Category Archives: Networking and Social Media for Mediators

Blog responsibly: a public service reminder for dispute resolution bloggers

I’ve been blogging about dispute resolution for over 5 years now. When I first launched my blog, you could count ADR blogs in single digits. You can still find these early adopters online – folks like my predecessors, blogging role models Bill Warters, Colin Rule, and Tammy Lenski – who continue to produce worthwhile content.

Slowly at first, then more steadily, our numbers grew. I soon began tracking them, eventually launching ADRblogs.com, which catalogs blogs from around the globe, organizing them by country and by topic. I’ve been serving as the unofficial taxonomist of the dispute resolution blogosphere since June 2006. ADRblogs.com today lists over 230 blogs from 31 countries, all discussing conflict resolution, negotiation, or various forms of ADR.

During 5 years of blogging and almost 4 years of tracking blogs, I’ve seen ADR bloggers come and go. Some, like Geoff Sharp’s iconoclastic Mediator Blah…Blah…, which flared and burned brightly for far too short a time, I miss a great deal. I’ve gotten pretty good at predicting which ones will have staying power, and which ones will quietly (and deservedly) fade into obscurity.

Which do you want your blog to be? If the former, it’s pretty simple. There are really only three things you need to remember:

  1. Create good content.
  2. Be social.
  3. Don’t plagiarize.

I will amplify on each briefly:

1. Create good content.

Write about what you love and know well. Share information useful to your audience. Make your readers think, change their minds, or even laugh. Don’t just copy and paste content or news you found elsewhere; tell your readers what you think about it. Be of help.

2. Be social.

I’ve said this before: ADR is fundamentally about conversation. So is blogging. If you, an ADR professional who blogs, aren’t going to link to other blogs and participate in the conversation online, why are you blogging? My old friend Geoff Sharp in an email to me once called it “the paradox of blogging” – you confidently send readers away to other sites to encourage them to return. If you want your blog to sink below the surface of search engine results, then don’t link. It’s that simple. By the way, linking is just one way to converse – remember to comment on other blogs. Contribute to the discussion.

3. Don’t plagiarize.

I shouldn’t even have to say this, but unfortunately some folks are still not getting the message. If you use another blogger’s content as a source or inspiration for your writing, give them credit by a) naming the blogger; b) identifying their blog; and c) linking back to their post. Do not pass off someone else’s content or ideas as your own. The best ADR bloggers I know care about their writing, putting time, thought, energy, and, yes, heart into their posts. For me personally, blogging is an expression of my identity as lawyer, mediator, and writer; it is my own voice speaking out of these ones and zeros. Use your own voice, please, when you blog, not someone else’s. (While ADR bloggers are generally nice folks, some of us won’t hesitate to use our BATNA: filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act infringement notification.)

Looking for role models? The following are but a few examples of bloggers who make the ADR blogosphere a great neighborhood to hang out in, consistently honoring these principles:

By the way, in the spirit of neighborliness, allow me to extend a very warm welcome to these promising new additions to ADRblogs.com:

Rethinking social media: the worth of trust in online business networking

trust in business networkingIn the February 2010 issue of Harper’s Magazine is an essay entitled “The Serfdom of Crowds”, excerpted from You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, the latest book by computer scientist, web guru, and author Jaron Lanier. You Are Not a Gadget serves as a bracing rebuttal to the loud hallelujah chorus of praise for all things internet-related. Of social networking Lanier writes,

An individual who is receiving a flow of reports about the romantic status of a group of friends must learn to think in terms of the flow if it is to be perceived as worth reading at all. Am I accusing all those hundreds of millions of users of social-networking sites of reducing themselves in order to be able to use the services? Well, yes, I am. I know quite a few people, most of them young adults, who are proud to say that they have accumulated thousands of friends on Facebook. Obviously, their statements can be true only if the idea of friendship is diminished.

These words pulled me up short. Minutes before reading them, I’d received a request on LinkedIn for a recommendation from one of my contacts. When I clicked on their profile I realized that I had no idea who they were or how I had come to connect with them. At one time accepting their invitation to connect on LinkedIn must have seemed like a good idea, because here they were in my list of connections, and there they were asking me for my recommendation.

