How to make proper e-introductions

Pay attention to which e-mail addresses you're giving out when you're connecting people.

Story highlights

  • As with every social interaction online, some people seriously foul up the digital outreach
  • Here are some basic guidelines for polite e-introductions
  • When e-mailing a stranger, err on the side of formality, using "Dear (name)" over "Hey!"
Imagine an apple-cheeked telephone operator from the early 1900s happily plugging in wires to connect Person A to Person B. Now imagine a kajillion operators doing that at the same time.
That's kind of how the WWW works, linking up humans so that we're now a mere 4.74 degrees of separation away from any human on Earth (take that, Kevin Bacon!).
Much of that interaction is unintentional, the smashing of two particles that happen to sideswipe each other while commenting on the same YouTube video or clicking through Christian Mingle profiles. But sometimes we purposely reach out to join hands across the Internet.
And, as with every social interaction online, some people seriously foul up the digital outreach.
Here, some basic guidelines for polite e-introductions.
When e-mailing a complete stranger
Err on the side of formality, using "Dear (name)" over "Hey!" Explain exactly what you want out of an e-mail correspondence ("to tell you about my small business" or "to see if you'd be open to a brief informational interview" makes a lot more sense than "to network with you") and add a little flattery to sweeten the deal (i.e., why you found the target worth e-mailing).
Keep the whole thing to a paragraph or less and hope for the best. Should it go unanswered, you can just blame his or her overtaxed inbox.
When contacting someone you've met
Begin by reminding them of how you met with an identifying detail. If it was a networking event, for example, simply announcing, "It was great to meet you at the anachronistic Mardi Gras-themed mixer last week!" won't do the trick. You've got to add something like, "I really enjoyed chatting about the true definition of a beignet and your years at Company X."
When you know Person A and Person B and are introducing the two
Several times in life, you'll have to play the role of connector, answering a friend's plea to connect her to someone else in your circle. This is the kind of delicate social dance that used to need much instruction -- witness the flipping long chapter on doing it in real life within Emily Post's 1922 tome, "Etiquette."
When connecting, say, a nonprofit employee who's planning to ask your D-list celebrity friend to participate in a phone-a-thon, the most polite option is to privately contact the fading star first and ask if she'd mind if you linked them up. If you're confident that everyone involved will be happy with the connection, though, you can just go ahead and put them both on a "Bleeding Heart, meet Has-Been" type e-mail and then slip graciously into the background as they have their conversation.
Oh, and pay attention to which e-mail addresses you're giving out -- if you're connecting a job seeker with an employed friend for networking purposes, he'll probably prefer to be contacted via his work address, not his private one.
When asking your friend to introduce you to someone
After your benevolent contact has made the intro, take him off the reply-all chain (so he isn't trapped in the e-mail crossfire as you two discuss the cupcakes-for-kitten-spaying fundraiser you're planning), and separately write to her to say thanks. Then follow the immortal words of the Beatles and just let it be. Don't ask her to follow up with you if the D-lister doesn't respond, and don't blame her for a lack of response.
Again, we're all drowning in e-mails, LinkedIn messages, Facebook notes and other beeping and blooping messages. If that person can't help, just go back to the drawing board -- the one with a kajillion operators connecting humans at dizzying rates.