Google 'em: Networking the easy way

In the ongoing development of me as a brazen careerist, my weak point has been networking. I know it's my weak point because I meet a lot of powerful people who could do a lot for me, but instead of leveraging the relationship, I end up losing touch with them.

Where I fail is that I don't know how to maintain regular contact once I've established a base relationship. There's an art form to the act of the "just checking in to see what you're up to" email that's lost on me.

I try to pay close attention when I get one from someone else. Here's what I've noticed: I always appreciate the email, no matter how long it's been since I heard from the person. So probably other people would appreciate an email from me. But still, I put off sending these emails because I fear I have nothing to say that the person cares about.

If I were giving advice to myself I'd say, "Just a short, simple email. Nothing huge. To remind the person you're thinking about them and also to tell them what you've been up to."

But I always feel like I need some sort of excuse to email. If I were a guy, I'd send an email about sports, like, "Rah, rah my team beat yours. Rah, rah." Or, "I thought of you sitting in my court-side seats." My instinct, as a woman, I'm sorry to say, is to send stuff about kids. Like, "Congratulations on your son's first birthday. I remember seeing the photo last year and he was so cute." But the kid emails have not gone over that well in the world, and, right or wrong, I never get the kid emails from men, so I stopped sending them to men.

I had this idea to buy into a service that scans newspapers every day for names of people I know. Then I could say, "I saw your name in the paper. Congratulations on blah blah blah." I would look like I'm really on top of the industry news and that I'm concerned about the person. But the services were all really expensive. And, let's face it, if I were a millionaire, my networking could be, "Hi. How are you? I'd love to chat with you again. Do you want to fly on my jet to my island next week?"

But recently I noticed that Google has a new service, in Beta right now, called Google Alerts. This is how the company website describe the service: "Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic."

It seemed too good to be true, but I tried it. I set up an alert for a former boss of mine who was really supportive of me, and then about a year after I left his company I stopped contacting him because I couldn't think of anything to say. (Insane, really. A complete violation of any networking rule book. And just writing about it here makes me realize how absurd it is that I can't figure out how to write a "just saying hi" email. After all, I'm a writer!)

I thought I'd redeem myself by contacting him next time his name is in the press. But after a few days of hearing nothing from Google, I realized I didn't even know if the service worked.

So I set up a Google alert for my sister-in-law, who just landed a job big enough that she's popping up in newspapers all over the country almost every day lately. And sure enough, her name landed in my email box today: The Google alerts worked. My sister-in-law didn't know she was in a Seattle newspaper today until I told her.

Tonight, I created Google alerts for 20 of the people I most wish I would be good at staying in touch with. I feel like I'm on the cusp of making amazing headway in the networking department. God bless Google.