How Do You Keep Online Professional Relationships Fresh?
Thank you for spending time with this three-part series on Online Professional Relationships. If you have read the first two pieces you can see that much of the advice I have given thus far holds true for professional relationships overall, but there are some slight differences that will enable you to thrive. Today I want you to consider how you sustain long-term, and perhaps grow, these online relationships.
Every single thing I am sharing is a strategy that I implement in tending to my relationships. It all takes some time and work, but I have prioritized this in my professional life. A question you will need to ask yourself is which of these strategies you are prepared to implement and put time towards.
Meet in Person. If you have made plans to go to an event they too might attend, reach out to them. If they will be going, make the time to meet in person. if it turns out that they are not going they will appreciate that you put in the effort. I travel a fair amount and always leave some time available to see people I want to get to know better in person. Sometimes that conversation is pleasant and informative, and I gain perspective on their wants and needs. Other times it serves to really open up your understanding of one another and leads to a much stronger, and more primary relationship.
Schedule a conversation. Some of my most important professional contacts started out as chiefly online interactions and for one reason or another we decided to speak on phone or video to hear the latest. I have a general policy of setting aside time to meet with people who are in significant periods of transition. This may mean that they have just started a new job, perhaps in a space where I know lots of people or have just lost work and may need help.
I have also developed a practice of holding calls with people I want to support or get to know better. The cadence of these calls run the gamut from every other week to monthly to every quarter depending upon what is going on in their lives. I do not have specific outcomes in mind for these conversations other than knowing the person better, and that predictably does happen.
Offer value. In any given month I am serving as a connector between people and opportunity. What do I mean? I have conversations with employers and suggest candidates they should consider. I speak with funders & investors about groups that I think might be a good fit for their portfolio and make introductions. I read life updates and offer to make connections with people given their new roles or the need of a new role. I suggest consultants that might be a good fit for institutions. I pass along news of fellowships, events and writing that I think could be a fit. I try to remember people’s wants/needs and try to find support.
Does that sound like a lot of time? It should because it is. However, I have decided that this is going to be one of my professional priorities and being a good or involved actor is one of the keys to sustaining those relationships.
Do not be a jerk. Such easily offered advice, but the undermining of all good relationships is almost always rooted in one of the parties acting like a jerk. If you follow a few basic rules, you should find yourself on the side of the non-jerk.
Rule 1: Do not only reach out when you want something. You get a reputation pretty quickly as someone who is always showing up to the pot-luck empty-handed or with gas-station purchased baked goods.
Rule 2: Do not ask for things all the time. What is worse than a one-sided relationship? A one-sided relationship with someone who is constantly asking for more. If you do not know what seems like an unbalanced relationship, ask a friend about their take on it. At a minimum, ask others what you can do for them, too?
Rule 3: Be patient. We are all acutely aware of the immediacy of our needs. We have less insight into the challenges faced by our colleagues. They may be facing a range of professional or personal challenges or could be considering whether or how to respond to your request. Always write with the understanding that you understand that your request may be possible now and thank them for considering it at all.
People want value from their online professional relationships. Sometimes a small net positive is enough. Just do not have them ask themselves “why am I still connected to this person?”
Ok, now you know enough to have a rich circle of professional contacts online. Thank me at your leisure. I want to be of value to you, too.
—Russ Finkelstein [linkedin.com] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.