With so many interesting people online to build relationships with, I’ve found myself needing a way to save and overview them somehow. I want tools to stay in touch remotely in a way that’s meaningful and personal, but not limit myself to a handful of people.

In this post, I’ll share my 6 best practices, including how I boost my contact management via an Airtable designed for this purpose. Enjoy!


1. First of all, I try to let go of my definition of what a “friend” is. Remote friends aren’t friends like in-person friends… and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just that the rules for connecting remotely is different, and therefore I think the relationship must be different, too.

2. I recommend keeping a custom contacts list of online friends. Not of people you follow online or stalk on Facebook. But friends. Remote ones. People you’ve connected with that you’ve decided that you care about and want to keep in touch with. Even if these are in the thousands. I am personally convinced that a social network cannot do the trick, because it doesn’t give me the control I need to really massage the list into something highly useful. Like easily removing someone, or saving the email and phone numbers of someone. Or, most importantly, including people across different kinds of networks, like work and personal, various hobbies, etc — those contacts are all spread out for me across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc, so I need a master list.

3. I’ve thought a lot about a scalable way to stay in touch with our remote friends. Back in the day, people used to send Christmas cards with a story about what happened in their lives that year. I can recommend this: a life story that goes beyond cute baby photos, designed for your remote friends. Not the people that follow you on social media, but people you want to inform specifically about what’s going on in your life.

You could send this out maybe once or twice a year, whether people ask for it or not (but always allowing anyone to unsubscribe). This way you have a chance to spark nice conversations remotely and have something to keep the relationship engaged about.

4. Then, it’s about learning to be open and vulnerable and really have a “signal” — meaning both high quality and high frequency of output. How can people stay in touch with you if there’s nothing to go on and you’re always silent online? Managing hundreds or thousands of remote contacts means communicating online frequently, and reaching out to people personally.

5. I would spend time learning from others who manage relationships at scale. Compare notes and best practices, to up your game. I have a great friend in SF who’s the best at connecting even though we rarely meet. He’ll call me periodically to check in, send me interesting things via email, invite me to his Facebook groups to meet his friends, etc. I really appreciate his efforts to be friends remotely, as I can’t keep up with his pace myself, but do want to stay in touch. I am sure many others are like that, too, and will appreciate if you do the same.

6. And lastly, figure out who you want to be friends with. It’s incredibly important to be filtering aggressively, because the opportunity is so large. But how do you know who matters to you? Well, don’t just pick the people who seem powerful or influential. Instead, pick the people who care about the same kinds of missions and problems in the world that you do. Those that are on similar journeys. People who have come longer than you have, but not so long that you can’t relate anymore.

For me, I always like people who speak from the heart, are kind and compassionate, insightful, and challenge themselves to be better and know more. Whenever I find someone like that, I try to remain friends, because they’re pretty rare.

Boosting your contacts manager

Here’s what I use for contact management (but with fake data). Custom built using Airtable.

So I’ve got an Airtable with some basic info, with some addition fields like:

  • Relationship strength — How close are we now?
  • Relationship potential — If this relationship was developed, where could it go?
  • Connectedness — How many other interesting people do they know?
  • Availability — How easy/approachable is it to hang out and connect?

Then I’ve made an Airtable formula (available below) to summarize this data into a master score of 1.0 – 10.0 (second column, above). This allows me to sort contacts by score, to get a prioritized list of remote contacts.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t speak to you if you’re not a 10 in my book — I always love good conversations and want to be friendly towards everyone. But it does help me focus my remote relationship building, because, again, the possibilities are endless… but my time is not.

Life, family, mission

My overall priorities are life, family, mission. In that order. So as you can see, I started organizing contacts in this list in that manner, which helped tremendously. Here’s how I categorize someone:

  • Life — A friend, someone I enjoy being with, or someone who helps me to grow.
  • FamilyNot just people I’m related to, instead this category is for people we hang out with as a family. Like neighbors, school friends of the kids, etc.
  • Mission — People I work with or have met via work, or who are working on interesting missions of their own.

The more of these labels I can assign to a contact, the higher the score.

Viewing contacts by list

Okay, with that score, we can now easily break down the list based on different regions and categories, etc. Very handy when organizing events, going on trips, etc, and thinking about who to invite.

Setting this up for yourself

If you like this base, it’s really simple to create. Just go to Airtable and start playing around. They’ve also got tons of templates you can use.

Here’s the scoring formula if you want to try something similar to that:

({Relationship Strength}
+({Relationship Potential}*3)
+(Connectedness*1.7)
+ IF(FIND("Founder", Tags) >= 1, 2.0, 0.0)
+ IF(FIND("Life", {Contact type}) >= 1, 2.0, 0.0)
+ IF(FIND("Family", {Contact type}) >= 1, 1.0, 0.0)
+ IF(FIND("Mission", {Contact type}) >= 1, 1.0, 0.0)
)/34.1 * 10

34.1 is the maximum points someone can get. So if you make modifications to the weighting, make sure that this number is updated with the new maximum, or else it people can’t get all values in the 0 – 10 range.

Conclusion

So those are my best practices for managing remote relationships at scale, as well as my system for keeping track of everybody. I hope this was helpful, and as always, hit me up on @twitter or subscribe to this blog below! Cheers.