By Liz Ryan
Introductions are the oxygen that fuels networking; where would we be without them? If each of us had networks composed solely of the people we'd met on our own, our networks wouldn't be nearly as large or as fertile as they are.
It's the introduction from one trusted colleague to another that makes our networking engines go. And every so often, as with other engines and other types of fuel, an introduction blows up in our face.
It could be like this: you introduce a new acquaintance to an old friend. Your new acquaintance (Jason) calls you to report on the pair's first meeting. "It was a short meeting," says Jason. "Your friend Jane must have been busy. She arrived to the lunch spot a bit late and we didn't have a lot of time to talk."
"How late?" you ask, feeling concerned and disappointed, and Jason replies, "Er, well, I guess about half an hour late."
"Oh dear," you say, "that's not like Jane, at all."
"The lunch spot itself was unfortunate," continues Jason, "because it must be near Jane's office. Several times during lunch she saw people she recognized in the restaurant, and our conversation was interrupted so that she could greet them."
Jason's story is getting worse and worse. "At one point she went to another table and sat down, so it must have been very important."
You're thinking, what the heck? Followed by Jane, what got into you that day?
"I'm terribly sorry," you say. "That is very disappointing. I have never known Jane to handle a networking lunch that way."
You get off the phone and check in with Jane. Politely but with hard-to-conceal annoyance you ask, "So Jane, how was your lunch with Jason?"
"Oh dear," replies Jane, "That wasn't my best lunch ever. I was late and distracted. I guess I owe you one."
It happens - networking lunches, coffees, and breakfasts don't always turn out beautifully.
The person (you in this case) who made the introduction needs to know when that happens. That way, you can inquire and find out what went wrong. Sometimes, an otherwise on-the-ball friend like Jane can drop the ball and dismay an eager networker with a less-than-sensational first meeting. Jane said "I owe you one" but I'd think seriously about taking her off my you-must-meet-So-and-So list.
Once bitten, twice shy is a sensible networking rule. Everyone has off days, but a networker who'll miss half a lunch and then desert a table-mate for another party has a different understanding of networking than most of us do.
Sometimes, you've made an introduction that says "George, I would love for you to meet my friend Mickey." George gets the message, as far as you know. You see Mickey's follow-up message saying "George, so glad to meet you. Let's schedule lunch or coffee when you are free." There's only one problem - George is AWOL. Mickey's message goes unanswered.
It's appropriate to pick up the phone and give George a nudge, and if that doesn't work, to call Mickey to apologize. Your you-must-meet-So-and-So list is a vital networking asset. On the one hand, you don't want to sic every new acquaintance on your list of friends and overwhelm them. On the other hand, if you trust your friends to close the loop on introductions you've made, they should do it, or share the reason they can't.
As the introducer, you're the pivotal person in the mix. It's your job to follow up and see what happened, and to adjust your 'list settings' for the future if it's warranted.
Introductions can disappoint another way: you can make an introduction, and your two connections can meet one another. That first meeting goes well, you hear, and another one is scheduled. You're out of the connection loop at that point - but later, you hear that one party let the other one down in some way.
So late in the game, you're off the hook, although it behooves you to investigate and see what fell through the cracks. Introductions are serious business, and at times can create headaches for the kind introducer as well as the two people who are meeting for the first time.
It's smart to follow up on the introductions you make, and to patch up any holes that develop in the fabric of your network. In the long run, your network and its responsiveness are elements of your own brand. Like your reputation and your logo, you're wise to take it seriously.
Liz Ryan is Job-Hunt's Networking Contributor. Liz is a former Fortune 500 VP and 25-year veteran of corporate human resources departments. In addition, Liz is the author of Happy About Online Networking and an internationally recognized expert on careers and the 21st century workplace. Find Liz on LinkedIn and on Google+.