I’ve been in hypernetworking mode, having met over 40 people in the past two weeks, with two more networking events this week still to go. I now have over 250 contacts in LinkedIn. Looking through my connections, some I can’t even remember meeting. Others I had a good initial connection with, but they got lost in a pile of business cards and I unintentionally let the relationship fade away.
Figuring out how to manage these connections has been a problem. Then last week I discovered the notes and tags options in the right-hand column of each of my contacts. Now I’m taking notes about each person I meet so I remember them in the future, and tagging them using a new system to help me remember and manage my relationship with them.
Tags are useful for three reasons:
Tags can be used to filter your contacts in the My Connections address book so you can quickly review only contacts with a certain tag.
Messages can be sent to all your contacts with a specific tag. Or you can use the All and None selection options to create a selection of people to send a message to (e.g.: all contacts tagged “boston” and “new york” but not “vendors”).
Tags appear in the right-hand column when viewing a contact, giving you a quick way to remind yourself of how you know the person.
A couple things about the LinkedIn tag system. A tag is any bit of text you want to use to identify a person. Tags can be up to 100 characters and can only contain letters, numbers, spaces and periods.
Any contact can be tagged. If you have a paid membership and have access to the Profile Organizer, then anyone in LinkedIn can be tagged, whether they are a contact or not. Regardless of who you tag, your tags remain private to you, so only you can see them.
There are five default tags: classmates, friends, partners, colleagues and group members. These tags get automatically assigned if you add a contact to your network without their e-mail address, based on how you indicate you know the person. It appears you can delete these default tags if you want, though I haven’t done this.
For any connection, you can specify one or more tags to associate with that person, or remove tags previously associated with that person. This includes the automatically assigned default tags.
In My Connections, any contacts that have no tags are placed in the special untagged tag, allowing you to quickly filter and see who you haven’t tagged yet. You can delete tags using the Manage link next to the Tags heading in the leftmost column of My Connections. Right now you can’t rename tags. But see the Tag Tricks section at the end of this article for a workaround.
I want to become more conscious in my networking and relationship building. To me, this means several things:
- Build a few strong relationships
People with similar values, smart people who challenge and sharpen my thinking, and people who align with my long-term business interests are relationships I want to develop.
- Maintain a large set of weak relationships
People who I may want to develop relationships with in the future, who seem generally nice or interesting or who are well-connected are useful acquaintance-level relationships to maintain.
- Remember people
I hate not remembering who someone is. It feels so impersonal. While I’d love to be the type of person who remembers everyone’s details by heart, that just isn’t me. So I need technological crutches to maintain that personal connection with my weak relationships.
- Help people connect to others
As with any good network, at any given point in time, most of my relationships are useless to me personally. I’m not a big advocate for selfish networking, nor do I think it works well. Yet I don’t like making blind introductions between people. Thus, knowing where I met someone, what I thought of them and what their needs are allows me to make better introductions.
To make it easier to tag people, I answer six questions, each with its own set of tags (in italics below the question):
- Where did we meet?
Met [major city | event | type of event]
Where we met often triggers my memory of the person. It also keeps track of people who used to be in one city, but moved to another city. I’m still working this one out. If someone is connected to multiple cities, I sometimes tag them with each city, even if we didn’t meet there.
- How did we meet?
By [In-Person | Phone | E-mail | Web]
Face-to-face meetings create a stronger bond than phone or e-mail conversations. “Web” means we haven’t even exchanged e-mails—only interacted on LinkedIn or some other web site.
- How do I want to manage the relationship?
To [Meet | Build | Maintain | Expand | Reconnect]
Keeping track of how I want to build relationships with each person is key. My goal here is to review anyone tagged Build, Expand or Reconnect regularly to grow the relationship.
- What type of relationship do we have?
As [Vendor | Customer | Prospect | Colleague | Biz Friend | Personal Friend | Relative]
The type of relationship we have. I don’t have a specific use for this yet, but imagine I might use it in the future to send out messages or ask questions of specific relationship types.
- How strong is the relationship?
Is [1 Casual Weak | 2 Casual Strong | 3 Established | 4 Long or Deep | 5 Long and Deep]
To use as a prioritization when working on my relationships. I’d rather spend time expanding an established relationship than a relationship that was casually weak. Also, for my casual relationships, such as those people I meet at a single networking event, I want to remember if I had a strong connection with the person or a weak one.
- What circumstances surrounded the meeting?
Via [Referral | Incoming]
Was the person referred to me from someone else? Or did the person initiate contact with me through a directed effort, like introducing themselves directly on LinkedIn?
Some examples of how I plan to use this system:
- Someone at Business of Software who I had a great conversation with
My tags would be: Met BOS2010, By In-Person, To Build, Is 2 Casual Strong
- Someone I see around Boston a lot, but don’t know too well
My tags would be: Met Boston, By In-Person, To Maintain, Is 1 Casual Weak
- Someone interesting who introduced themselves on LinkedIn
My tags would be: By Web, To Meet, Via Incoming
- An old college friend
My tags would be: As Personal Friend, By In-Person, As 4 Long or Deep
One key for me in maintaining the system will be not needing to tag everyone with everything. I just need to tag the key information about a person so I can look them over.
The added benefit of creating a tag system like this is that I’ll be able to track my networking progress over time, since LinkedIn provides summary statistics on each tag in the Filter pane. Analyzing how I build and maintain my relationships may help me improve my networking.
Two quick tricks I learned when creating tags that may be useful to use: renaming and prioritizing.
If you want to rename a tag, go to My Connections and do the following. First, if you have any contacts listed in the third selection column, press the Clear link at the top of the column to clear your selection. If you have none selected, this link won’t appear.
Next, filter your connections by selecting the tag underneath the Tags filter in the first column. Press the All link at the top of the column to add all contacts with this tag to your selection. You should see these contacts listed in the third selection column.
Press the “Edit tags” link in the selection column. Create a new tag under the new name by typing the name and pressing the + button. Now, scroll through the list and find the old name of your tag and uncheck it. Press Save.
All of your connections should now be tagged under the new tag name. Press Manage next to the Tags heading to delete the old tag name.
LinkedIn doesn’t let you specify the sort order of tags. In My Connections underneath the Tags filter, they are sorted based on the number of connections associated with each tag. When tagging a new user, the tags are sorted alphabetically.
An alphabetical sort works if you have only a few tags. But the tag editing box is small and I’m using lots of tags. I need a way to sort my higher priority tags to the top. I’ve discovered that if you prefix your tag with a period, it sorts to the top. This allows you to separate your custom tags from the default tags provided by LinkedIn, or even creating different priorities of tags by using multiple periods.
Do You Know Other Tricks?
I intend to be more conscious about the relationships I’m building and I’m hoping this system of tagging people in LinkedIn can help. How do you manage your contacts in LinkedIn or other systems? Are there any tricks or systems that have proved useful to you? Describe them in the comments below. I’m eager to learn more. Thanks for listening.