Let’s pause there for a moment and consider what LinkedIn has to say about accepting or responding to invitations:

LinkedIn believes that when it comes to building your network, it is all about the quality of the connections and not about the quantity of connections. Your network should be centered on quality of knowledge, resources, skills and advocacy that LinkedIn can help unlock.

…Invitations are a great option to ask people to join your network. When sending Invitations, ensure that you know and trust the person you are extending the Invitation to. This is generally someone you have worked with, collaborated on projects with or maybe attended school with. These will be people that can recommend you to others and will become your first degree connections.

Looking over my list of contacts on LinkedIn, I can honestly say that among them are a few people I don’t know well at all. They are people who’ve perhaps read my blog, followed me on Twitter, or are fellow members of a professional networking site. The basis for these connections at times seems arbitrary, because social media and human nature make it easy to manufacture or claim kinship, whether it’s sharing an alma mater, a profession, a political view, or a hometown. But are all these individuals people I could recommend, based on direct, personal knowledge and with a clear conscience? To be honest: no. Some. But not all.

In the end I declined the request and removed this person from my list of connections. If this person was willing to ask a casual acquaintance to recommend them, then this was someone I did not care to be linked with any longer. But it left me asking, in accepting a LinkedIn invitation without undertaking due diligence, are we devaluing the currency of online social networking?

How many of us stop to weigh the words “it is all about the quality of the connections and not about the quantity of connections” before accepting invitations from strangers to connect? If a business networking site like LinkedIn is to have any worth, it must depend upon principled users. Otherwise the recommendations that LinkedIn urges users to obtain to complete their profile remain suspect.

Readers, do not mistake this post for a rejection of social media by a long-time blogger. I am not denying that social media have value for me – as water cooler, newsstand, and town square. They have led me to substantial, real-world friendships and allowed me to keep in touch with people who matter to me. Nor do I argue that regular, in-person contact is the sole means to establish or sustain a meaningful relationship. Email, Skype calls, instant messages, telephone time, and, yes, messages posted on social networking sites, can nurture collegial ties and friendships across distances great and small.

As worthwhile for some purposes social media may be, their wow-that’s-so-cool impact should not blind us to their obvious limits. Strip away the hype to reveal the teetering house of cards that social networking constructs of our trust. Social media can reduce to parody what is meaningful and valuable about relationships and personal connections. They can lower our standards or overpower our discernment. The entrepreneur or social media expert may be a disbarred lawyer or a convicted felon. It’s hard to tell when the light’s dazzling our eyes. But let’s remember the enduring truth in the aphorism “on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog“.

So long as trust is aspirational not dependably operational, what can any of us do? Two adages come to mind. In the words of the authors of negotiation classic Getting to Yes, “Be trustworthy, not trusting.” And, as a former U.S. president is purported to have once said: “Trust, but verify.”

As for me, I am in the process of drafting a LinkedIn policy, as I did for Twitter (although without the wiseassery). If you have one yourself, tell me about it. What guidelines have you set for accepting or declining invitations, or making or requesting recommendations? I’d welcome hearing from you.

Beware of the app: a warning to ADR bloggers and their readers on Facebook

Numerous news articles and blog posts have commented on the dark side of Facebook – its disregard for users’ privacy, the opportunities it affords for cyberbullying, and its vulnerability to spam, phishing exploits and malware.

I’d like to alert my readers, particularly those of you who blog, about a Facebook trap to avoid.

I regularly check search engines for mention of me or my blog, something that all of us should do routinely, not as an exercise in egotism but as good business sense, as my colleague Tammy Lenski has written.

During a search yesterday on Google I learned that Mediation Channel was listed as one of the “NetworkedBlogs on Facebook“. I clicked on the page to learn more, since I hadn’t requested the listing. A link on the page read “Pending confirmation. Help us confirm the author.” When I clicked on the link, the following choices appeared:

How do you like to verify ownership of ‘Mediation Channel’?
– Ask friends to verify you (easy, but takes a little time)

- Use our widget to verify ownership (instant, but some technical skills required)

Hmmm. Sites that enable you to claim ownership of your blog -– for example Google Analytics, which analyzes web traffic — typically require you to enter a specific snippet of code on your site, something only you as the site owner with administrative access would be able to do. It’s the sensible and secure way to confirm blog ownership.

