leverage social media and other tools to achieve their goals. She has appeared on CNN, and  major media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes and others have quoted her advice. In addition to her own blog, Miriam writes for U.S. News & World Report and for AolJobs.com. She is the author of the books, Social Networking for Career SuccessSocial Networking for Business Success: How to Turn Your Interests into Income, and  100 Conversations for Career Success. Named to CNN’s list of “top 10 job tweeters you should be following” and a “top 5” influencer on Twitter for job seekers by Mashable.com. Miriam also had her blog selected as a top career resource by Forbes. A vice president for a Wall Street firm prior to earning a master’s degree from Columbia University, Miriam ran the Career Action Center at the Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University before launching her own business.