How To Make Connections (and Keep Them)

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a boatload* of people say something to me along the lines of, “Well, it helps that you’ve got some great connections”.

*boatload = 2 or 3

I do have some great connections. I am connected to some amazing people. You already know this because I name drop all the time.

But how did I make these great connections? Did I pay these people off? Do I have incriminating photos of them? Did I luck into it? Maybe I was born with it? Maybe it’s Maybelline?

None of the above. Every connection was made differently, but they all share a few common traits. Here’s a few examples using folks that you probably know I am connected with because I namedrop them like it’s hot.

Derek Webb – Since 1997 I’ve attended around 50 shows that he’s played in with Caedmon’s Call and as a solo act. In 2001 I started up a fan site for the band that attracted many of their hard core fans and became a fan liaison for them. I’ve booked him at my church, stayed in his guest room, and I’m one of a few people that he sends his new releases to ahead of time to preview. While I consider Derek a friend, I’ll always be a fan as well. Our connection happened because I was a psycho fanboy that hustled with a great fan site, and I didn’t do anything stupid to screw up the trust that I slowly earned with him.

Jon Acuff – I left some comments on his blog in 2008…then I asked to interview him…then I submitted a story for him to use in a post…then I submitted a guest post. He liked my guest post (and the subsequent ones I submitted), and though there were times when my emails got lost in his shuffle, I didn’t overreact; I just let it go. Since then we’ve hung out at Catalyst together and he even saved us a seat at church last Sunday so I could spy on him during worship. He’s been gracious to me (and others) with his platform, and I really appreciate it. Our connection happened because we had a lot in common (similar age, both worked in corporate america, both from Massachusetts, and we both try to be funny online).

Jason Boyett – A few years ago I sent him a random email out of the blue to tell him I enjoyed his blog. We both had a Caedmon’s Call connection as he had recently interviewed Andy Osenga and I had been out with the band for a few days the year before. We kept in touch after that, and it led to him writing for my old sports blog, then him putting me in touch with his agent, then him recommending me for a Daily Beast article, then him giving my name to RELEVANT which ultimately led to my mag piece (clearly I’m doing all the taking in this relationship). Our connection happened because I simply reached out with an email.

Don Miller – On a whim one day I asked Derek Webb if he thought Don would want a fan site. Derek put us in touch because he trusted me, and for about 2 years I ran where I ran Don’s answers to fan questions. Truth be told, I’ve probably badgered Don with more emails and phone calls than I care to admit over the years, but he remains kind and gracious to me to this day. He even invited Erica and I onto his tour bus last year for 10 minutes to meet Susan Isaacs. Our connection happened because a mutual friend trusted me.

Tyler Stanton – I found his blog through Ben Arment a couple years ago and left funny comments whenever inspiration struck. He liked my comments and emailed me about a guest post, and once we figured out we both loved trivial humor and Caedmon’s Call there was no turning back. The number of emails we exchanged in 2010 is staggering, to the point where I’m too ashamed to share the number. But the thing is, we enjoy working together and helping each other out, so it has made for a great friendship. Our connection happened because I commented on his blog and he reached out to me.

So what’s the point of all this?

1. Connections don’t start in a mystical way. Their beginnings are usually as simple as a blog comment, an email, or a note from a friend.

2. Connections take time to develop. You have to build up bank with people before you ask for things or try to push the friendship to another level. If you try to level-jump, you might lose trust that will be hard to gain back.

3. You can’t connect with everyone. I could also list a dozen people who I reached out to at one point or another that never reciprocated. And there’s people I should have gotten back to but dropped the ball.

4. Commonalities make all the difference. If you have common experiences, common circumstances, or common goals with someone else, it can be the start of a great connection. And while you can make a connection with someone you have nothing in common with, it usually doesn’t pan out.

5. Don’t Be a Moron. For the most part I’ve done a good job with this one. But in those times where I did make a screwy move I usually had enough goodwill banked up for it to be overlooked. Treating other people the way you want to be treated is something I made up that you should live by. I’m thinking of calling it the Silver Rule.

The Bottom Line is this: The internet has given us the ability to connect with more people than we ever thought we could, but we need to be wise about it. Respect every friendship you make and look for ways to help people. Reach out to others without expecting anything in return. Give people the benefit of the doubt, be polite, and realize that you might not even know the folks who will be your good friends 3 years from now. The seemingly insignificant emails you send out today could be the seeds for a great friendship down the line. You just never know.

I’m sure each of you have examples similar to mine…connections that have developed into friendships over the years.

Is it easy for you to make connections online and in real life? Is it important to you?

Are there certain things that really turn you off from connecting with someone?

Would love to hear your thoughts/stories on making & keeping connections in our social network society.