Thursday, December 6, 2012

An etiquette guide to the virtual introduction

The virtual introduction - that is, the ability to introduce people to each other without everyone having to be in the same physical location - is a fairly recent phenomenon brought on by the invention of email and the growing demand for everyone to build their personal brand through networking.

In the olden days when I started my career, if I wanted to introduce two of my acquaintances, I would need to see them both at a conference or similar business event and the introduction would usually arise from the common courtesy in play when two people are chatting and another comes along who knows one of the people, but not the other.  Outside of this setting, if I felt compelled to put two people together, I would have had to call each of them on a land line and, once I received confirmation that they were both interested in an introduction, I would set up a mutually agreeable time for them to meet and then gently remove myself from the situation.

As you can imagine, this took time but the upshot was that I only ever did it if I really believed that both parties had something to gain from the meeting.  Today, when introducing one friend to another is as simple as typing a couple of sentences and hitting Send, there are a lot more of these kinds of transactions flying around but that's not necessarily a good thing.

I'm finding that I am frequently included in virtual introductions and requests for information interviews and meetings now, only the person I am being introduced to is also cc'd on the message, making it awkward for me to politely decline the opportunity to meet someone for any number of valid reasons. While the format for introducing people has changed, the need for etiquette has not.  Here is a five-step guide for managing the virtual introduction in a polite way:

Step 1 - Friend A would like to meet Friend B, an acquaintance of yours.   Friend A asks if you would be willing to introduce them via email, LinkedIn, etc.

Step 2 - You email Friend B (without cc-ing Friend A), let her know that Friend A has expressed a desire to meet her and provide some context on why that might be a good idea and a productive use of everyone's time.

Step 3 - If Friend B declines, for any reason, you respect that and politely inform Friend A that the introduction will not be taking place.  If Friend B accepts, you let her know that you will be sending an email to introduce both parties shortly.

Step 4 - Inform Friend A that Friend B has agreed to be introduced and that you will be sending an email to introduce them.

Step 5 - Send the email of introduction cc-ing both parties and explaining a little about each person and why you think an introduction would be mutually beneficial.  Close the email by extricating yourself from the equation and any future follow-up emails.

In today's rapid-fire world, this may seem antiquated and cumbersome but from an etiquette point of view, it is the only acceptable way to handle a virtual introduction, and also prevents you from making another etiquette faux pas covered in an earlier post - sharing someone's e-mail address without their permission.

In closing, I would like to suggest that if you have requested and been granted a virtual introduction, a follow-up thank you email is also in order.