The NetworkedBlogs app on Facebook, on the other hand, amazingly allows anybody to verify that they own a blog, whether they actually own the blog or not, by asking a handful of their Facebook friends to vouch for them. Basically anyone could claim ownership of my blog, or yours, for purposes of NetworkedBlogs on Facebook. That’s just nuts.

How nuts? Very: I decided to test what would happen if I asked a Facebook friend to verify. I clicked on “Ask friends to verify”, and then, when my friends’ profile pictures appeared, I selected my dog’s Facebook profile (yes, he has one – doesn’t yours?). My dog is a good sport in that way and a willing participant in these kinds of web experiments.

NetworkedBlogs promptly sent my dog an email asking him to verify that I own Mediation Channel. In order for my dog to confirm or deny that I own my blog, he had to allow NetworkedBlogs access to his account, something I don’t think he particularly wanted to do. (Unless it’s an app that involves bacon or chasing squirrels, he’s just not interested.)

This is wrong in so many ways. Let’s consider them:

  • Unscrupulous people with the assistance of unobservant or equally unscrupulous friends could claim your blog on Facebook.
  • Anyone, even if they’re a dog, can verify ownership of a blog in the wacky world that NetworkedBlogs inhabits.
  • If you ask your friends for help in verifying ownership of your blog, you’re asking them to allow an app they probably don’t want have access to their accounts – which seems awfully unkind to your friends.

If you decide to go the widget route, you should know that NetworkedBlogs does not believe in hidden code or discreet badges. You will be presented with a choice between two wincingly hideous and ginormous widgets to stick in your sidebar to prove you have administrative access to your blog.

NetworkedBlogs describes itself as an app that allows you to “[p]romote your blog on Facebook and to discover new blogs… Join the fun, add your blog, and connect with others who read and write about subjects you like.” Join the fun? I don’t think so.

On the internet, NetworkedBlogs neither knows nor seems to care that you’re a dog. This is one app to avoid on principle – and avoid inflicting on your Facebook friends.

The editorial staff of Mediation Channel confirms that no animals were harmed in the making of this blog post.

One reason why mediation trainers should use Twitter

Twitter for mediatorsFor those of you still on the fence about whether or not to join Twitter, the popular social media and networking site, there’s one reason why you might want to sign up, at least if you’re a mediation trainer: you’ll find out what the participants really think about the program.

Twitter conveniently allows users to search for updates containing particular words or phrases – a good way to monitor your brand, or get candid feedback about a program or services.

Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogging: 3 mistakes to avoid as you negotiate social media

Oops!A compellingly attractive aspect of all forms of social media – whether blogging, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or others – is their relative ease of use.

Within moments, anyone with internet access and no technological ability whatsoever can leap confidently into the driver’s seat of social media. Thanks to user-friendly platforms like Twitter, WordPress, or Blogger, social interaction online is a mere click of the mouse away.

This is not to say that social media is without difficulty or nuance. Each form demands observation of custom or etiquette. These themselves are no more difficult to master than the social media tools themselves, but even the experienced can trip up.

I’ve written this post to alert you to potholes in the social media highway that I’ve spotted (or broken an axle in myself) recently. I pass these on to you so you can avoid them.

Mistake No. 1. Blogger beware: misusing URL shorteners

For those of you unfamiliar with them, URL shorteners are handy tools online that allow you to shorten a lengthy URL to something more convenient. Popular URL shortening services include TinyURL.com, bit.ly, and is.gd. They come in handy for a number of purposes. Often long URLs can break in an email message, so a shortened URL avoids the risk of broken and unreadable links that could frustrate recipients of your emails. They are also useful for Twitter, which limits messages, including the URLs they contain, to 140 characters. URL shorteners come to the rescue, cutting down lengthy URLs to manageable size.

I recently needed to provide my mediation students with a link to an article by Professor Leonard Riskin on his grid system for describing mediator roles and behaviors. The original URL is the unwieldy:

http://www.gevim.co.il/image/users/89301/ftp/my_files/pdf/Grid.pdf

Using TinyURL.com, which allows for the creation of custom links, I reduced it to:

http://tinyurl.com/riskingrid

There’s a down side to using URL shorteners. Shortened URLs can be used to hide the identity of malicious sites, leading the trusting straight to phishing exploits or spam. (For more on that, please see Mistake No. 2, coming up in a moment.)

