The secret to good introductions

Getty ImagesGetty ImagesAs a congenital connector, I make introductions all the time. Usually I have good results. I've had an uncountable number of successful career matches and even ignited a few romances (one of which resulted in a strong marriage.)

But sometimes I mess up and when I do, it usually boils down to one thing: I made an introduction where I thought two people would want to meet, or accepted a request from someone to get an introduction to someone else, but in the end both people weren't interested in the introduction.

Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist who writes the excellent blog A VC, recently wrote a post that distills everything you need to know about introductions into one simple rule: "When introducing two people who don't know each other, ask each of them to opt-in to the introduction before making it." He calls it the "Double Opt-In."

The double opt-in is easy when you're dealing with peers. But when you're dealing with people who want to get to big shots like Wilson, the most difficult part is finding a way to get the opt-in from the big shot. Often, the people who know the big shots are careful about how often they make introductions because they don't want to flood the big shots with unwelcomed introductions.

Even when two people would appreciate knowing each other, sometimes the timing is just off. When one person in the equation has just started a new job, is days away from the birth of a child, is preparing for a month-long trip to Nepal, is in the middle of moving, or is just drowning in email, it's pretty likely that making new connections isn't top of mind. That's when emails go unanswered and friends get disappointed that their friends couldn't make a promised introduction.

LinkedIn, which lets all of us see everyone our friends know (or vaguely know) and then who all of our friends' friends know (or vaguely know) has made this problem more rampant. A few days ago, I got a request from a friend to meet "someone I knew." It turns out I'd never heard of the person I supposedly knew. So I checked on LinkedIn and realized that someone I casually know (well enough to accept a LinkedIn connection, but not all that well) knows this other person. Which meant that in order to help with that introduction I'd have to say to the casual friend, "Would you make an introduction to your friend whom I don't know for my friend whom you don't know?" She would then need to do the same on her end. Basically, this would become a quadruple opt-in. I explained this to my friend and we both agreed that in this case, she might be better off contacting the person directly. {There are times where I would do a quadruple opt-in; in fact, the marriage I referred to above happened that way. But this one felt too tenuous.}

So next time you offer to introduce, think about whether the introduction will be welcomed by all. If so, go for the double opt-in. And if you're seeking an introduction and your connector starts hedging, you can probably assume the she isn't confident about getting the other person's opt-in. All this may not make you any happier, but at least you'll know it's nothing personal.

Do you have any golden rules on introductions?