When you are anxiously looking for work or trying to find a client, where do your thoughts go?  After reading this post, hopefully they will zero in on one tiny, often overlooked but immensely powerful practice: the virtual introduction.

The four categories of people I find myself most frequently explaining virtual introductions to are newcomers to Canada, fresh university or college graduates, new entrepreneurs and people in the middle of a career change. Because virtual introductions can have such impact and because they occupy a key place in Canadian workplace culture, let’s outline the steps and show some examples of how to get them right.

Demystifying virtual introductions

You may be wondering what a virtual introduction is and why you should care – let me explain. A virtual introduction is used to help connect two people together in order to meet a goal, but the connection is made via email.  You may want a connection to find a job. Or maybe you are looking to hire someone with specific qualities. Or maybe you need advice, or a connection to sales, services or products from an expert. Virtual introductions are used for all these things and more. But be aware: there is definitely a format you need to follow if you want those introductions to be successful.

We’ll use an example to show how a virtual introduction should look.  Let’s say you meet someone at an informal networking event, I’ll call him Lance, and you ask him to introduce you to one of his associates. You have followed all the correct steps to make a good connection (for more on this watch our Effective Networking webinar recording), and the person agrees to introduce you.

Now the magic starts to happen. The introduction you were looking for comes in the form of an email. It is true people meet each other all the time on social media channels – my favourite is Twitter where I have met business partners, found helpful information and hired employees – but generally the job-related introductions come through email.

Because virtual introductions have a specific etiquette and process that you should be aware of, let’s make things simple.  What follows describes and gives examples of the various phases in a virtual email introduction.  Read through the sample emails and get a sense of how the dialogue of virtual introductions unfolds.

Phase 1: The 3-way introduction

Here we have an actual email I received from a friend of mine named, you guessed it, Lance.  In it Lance offers to introduce me to a woman named Lisa who works for XTRAcredits.  As you read the email, pay attention to what you think works well in Lance’s approach.

Notice that Lance started in a friendly way, “hope you had a good summer,” and then introduced me to Lisa with an explanation about why he thought the two of us should meet. He closed with a “strong” encouragement for the two of us to meet and I left reading this email interested in meeting Lisa, but also appreciative of Lance for taking the time to connect me with someone who he thinks I’ll be able to “synergize” with.

Let’s distill some principles from this example.  The reason this email works so well is because it contains three key elements:

  1. A friendly introduction
  2. An explanation of why the introduction is taking place
  3. A push for the connection to take place 

Once you have included these elements in your virtual introduction email, you are ready to move on to the next phase.

Phase 2: “Reply all”

Lisa initiated the next step of our introduction:

Notice that Lance started in a friendly way, “hope you had a good summer,” and then introduced me to Lisa with an explanation about why he thought the two of us should meet. He closed with a “strong” encouragement for the two of us to meet and I left reading this email interested in meeting Lisa, but also appreciative of Lance for taking the time to connect me with someone who he thinks I’ll be able to “synergize” with.

Let’s distill some principles from this example.  The reason this email works so well is because it contains three key elements:

  1. A friendly introduction
  2. An explanation of why the introduction is taking place
  3. A push for the connection to take place 

Once you have included these elements in your virtual introduction email, you are ready to move on to the next phase.

Phase 2: “Reply all”

Lisa initiated the next step of our introduction:

Even though Lance’s intention was for me to respond to Lisa, it really doesn’t matter who responds first because the procedure is the same.  For this scenario, we will assume that you are replying to the virtual invitation, and so you make sure to:

  1. Thank both people
  2. Say “hello” to the new person using a “pleasure to meet you” phrase
  3. Request a meeting

Phase 3: Schedule that meeting 

Remember, the purpose of career-related virtual connections is almost always to meet that person either in person or over the phone.  The email below shows my reply to Lisa:

Notice that Lance is still included in the conversations. This is important up to the point where you are negotiating a meeting. Once you have that in place, it is a good idea to drop the “reply all” function because it gets annoying to be included in emails that do not concern you.

Below is Lisa’s reply.  She was not put off by my lack of immediate availability but was quick to find a meeting date that fit both our schedules and I appreciated her taking the lead – I was trying to tie up all my work odds and ends before my vacation, after all.  There is no need to feel that you must accommodate another person’s schedule with immediacy.  Do, however, work with them to find a time that both of you are happy with.

What works about these email threads is that they give each party a clear paper trail.  In case I did happen to forget our arrangement after my vacation, I can always go back to make sure I have my dates and times crystal clear.

But, in case I was to forget, a gentle reminder never hurts, bringing us to our next phase…

Phase 4: Confirm your meeting

There are few things that leave a bad impression like a missed first meeting.  It’s frustrating when you are the one who has been “left in the lurch” AND it’s also awful when you realize that you were the one who missed the meeting.  Phase 4: Confirm your meeting is all about mitigating risk of wasted time for all parties involved.

On the day of the meeting, Lisa confirmed the meeting with me:

Lisa took the lead once again here, which was completely appropriate because she was the person who wanted to do business with me.  If this does not happen in your case, take the initiative and don’t wait for the other person to confirm. It doesn’t really matter who confirms the meeting, but it is polite to confirm and it ensures that people are prepared.

When we met, we had a lovely conversation and I had to agree with Lance, we were a “good fit” for each other.

Phase 5: Express gratitude

“No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.”

Alfred North Whitehead

After the meeting it is important to thank both the person who introduced you and the new person you just met in one joint email:

This step helps to further reinforce a connection with the person who introduced you AND helps to build a foundation of respect with the person you have just met.

If for whatever reason you were unable to get a meeting from your virtual introduction, tell your introducer that things didn’t work out and use this opportunity to ask for another “nudge” or a new connection.

Phase 6: Keep up the relationship

Now you are set up to continue communicating with the person on your own AND you’ve got a strong place to start from.  These communications can be frequent or infrequent, depending on the nature of the relationship you are trying to build.  One of the most effective ways I have come to nurture these relationships is by sending along articles or links to different websites that I think my new contact might find useful.  Most of the time if I come across something I find interesting, chances are that I know someone who will find it interesting too, and it’s simple enough to forward it along.  AND, as someone who can feel shy, I find an added bonus to this approach…if or when I do meet with this person again, we already have a topic of conversation to start from: the latest article or website I sent to them.

Words of warning

In the event that you do not find you “clicked” with the person you were introduced to, be kind anyway and keep the bridge intact.  While you may not yet see a reason to build a relationship with them, you cannot know how you may be able to benefit each other in the future, and similarly you cannot know what affect  “brushing them off” might have on future opportunities.  In the words of my mother, “Close to a few, kind to everyone.”

So, if “choosing kindness” is perhaps the most important “DO” when creating successful virtual introductions, there are also some important “DON’Ts” we should be aware of…

Don’t…

  • Start the email with “Hey.” Make sure you use “Hello (name)”
  • Start the email without a greeting. It looks like you are a spammer if you do that
  • Ask the person for a connection without explaining anything or saying why
  • Demand or be in any way impolite
  • Expect that the other person “owes” you anything
  • Get mad if the connection doesn’t work out

The golden rule is to treat others with respect, be professional and always follow up in a way that honors the process above. In this way people will always see you as a competent professional even if they aren’t able to help you with your request.

“Make someone feel something and you will never be forgotten.”

Charlotte Eriksson

To learn more about virtual networking, check out our series on using LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to make connections and find work

Not so sure about networking in general?  We’ve got you covered with a webinar: “Networking for people who are shy, socially uncomfortable, or new to the country”

“The way of the world is meeting people through other people.”

Robert Kerrigan