Keeping In Contact

Each year between Christmas and New Year's Day, I set aside one morning and partake in an annual exercise of managing my contacts. To some, this may seem overly ambitious or even unnecessary, especially with the abundance of contact methods and social platforms available for business and personal uses. Yet it is the ubiquity of the networks that make it more important than ever to take stock of those in your digital Rolodex.

I began the practice of merging contacts -- updating phone numbers, deleting old business email addresses -- about nine or ten years ago. At first, it was a great way to fill the day and listen to music while maintaining a skeleton staff at the university. The exercise was a distraction from the every day running around, phone calls, emails and application development. It was before LinkedIn became the hub for professional contacts that it is today.

Today, there is a level of satisfaction to knowing a great deal of what one's contacts may be doing. With every login to your social network of choice, you see the faces and the updates and the tidbits of information about what he or she has been up to, where they've visited, their latest share. But at what point do you actually engage with them? And how often? In a lot of cases, there is an imaginary conversation taking place, one never spoken but simply dreamed up, the false perception that knowing the latest about your contact actually equates to dialog and interaction. There's a natural inclination to think that just because one is 'following' the activities of others that it actually translates into a tangible relationship. But how realistic is that practice? For that matter, I 'know' all there is to know about the celebrities I read about in the tabloids or the political figures I read about in the news.

In order to ensure that the communications are relevant, I try to always keep a log of the contact and some tidbit of importance. Sometimes an interaction is fleeting, and in the event that I bump into the person again at a conference or industry event, I want to at least remember something about our previous interaction. So, when I receive a business card, I typically jot down three or four things of meaning about each individual. The notes are less about whether or not the person wears glasses or has brown hair, but more about where he or she went to school, the number of children that they might have, an interesting hobby, vacation spot, or even the place that we ate lunch. (With the CRM tools that exist today, this practice has evolved from scribbling notes on a business card to a now placing a digital note attached to a person's profile.)

We can't rely on technology alone to manage contacts as it if were a grocery list. Revisiting your contact list ensures that you aren't overlooking important and meaningful past relationships. A lot can change in a year. In the case of individuals that you may have worked closely with over the years, even shared an office with or had lunch with weekly before moving on to another position, why shouldn't you make the time to learn about what he or she is doing now?

Despite all of the communication methods available in today's connected landscape, it is the communication itself that is often overlooked.