How to Maintain and Manage Your Network

Miriam Salpeter

Once you build a network and convince people you have something to offer them, it would be a shame to lose track of those contacts because you get too busy or become complacent about maintaining them. Don’t let all of your hard work building up your network fall to pieces. Instead, take the following steps to ensure your network continues to thrive and grow.

Keep Your Ear to the Ground

Listening is a crucial networking tool. Leverage it. You’ve likely heard the quote, “Knowledge is power.” One of the best ways to access knowledge is via listening. When you’re speaking with people, for example, try to listen to understand instead of listening to reply. Don’t anticipate what people will say or prepare your response while they are skill talking. Instead, listen with intent and with a focus on how you can understand them.

When you network, you’ll want to expand the definition of “listening.” You should pay careful attention to what other people say to you in person. Ask yourself, “Would I be able to take a quiz covering the information I discussed in my last networking conversation?” When you walk away from an in-person interaction, do you remember the person’s name? Can you recall what he or she does for a living? What did you learn about your new contact on a personal level to help you reconnect at a later time?

“Listening” can also mean keeping a virtual ear and eye on what people in your industry post online. What topics and conversations compel your colleagues to action and engagement? What problems do they need help solving? What has their attention? To successfully network, its imperative you “listen” to what other people post and share. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by online or in-person “noise” and you’ll up your networking game tremendously.

Once you improve your listening skills, it will be easier to build strong relationships and connections with new contacts, which makes it easier to stay in touch, to follow up with people you want to get to know, and to manage your network.

Be Interested: Make it About Them

The best networkers know networking is not a self-centered activity. When you are genuinely interested in other people, or very good at faking it, it is easier to manage and maintain your network. Why? Because you’ll be curious about people and want to know what and how they are doing. You’ll want to keep in touch so you can continue to provide useful resources and information for them.

An even better way to keep in touch and to make it about the other person is to take a page from successful networkers’ playbooks. Promote other people and make a point to build them up. This is very easy to do via social media. All you need to do is share, compliment, or comment positively about something another person posted. If you do this consistently, you’ll likely make friends and networking contacts and easily keep in touch via mentioning their names in ways they notice online. Mention, tag, and congratulate people to help build ongoing relationships with them.

Be a Resource

Isn’t it easier to talk to people when you have something to say? Having something to say makes it easier to follow up and to stay in touch with your network, too. For example, if you’d like to touch base with a new contact, wouldn’t it be great to be able to share a useful link or information? The best way to ensure you are a resource people want to hear from is to tap into information your audience needs to know.

One way to be a resource is to put yourself in places where it’s easy to learn useful and interesting information. Professional conferences are probably the best example of where you can “bump into” news and information around every corner. You can’t make it to your industry events? Find out if they have hashtags and encourage attendees to post content. You may be able to access useful information people discuss at events you don’t even attend! Be sure to post it back out, in real time, while the events are happening. When you do, some people may even think you’ve attended events and seek you out as a result.

Be Interesting

Do you know anyone who never has a good story to tell? How about someone who rarely has any news to share? Don’t be that person! People like to hear from and to be around interesting people who know how to tell stories. How can you become a more interesting person? One suggestion is to get out more. Maybe you’ve gotten into a rut, and you always go to the same places and do the same things. Perhaps you haven’t even watched anything new on television in years and you don’t bother attending movies or shows or following sports. In that case, it’s difficult to ramp up to being more interesting. Instead of relying on all the same ways you’ve always done things, make changes in your routines and in the places and events you attend.

Another change you can make to improve your “interesting quotient” is to follow interesting people online. They don’t need to all be work related, either. Tap into your hobbies and create an incoming stream of fun and useful information. Once you access fun and useful content, you can leverage it when you meet people. The more interesting you are, the more likely your new contacts will be to respond when you follow up with them.

Track Your Network

Don’t just look at the shoebox of business cards overflowing onto your desk! Take charge and track your network. How do you expect to reconnect with people and be a resource for them if you can’t find their contact information, or worse, you can’t remember their names! No matter how you choose to track your network, make sure you do it consistently and well. You may want to try apps, such as Relately and Newsle. New apps and tools enter the market all time. If you’re a techy, be sure to tap into tools to inspire you to connect – and reconnect – with your network, even when you are busy. If you’re not technologically inclined, identify another way to keep up with your contacts, such as a filing system, or even by taking pictures and keeping a private album on Facebook with some basic notes.

Identify people you really want to keep in touch with, and Google your contacts’ names once in a while. You never know what you may find. If it’s good, you can use the opportunity to send a brief congratulatory note. In the same vein, you can visit their social media sites to keep up with what’s new. Click directly on their Twitter stream to see what they post and comment on it. Visit their LinkedIn profiles and “endorse” them for skills. These are ways to get your name in front of people, to reconnect and remind them about you.

Communicate Directly

There’s nothing wrong with old-school letters and cards to keep up with your network. Have your contacts posted their birthdays on LinkedIn (some people do)? If so, mail a birthday greeting. The holidays and the New Year are always good card-sending occasions. Maybe you’d like to pick another holiday or occasion to send notes to your network? For example, Thanksgiving (“I’m thankful we met this year”) and Independence Day (“Congratulations on your new business opportunity”) are festive times of the year when people are not already inundated with messages.

While a snail-mailed card is more likely to help you stand out, it can’t hurt to send the occasional e-mail to touch base. Avoid asking for anything, and try to take the e-mail as an opportunity to provide information or resources. When you send useful information, people are more likely to see your name and click through to find out what you have to say. This is a great way to stay in touch and reconnect.

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.