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Surface or Substance? What to Do After the Introduction

It seems as though a new software product or online networking platform emerges almost weekly. Often they entice users with effortless ways to find new “connections” by accessing address books and other social platforms to cull for people you “may know” or wish to know. But what are they offering, really? Are they providing just another aggregated list of names and profile pictures? So what.

What should you do from there? Should you call someone in your contact list to tell them that you saw the picture they just posted on their Facebook page and can tell them how cute their new puppy is? Or reach out on LinkedIn to acknowledge that you both graduated from the same school? Or should you favorite their latest tweet that has nothing to do with anything pertinent to your newly formed “relationship” with them?

I’m not suggesting that social networking is a bad thing, per se. What I am pointing out, and hoping to spark some deeper thought about, is that like so many things in life, you get out of a relationship what you put into it. These superficial attempts to build a relationship may give you a starting point, but only that. There are four main components that determine meaningful relationships: time, intensity, reciprocity and consideration.

What may be superficially acceptable on a social network with a new connection does not necessarily translate into a valuable business relationship without effort. In other words, just as businesses invest in many things to help them achieve the greatest return on investment, so too do each of us need to invest the time and effort it takes to build lasting business relationships. We must capture the hearts and minds of those we deal with to gain a competitive edge that goes beyond the globally-available-to-all information about people with whom we associate.

Real relationships, and I am talking about where there really is a mutually satisfactory connection, move away from the “publically available” knowledge to “this-is-between-just-us” private state. That is where we actually begin to develop that all-important trust. It might be said that when it comes to “working” a contact, where there is no up-front work there is also little back-end value.

So, how do you build that substance with a new connection? Whether the introduction is virtual or in real-time, consider these three tips for investing in a newly formed connection:

Be “Them-Centric”

Think about what you can offer to the other person, not what you may want to get out of the relationship. Remember, the best way to invite reciprocity is by giving to others without expectation and without pressure. And keep in mind that one of the most valuable gifts you can give is your attention. By asking questions and listening attentively to the answers, you can get to know others better and show them true consideration.

Meet In-Person, if Possible

When you get together, try to meet in person, so that you’re communicating on as many sensory channels as possible: eye contact, body language, and so on. If meeting in person isn’t possible, choose a virtual method that allows more sensory channels, rather than fewer, for a higher-intensity connection. (For example, choose a videoconference over a phone call, and a phone call over texting.)

Don’t Forget the Follow-Up

Keep the relationship moving forward by following up quickly—ideally within 24 hours—with a note of appreciation. Let the other person know you enjoyed getting together and appreciated the time he or she spent with you. Don’t try to solicit a response. Simply offer a respectful “tip of your hat” and leave the decision of whether to respond up to the other person.


If you understand that professional success is tied to the strength of your networks, you probably also realize the need for real, deep and authentic relationships. Success is not achieved by amassing a list of contacts. Those introductions are only as valuable if you continue to invest and develop them. We make meaningful relationships by making investments in others. Therein lays the potential for infinite opportunities and mutual rewards.

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