Fifteen years ago it took real estate professionals (and their secretaries) considerable time to sift through mountains of business cards (stapled onto Rolodex index cards). We'd input them into the latest Lotus 123 or Lucid's budding MS DOS spreadsheet programs. We were evolving from a gigantic Rolodex paperweight to a DOT-matrix spreadsheet print-out that could be transported inside the briefcase to our next meeting, in case we needed to find a client's contact information.
Fast forward to an online world that has created the world's richest man along with social (Facebook) and business (LinkedIn) networking sites. For newbies to these sites, I want to warn those who want something for nothing, these sites don't grow by themselves. There is a commitment needed to produce results and the old phase from college still applies: "Garbage in, Garbage out".
But, I immediately gravitated to LinkedIn since the website had an Outlook toolbar download (see below) that included as an Add-in for my Outlook 2007 (Vista) program.
But, the feature that most real estate professionals aren't using is the "Grab" button in the toolbar (see below). Once you receive an email from a contact (hopefully with a signature attached at the bottom to promote their business), highlight the contact signature with the mouse, 'click' the Grab button in the toolbar, and Outlook will launch a VCard with the info already inputted into it for your review.
Once you're satisfied that the program 'read' the information correctly and inputted the information into the correct field, 'click' save and you're done. NOTE: The collected contacts will be created into a new 'collected contacts' directory in Outlook. Just move ('drag and drop') them to your main contacts directory to sync with your Smartphone.
The other feature that is useful is the "Info" button that is attached to incoming emails to let you know if the sender's email address is already registered with LinkedIn. If not, you can send an invite to join your network. Or, the sender may already be registered with LinkedIn, but not in your network, and you can send an invite to join your network.
For me, the most surprising part of the whole process (after you've spent the time growing your network - remember "garbage in, garbage out") is receiving emails from clients, customers, or your CCIM members around the country and noticing that they are already in your network.
Once you've setup a 1st tier of contacts and they do the same, you have access (although limited with a free account) to see how many people have joined your network beyond your immediate contacts. There are other features on the website, but I'll let you explore them for yourself. As you can see from the picture above, I reached the 1M mark (last month and still growing) with the help of some friends from high school who work for eBay and Starbucks.
I got the idea for this topic through a recent CNet article, Is Barack Obama in your network? I searched mine (one of the online features) and found (by surprise) that Barack was already in my network through a "friend of a friend". Who knew?