Monday, September 15, 2008

Maintaining and growing your network, part 2

Last time we dealt with the "organic" approach to building relationships in a network. This time, let's talk about a "technological" approach.

By technological approach, I mean technology tools that will help you maintain and grow your friendships and relationships. (Frankly, many of these can help you build and re-build friendships, as well.)

First, though, an important disclaimer: these are tools, not the relationships themselves. And they are intended to be connection facilitators, not the connections themselves. Don't be fooling into mistaking one for the other.

There are several tools that I use, and that I think every ministry candidate ought to begin to use, before and during their candidacy process:
  • Plaxo started off as a tool to help you keep your contact information current. It still does that, but they have more recently added a social networking component that they would like to become a competitor to the other big ones. More than the social networking aspect, though, Plaxo's original purpose is the real benefit of the service. You'll sync your computer's address book with Plaxo, and then you can contact those in your address book who have e-mail addresses (selectively or the whole book) and request that they verify the accuracy of their contact information. You'll probably find that a number of your friends are members of the service, too-- which means that their information will always automatically be updated. If you've ever struggled to keep accurate phone numbers for your friends, this is the service for you. Furthermore, Plaxo will (at your request) e-mail you reminders of birthdays, and even provide a service for sending customized eCards via e-mail to them. I've found that an eCard sent to most of my contacts is a great way to maintain a regular connection with those who I don't otherwise have frequent contact with.
  • If you're not already a member of Facebook, I'm surprised. Whether you are or not, you should begin to turn your attention to this social networking service. While MySpace put the social network on everyone's map, Facebook has emerged as the service to be a part of. Why should you be on Facebook? Because you'll find that you are able to re-connect to people you know, but have lost touch with. Whether it be classmates from seminary, college, and even high school, former co-workers, or a fellow member of a church that you were a member of 10 years ago, chances are good that you'll find dozens, if not hundreds, of people you haven't seen or talked to in years. It's also a fun way to keep up with those who you have seen-- watching for changes in status, seeing recent pictures, reading "notes," and writing on their "walls." In fact, it's so fun that it can become an addiction-- so be careful that you don't get too sucked in! Facebook has reconnected me with literally hundreds of people that I had lost contact with-- some of those re-connection stories are pretty cool.
  • While your social networking appetite will find full satisfaction with Facebook, I have to also recommend that you join LinkedIn, which is also a social network. This one, though, is focused on networking for professionals. Here's what I really like about LinkedIn: they have built into the system a way for introductions to be made between two others who may not know each other. So, if I find someone I'd like to connect to, but I don't know them directly, I may request an introduction from someone we know in common. Also, because it is focused on "professional" networking, the interface feels more like a resume or CV than a personal website or blog (like Facebook can feel like).

Think of it this way: Plaxo will help you keep your address book current; Facebook will aid you in reconnecting with your friends old and new; and LinkedIn will give you access to new relationships through introductions from the people you already know.

One more thing: the Manager Tools guys have some good advice and cautions to offer about using social networking tools; check out their podcasts on it here and here.

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