5 Quick Lessons in Contact Management

One of the best parts of building contact management software is we get hundreds of emails each week from people with contact questions. Many are hardcore networkers who live and die by their contacts lists and have tried every tool out there. Others are simply normal professionals trying to take back control of their address book from an ever complex configuration of apps and services – some of which have been forced on them by their business.

We’ve learned a lot from these folks, and we use these emails to make our products better. From the questions we’ve received, here are a couple key lessons we’d like to pass along to the average professional:

1. Be Conscious of “Walled Gardens” Like LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a great place to network, since that’s where people post up-to-date information. The only problem is that it’s hard to get all that valuable data out if you need it somewhere else. LinkedIn only allows you to export name, title, organization, and email for your connections. No phone numbers, pictures, or anything else. This isn’t ideal – especially for those trying to move contact information around to a collection of different cloud tools.

(I don’t mean to pick on LinkedIn, either, since Twitter makes it even harder.)

The lesson here is simple: before you get too attached to one particular contact solution, make sure you can get your data out if you need to. Because, at some point, you will need to get your data out. Not a week goes by where we don’t receive an email that reads like this:

Hi FullContact, this is John. I have all my contacts in [ABC] system and I want to get them to [XYX] system? Please help!

Explore your export options as you’re testing a new service. As much as LinkedIn – or any other company – claims you can do everything underneath their umbrella…you can’t. In the age of cloud tools, portability is a good thing.

It’s your data. If you’re relying on an app, make sure you can take that app’s data with you.

2. Know Your Contact File Types

File types might seem boring, but they’re important.

A .vcf, commonly known as a vCard file, is a standard file format for electronic business cards. It’s designed solely for storing contact information and will be structured the same way no matter which system it came from. This makes vCards easy to import into just about any contact service.

A .csv (comma separated value) file, however, is a more generic and flexible file type designed for storing numbers or text in tabular format – basically a series of fields separated by commas. There is no standard structure to a .csv file – and as a result, it can be more challenging to import a .csv file containing contact information into another address book.

If you’re moving contact data around, always try the vCard format first, as it’s more likely to be compatible with a wider variety of systems. Also, pay attention to which file type your current address book uses for imports and exports. If a service only allows you to export your contacts in a .csv file, you might encounter problems of data loss or data accuracy when trying to import those contacts into another tool.

3. Ditch Your Creative Business Card – It Might Be Hurting Your Business

Does your business card have a non-traditional layout? Extensive use of color? A minimalist design? We see thousands of business cards, and the current design diversity is amazing.

Unfortunately, creative card designs increase the chance of erroneous transcription – either by apps or humans. Most Optical Character Recognition (OCR) apps do an awful job handling unusual cards (want to see numbers? Check out our Business Card Reader white paper).

And it’s not just OCR – even if a business card is transcribed by a human, creative or ambiguous formats can result in typos or mismatching of fields.

Do yourself two favors. First, check out our FullContact Card Reader app. It’s more accurate than OCR, and you’ll save yourself a lot of time transcribing other people’s cards.

More importantly, change your business card to a normal, easy-to-understand format. Save the creativity for your elevator pitch and make sure others get your contact info right.

4. Social Network Visibility Settings Are Important

One of the most frequent questions we get relates to why certain social network profiles can or cannot be seen via public searches or enrichment tools. These days, people expect everything on the web to be discoverable. For example, a typical question might be:

I am connected with John Smith on Facebook, but why can’t I find his Facebook page in a web search?

The answer is probably due to John’s privacy settings.

For example, in Facebook, I can change my privacy settings so my Facebook page is not indexed and served up by various search engines. As a result, my Facebook page only shows up inside Facebook, when someone in my network that is logged into Facebook searches for me.

Depending on your profession, you may want maximum visibility on different social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook. For example, a realtor or similar service professional who depends on a steady stream of referrals and inbound customers needs to be easy to find. On the other hand, someone with more internal focus might want to limit their web presence so as to keep from being solicited with offers or connection requests from recruiters. It’s up to you, but these settings are important and deserve your attention. They might make the difference between an important business connection and peace and quiet in your inbox (both have their merits).

5. Don’t Forget Your Backups

Most everyone remembers to backup their pictures and documents, but few people think about backing up their contacts. There are professional networkers out there with thousands of contacts all locked up in one system and not backed up anywhere. On the surface, backing up contacts may not seem important. Why would you need to backup contacts that are stored in a reliable place like Google, iCloud, or Outlook.com? Those services rarely fail, and contact information is easier to manually restore than pictures or documents (which are basically impossible to restore once they’re gone).

Don’t be fooled. There are a number of possible scenarios that necessitate backing up your contacts.

First, even though it’s unlikely, your primary service might fail. Past results are not a predictor of future successes, so why take the chance – especially in an age of increasing security breaches and cyber attacks?

Second, storing all your contacts in one place means you might not be able to easily restore them to a point in time if harmful changes occur. For example, say you use Outlook.com and then connect a third-party program that makes changes? If something goes wrong, you don’t have a backup file to revert to to wipe out all the harmful changes. Instead, you’re going to be manually editing thousands of individual contacts.

As they say in the military, “One is none, and two is one” – meaning, if you don’t have a backup option, you’ve got nothing since your primary option might fail. That’s why our FullContact apps automatically store backups of all your contacts and allow you to revert back to any point in time. We’ll also let you export your contacts in bulk so you can store them separately if you like.

That’s all for now. We’ll share more contact management lessons in the future. Add a comment to tell us what we missed.