This ability of URL shorteners to hide the identity of sites also makes them antithetical to the social nature of blogging, which depend upon links to promote conversation between, and drive traffic to, blogs. Totally by chance, I discovered that a legal blogger mentioned a post on Mediation Channel. Usually WordPress and Google Alerts tip me off when someone has linked to or referred to one of my articles, but not in this case. Puzzled as to why both my WordPress dashboard and Google failed to alert me about this mention, I checked the link to Mediation Channel in the blogger’s post. Instead of using the actual URL for the post, the blogger used one generated by a URL shortening service. Curious, I checked to see whether the blogger had done the same for the other sites they linked to in their post, and saw that they had shortened links to other blogs as well. I did notice that in this and other posts the blogger used the original URL to link to hugely popular blogs or to the sites of prominent news media but used the URL shortener for less exalted blogs. Hmm.

I could be wrong here (and I fervently hope I am), but it sure looks as if this blogger wanted to conceal the URLs of other blogs to avoid giving fellow bloggers the full benefit that linking provides the linker and the linked – two-way conversation, reciprocity, the brand building that using an actual domain name promotes, increased traffic, and search engine recognition. Too bad. This practice also thwarts people like me who like to mouseover links to see what URL they point to; that way I know where I’ll be heading when I click.

To put it in language that conflict resolution practitioners will recognize, blogging is meant to be a value-creating proposition, not a value-claiming one. The reciprocal linking that is the life force of blogging ensures that everyone wins – both the blogger who links and the blogger being linked to. I can only hope that this particular blogger’s practice is unthinking blunder and not deliberate choice. This is the first occasion I’ve had to observe this phenomenon, so I trust that this is not an emerging trend.

In any event, fellow bloggers, please don’t use URL shorteners for links in your blog posts. Otherwise, you risk diluting the power of the link – for you and for everyone else – and that’s a lose-lose.

Mistake No. 2: Clicking with abandon, not caution, on Twitter or Facebook

While social media sites can sometimes seem like idyllic utopian worlds, trouble lurks in the shadows. Twitter for example has been the frequent target of spammers and other digital vandals. An innocent message you receive from a friend might contain a link to a virus. I’ve been fortunate and have avoided trouble, but many of my connections on Twitter have not been so lucky.

Twitter has advice if you think your account has been hijacked or compromised, and Brickhouse Security Blog offers sensible tips on playing it safe, warning, “Don’t assume a link is ‘safe’ just because a friend sent it to you”.

I use Tweetdeck for managing my Twitter account and reading updates; it has a convenient feature that expands shortened links to reveal their true source. That may not always be enough to protect you, but it’s one line of defense. No matter what, click with caution.

Mistake No. 3. Annoying your LinkedIn connections with Twitter updates

Social media giants Twitter and LinkedIn recently announced that they’re going steady, good news for people who use both these networking sites. LinkedIn users can now feature their Twitter updates in their profiles, or post their LinkedIn updates to Twitter.

Unfortunately the instructions on linking your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts are not fully idiot-proof, as I recently discovered. Your LinkedIn connections who aren’t on Twitter may not fully appreciate getting your postings to Twitter as LinkedIn updates. If you decide to connect your LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, to limit what tweets appear in your LinkedIn profile, do the following:

  1. Log in to your LinkedIn account
  2. Go to “Accounts & Settings” (upper right-hand of the LinkedIn page);
  3. Under “Profile Settings” locate “Twitter Settings”
  4. Click on “Twitter Settings”. Click the option that says “Share only tweets that contain #in”. This will give you control over and limit the tweets that appear as a LinkedIn update.

(With a tip of the hat to Philip J. Loree, Jr.)

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Got gaffes of your own you’d care to share from your own adventures in social media? Please feel free to contribute in the comment section below.

New and recommended: ADR blogs to add to your reading list

ADRblogs.comFrom time to time I select noteworthy blogs from recent additions to ADRblogs.com, the site tracking alternative dispute resolution blogs world-wide, and highlight them here. Here is my latest selection, four blogs that stand out in different ways:

Mediation Strategies, published by San Francisco mediator and lawyer Michael Carbone, discusses techniques for resolving civil lawsuits and other disputes, with recommendations to lawyers and clients on how to prepare for mediation. Carbone, who writes well, is off to an impressive start, with posts such as “Deciding when to mediate“, earning him a well-deserved place among Mediate.com‘s Featured Bloggers.

