Networking and PR | Making Friends-Managing Contacts

When we moved from Chicago to Oak Park, it didn't take me long to discover The Newcomers Club. With no friends but neighbors, I eagerly eased into a new community of moms that met for lunch, took the kids on the road and dressed up for nights out on the town with our husbands.

Overjoyed with my new crowd of contacts, I invited a new neighbor to join us. "Thanks, but I have enough friends," Colleen said.

At the time I thought: Who can ever have enough friends?

That was before Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace.

While it's okay to flood your databanks and profiles with friends and connections, how do you make the most of these virtual and personal relationships?

Every January and September, I find myself setting off in search of new friends and connections. So far, I've regrouped with two groups, had lunch a bunch and made plans for more fun things to do in February.

Today I stopped to wonder- before I decided to attend yet another group's meeting . . . Where is this all going?

What's the purpose? How many business cards or surface friends do you need? How do you manage your connections, stay in touch and contribute to nurturing the relationship? Who do you care about? Clients, prospects, friends, professional peers?

Like it or not, your friends and contacts reflect who you are. Seeing who you're linked to online reveals your networking profile. Hundreds of contacts means that you're worth seeking out or maybe that you're not too discerning about who you're friends with. For most of us, it's easy to ignore MySpace friend requests from Elvis impersonators - any friend you accept becomes part of your virtual brand identity.

In thinking about how to manage your online and personal personas, I came up with these thoughts:

- Take inventory of your LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace connections to see who stands out as someone you'd like to get to know better

- Respond right away when a request comes in and think twice about accepting anyone - send a message to them first to see how they found you - if they don't respond, then don't accept

- Have an opt-in email list? What would happen if you called every new subscriber to welcome them? You might shock them! And, your relationship would be much warmer.

- Categorize your contacts into personal, collaborative, prospect, client

- Connect with each category via phone calls, emails, direct mail, updates and messages on their site/blog

- Regroup your list and look for areas to fill in: additional industry connections, people you admire and joint venture partners

- Set goals for your contact circle: it's not about 50 versus 500 or 5,000, it's about how you want to interface and with who

- Prioritize your personal connections: when a friend called to ask about how to fill out college funding applications, we realized we hadn't seen each other for over a year. That's too long. One of my 2008 goals is to make a list of friends/family I'd like to talk to - with their phone numbers - and then call one a week. Sometimes we'll get together and sometimes we'll talk, but it won't take a year to get an update.

How do you manage your personal and professional relationships?

Contact Barbara about advertising, a creative project or a speaking opportunity.

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