There are all sorts of ways to stay connected with current and potential clients: social networks, Twitter, blogs and the like. Of course, nothing beats good old-fashioned face-to-face contact, so chambers of commerce, the Rotary Club, and the networking organizations are still important. But when you work in a place like Seattle, as I do, where everyone and their sister seems to be in the web design business, the market for potential new clients gets thin after a while.
I think people prefer to do business with people they know, now more than ever. That’s why I spend time on the social networks (mostly LinkedIn and Facebook), looking for people I know, but with whom I haven’t kept up. They seem to be scattered all over the world…Bill’s in Africa, Robin’s in Sweden, John’s in Hollywood!
So how can I find out what my old colleagues are doing, and be reminded that I haven’t contacted a particular person for a while? Enter Gist. This service, now in beta, has two main functions:
- It’s a personalized clipping service that collects publicly available data (blogs, Twitter posts, news articles, etc.) about your contacts and their organizations.
- It evaluates your email correspondence to rate your contacts in order of importance. (It guesses pretty well, but you can change the ratings if needed.) It then reminds you how long it’s been since you’ve communicated with each contact.
Gist is very much a work in progress. It’s fairly slow, it doesn’t update very often (seemingly about once a day), and sometimes gets confused about who’s who. As an example, one of the companies I work with shares a name with an NBA basketball player, so I get a lot of inappropriate information.
More annoyingly, I have had to spend a lot of time massaging contact data, as the site can’t seem to figure out that my email correspondent Jane Doe is the same Jane Doe I follow on Twitter. There’s a process for merging contacts, but it’s a bit tedious, and it seems to have lost some email addresses in the process.
Gist also reports problems connecting with my email accounts fairly frequently. And sometimes, it just never finishes loading its dashboard. No doubt the site will improve, but it has a way to go yet before it’s ready for production use.
SocialMinder (previously covered by Imran) is a similar service, but it’s in the alpha stage, and is much more focused on maintaining professional relationships via email contact. It’s not yet trying to be a clipping service, but has more options for how to set up contact reminders.
Both Gist and SocialMinder rely on users being willing to share their contact lists, as well as their actual incoming and outgoing messages. Beside the obvious privacy concerns this raises, there could be legal repercussions. Emails from legal and health-care professionals often include warnings like “copying or distribution is strictly prohibited.” Where does that leave Gist, Social Minder, you and me?
If the technical, legal and privacy issues can be resolved, these services may become widespread ways of managing communication. And of course, Google may be edging into this space with its forthcoming Wave service.
How do you remember to contact clients?