Managing My Network

Last week, a co-worker asked me how to manage all the people in their network. I guess since my last company was a Social CRM, people seem to think I actually have a clue about managing my network.

Let’s just start by saying there is no magic solution or bullet – it really just takes time and effort. To help him out, I started compiling a list of the tools and techniques I use with the folks in my network and how I incorporate them into my life.

To start, I don’t think any company has solved the main problem of a centralized address book that adds great context. We are all becoming too connected and that’s not going to slow down.

In my opinion, knowing who matters most, who matters now and having the right information about those people is still too hard but there are some great products that, if pieced together, can start to make it easier.

I broke out my favorite products into the following three categories below.

Category 1: Smart Address Books: I look for mobility here. I also want it to be close to my inbox.

  • Brewster Only iOS. This has become my main address book. I go here before I send emails, need to search for someone or when I’m just bored and wondering who I haven’t talked to in a while. Steven Greenwood, the founder, has a great vision for making this the smart address book we are all looking for and he’s tackling the hard problems first (merging common contacts, de-duplicating, trending, etc so I’m really bullish on this getting better. My favorite features: Search by location and expertise across every network. Merging email, all social channels and address book. Great UI. Smart Lists for falling out of touch, trending, etc. The ability to email multiple people from a search or group at the same time, to, Cc and Bcc.
  • Smartr – iOS, Androind, BlackBerry, Outlook and Gmail (originally was Xobni plugins). I don’t use this anymore but it has some great features that add context to your contacts which other platforms don’t have. It’s much like Brewster, not as sexy and I don’t like the UI as much. My favorite features: When you view a contact, it reminds you of the first day you met and what you talked about on that day. Ex. You emailed Mike 6 months ago about “Subject of the email”
  • Cobook – Native Mac app, iPhone soon – This is really a merged address book with not a lot of magic built in, yet. Simple and native is the selling point here but products just for contacts and communication I’d much prefer to have mobile first. My favorite features: Integrates directly into the mac menu bar for quick access. Easy tagging and merging.
  • Full Contact – Web only. This has a lot of power in the backend to go out and find all of the social profiles based on your current email addresses you have for your contacts. Very good for developers who want to access the API and build contextual apps based on social data and context. The UI is all web and feels much like a spreadsheet with more bells and whistles. I haven’t spent much time here as the design doesn’t make me excited and seems like a lot of work. I think they should focus on solving the merging and relationship problem between all of the contact data and just power all of the other consumer apps.

Category 2: Social Context and Address Books: These are contact solutions in context of where you are already working. This is more about serendipity and finding common connection at the right time with the right common connection or information that helps build better relationships. This is my favorite thing and really over time I can look back and see so many relationships that have started just because I acted on a piece of info that provided a bridge or common ground to start a conversation with someone I would not of otherwise known. Always trying to add value.

  • Rapportive – Web browser (Gmail). Social profiles, notes and ability to connect and chat on social inside of gmail compose and read screen.
  • Monki – Web and iOS soon. Better search in gmail, google search and in context with any article you are reading on the web. My favorite features:If I’m reading an article on TechCrunch and people I know have also talked about it or shared it, it will let me know. If I’m writing an email address in gmail, it expands the search results to all my contacts and gives me a social profile directly in Gmail. While viewing any webpage, click the Mon.ki browser plugin and discover all of the people you know who work at that company. *I’m an advisor.
  • Writethatname – Gmail. I use this service but actually never know I’m using it. It scans your email and pulls out signature blocks, Twitter handles, Facebook links, Linkedin, etc and automatically updates your Google contacts address book in Gmail. This comes in valuable later. (Also, all the other services that work with Google contacts will automatically pull this updated info that is scraped)

Category 3: Social CRM: These tools are more if you spend your time tracking relationships over time and have a business need to do something. Fundraising, sales, biz dev.

  • Nimble – Web and mobile (paid after 1 user). Great profiles for all of your contacts and this tool is really about tracking all of your relationships and tracking your interactions to where they are at in the deal or sales pipeline. My favorite feature: If I talk to someone on Twitter, it logs that conversation in a master profile so I know where and what we’ve chatted about before if I’m chatting through another platform like email, Facebook, etc.
  • Contactually – Web. This is really focused around the follow up and the reminders. My favorite features: They give you goals per week to achieve based on your past performance. Simple email reminders about follow up with contacts you are losing contact with.

What do I use?

After BlackBerry acquired us and shut down Gist 6 months ago, I exported about 20,000 contacts and ended up with a bunch of CSV files. This was one of those WTF moments. This is why Gist started, contacts in spreadsheets. So, I’m still working on my best process but right now I’ve found a great new flow with the following;

  • Rapportive in Gmail
  • Mon.ki always running in background of browser
  • Writethat.name updating Gmail contacts
  • Brewster
  • Zoku just emails me weekly
  • Contactually emails me weekly for followups
  • CSV and VCF files saved in Dropbox 🙂

The most important thing to remember is this: Technology Doesn’t Replace Great Relationships.

Another thing to remember is that technology doesn’t solve or create great relationships, it can just makes it easier and more manageable in a world where everyone is becoming too connected.

Having the right information to find a common interest or way to be helpful to everyone you meet or would like to meet is one of the most powerful things everyone can and should do.

Many people try to justify the time spent interacting with people to what they get out of it. That’s not how you build relationships. The good things that come from relationships are a byproduct, not an outcome. There’s no end game. Give more than you ask, never expect anything in return.

In today’s world, meeting people is easy, creating real relationships is the hard part. Use these products to find opportunities and be helpful.

Thanks to Eric Koester and Jeff Slobotski for proofreading this post.

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