When I was young and just starting out in my career, one of the networking principles I followed was the common advice of “introduce two people every week.” So every week, I dutifully fired up my computer and typed out an email introduction to two people I’d thought of that week who would benefit from knowing each other.
A few weeks later, after introducing a friend of mine to a fairly well-known author whom I’d collaborated with, I got an email back from the author. His message was short but it cut to the bone: “Not cool. Please reach out first for permission to share my contact information.” Without checking with him first, I’d given this new person permission to contact him whenever and forever.
When it comes to building your network, introductions play an important role. Your direct contacts are a finite number, but the number of people connected to you through others is almost infinite. Moreover, introducing different people in your network to each other helps transform your network from a list of contacts to a thriving community of people interacting and collaborating with each other.
For many people, the standard introduction happens over email. One person will ask you for an introduction to a contact of yours, and you naturally oblige by composing an email addressed to both parties, including contact information and hopefully the context for making the introduction. The email arrives in the inbox of both people and, most likely, the person requesting you make the introduction quickly follows up with a more direct ask of your contact.
But surprise introductions like this are fraught with dangers. If you’re doing them, you’re running the risk of a couple things going wrong:
Instead of taking the risk of surprise introductions, it’s better to practice “permission introductions” (also known as double opt-in introductions). Simply put, seek permission from both parties through private, individual messages first. (To those who already practice double opt-in introductions, this might sounds obvious, but everyone seems to practice their own specific brand of email etiquette — which is to say, there is no commonly accepted email behavior. Let’s change that, starting with networking.)
When a request for an introduction comes in, explain to the requestors that you’ll reach out to your contact, but also use that conversation as a chance to get additional information, such as the following:
These are questions that smart requestors will usually state up front anyway, but it’s a good opportunity to make sure you have everything you need when you reach out to your contact.
When you do reach out to contact for permission, make sure you add your own context to that information, such as:
You’ll also want to ask them about their communication preferences and take that opportunity to provide the out.
If you’ve got a match and both parties are enthusiastic, then you’ve made both of their jobs easier and the introduction more valuable. You’ve also expanded everyone’s network. And that’s pretty cool.