E-mail introductions are a poorly understood art, and are often done too hastily, without careful thought. Making introductions the right way can be the best way to help two people and create value. But doing it wrong can make one of the parties look bad and can alienate one or both parties from you.
"Your goal should be to benefit both people you are introducing," says Auren Hoffman, CEO of Rapleaf (http:/www.rapleaf.com). "Both parties should be happy you made the introduction, glad they met the other person, and thankful to you. You should not bother making an introduction if it will only benefit one of the parties."
He offers these tips on the proper way to make introductions:
1. Take the time. Good introductions require careful, thoughtful and preparation. Take the time to really think why both parties will benefit from each other and spell it out in an e-mail. Hasty introductions can have minimal or even negative impact. I'm sure we've all been victims of hastily written e-mail intros. I recently got one that said "Auren/John - you two just HAVE to meet each other. You two take it from here." I'd like to know who John is and why we should meet.
2. Ask for permission. A good way to start the introduction process is to first e-mail the people and ask them for permission. Make the case of why they should meet the other party and ask them if it would be OK for you to introduce the two. Usually it will work well, but occasionally someone will say that he or she is too busy. If that's the case, you just saved both friends a lot of trouble.
3. Make sure there is a quick follow-up. You never want to make an introduction where both parties don't immediately respond to each other. To prevent this from happening, make sure that the weight of your e-mail encourages both people to quickly arrange a time to talk.
4. Take the time of each person into account. Be clear in your e-mail introduction what the next action for the two parties should be. Suggest whether they should meet for lunch, coffee, over the phone or just exchange e-mails. Often people should just have a quick phone call, and you don't want to waste the time of one or both people by suggesting a lunch.
Rarely introduce your friend to someone just because your friend wants to meet him or her. An exchange of value between the two people is needed, and both parties need to come away with more value than their time is worth. To find a worthwhile introduction, you may need to proactively suggest people who your friends might want to meet.
5. Clearly give the location of each person. Location is one detail that is forgotten all too often but can save a lot of back-and-forth communication. If one person is in Los Angeles and the other is in New York, let them know. If they are going to be the same city in two weeks, they will now know they can meet in person. If they are going to arrange a call, they will now know what time zone they are in.
6. Be sure to give their first and last names and a quick bio of the person. I often get intros from people to email@example.com - so I know the first name of the person is "Jim" but don't know the last name, and that makes it difficult to save the person's contact information. And a quick bio will go a long way in giving context.
7. Mention whether the two people have met before. If you know the two parties have met before, even if only briefly, be sure to mention it in the introduction. Often people forget brief meetings, so you can save them from embarrassment.
8. Include all necessary parties. If the people use their assistants, then copy the assistants of both parties, if appropriate.
9. Forward only e-mails that make the originator look good. I can't tell you how many times I've been introduced to someone by an introducer who forwards me a semiconfidential e-mail chain that I probably shouldn't see. Forward only positive e-mails and, if you have to, edit the e-mails before forwarding to make both sides look good.
10. Make the intentions of your introduction clear. If you are introducing single people of opposite sexes, make sure that the purpose of your introduction is clear and that there is no misunderstanding. Being clear about whether the introduction is a business or a personal one will preclude embarrassing situations in which people have misaligned intentions.
Auren Hoffman is the CEO of Rapleaf (http://www.rapleaf.com). He was formerly chair of Stonebrick Group and the Connector Group. He's a nonemployee co-founder of BrightRoll. Previously Hoffman holds a B.S.E. in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from the University of California at Berkeley. He writes a blog called Summation (http://summation.typepad.com/).