The Trial Warrior is published by Antonin Pribetic, a Toronto-based lawyer who specializes in domestic and international commercial litigation and arbitration. Pribetic is also an academic, teaching Advanced Legal Process at the University of Toronto at Mississauga-Rotman School of Management Diploma in Forensic & Investigative Accounting (DIFA) program. A gifted writer who brings keen-eyed analysis to his work, Pribetic describes the unique focus of this outstanding blog:

A few years ago, I picked up a copy of The Art of War—the classic Chinese treatise on military theory and Taoist philosophy—and experienced an epiphany after reading the following quote from Sun Tzu: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Since then, I have studied and applied The Art of War to both my professional and personal life. This blog will endeavour to lead rather than simply follow; to enlighten, inform and entertain, as well as to learn from its readers, contributors and warriors in all disciplines and walks of life.

Mediation’s Place, published by Joseph C. Markowitz, a trial lawyer and mediator based in Los Angeles, grapples with compelling questions:

How does mediation fit into a system of justice that seems antithetical to mediation? What changes need to be made to court procedures, and to litigants’ mindsets, in order to resolve issues by negotiation instead of by litigation? Why is mediation called a form of “alternative” dispute resolution? What makes mediation work?

New bloggers are often advised to focus their blog on a niche topic. Published by Florida firm Upchurch Watson White & Max, Wealth Mediation Blog does precisely that, focusing its posts on issues relevant to its client base, family businesses and families of wealth.

For additional blogs on alternative dispute resolution and negotiation, consider my recent list of top 24 ADR blogs.

Mediation Channel hacked: a cautionary tale about security, safety online

security onlineMediation Channel got hacked.

While I was enjoying a much-needed vacation earlier this summer, hackers broke into my WordPress-based sites, including this site and ADRblogs.com. They left no immediately detectable trace that alerted me like the first attack this blog sustained in April 2008. Instead, they buried spam injection link code deep in files on my site, which created links out to spam sites.

Unlike that first attack, these digital vandals did considerable damage. I only discovered their footprints by chance this past Friday, long after they’d broken in. I spent Labor Day weekend cleaning up after them and had to do a complete reinstall of WordPress and my site’s content. It was a wretched way to spend a long holiday weekend. (In fact, if you click here, you can see the special message I’d like to deliver to the scumbags who hacked my sites.)

I’m sharing my woes with you, readers, to remind you that nothing on the web is entirely secure. It doesn’t matter how well prepared you may be, what precautions you take, how careful you try to be. It doesn’t matter whether you blog or use Gmail, Twitter or Facebook. Nothing online is 100% safe. When even the New York Times, technology-savvy conflict resolution proponents, or well-known bloggers like Robert Scoble can get hacked, it’s only a matter of time before it happens to you.

I’m not going to repeat the already excellent advice that people like Lorelle on WordPress have offered. If you have a WordPress blog yourself, you should also read Matt Mullenweg’s tips on securing your WordPress installation. And Google Webmaster Central Blog recommends to site owners some best practices against hacking – advice which I urge everyone to heed.

But I’m going to emphasize two key points for those of you who lead part of your lives online. It boils down to two things: prevention and preparation.

Prevention.

First, do what you can to prevent an attack.  If you’re using WordPress, upgrade as soon as a new release of WordPress is available, since these new releases address vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. If you’re using widgets or plugins to add functionality to a blog, obtain them from trusted sources only and update them as soon as new releases are available.  Use strong, unguessable passwords for all accounts, control panels, FTP, and email, and change those passwords regularly. (Here’s a link to ideas for choosing secure passwords.)

Log in regularly to blogs or social media accounts you’ve set up to make sure that no one has hacked into them. Avoid if you can simply abandoning your online accounts; failure to monitor them means that you’ll be the last to know if any of them gets hacked. For example, if you try Twitter and decide it’s not for you, delete your account or change your account settings to protect your updates from public view.

Monitor news about technology and social media by following some of the many excellent blogs out there so that you hear about security issues quickly. I’ve already mentioned Lorelle on WordPress for WordPress users, but also consider Mashable, which covers news about social media, Web Worker Daily, the New York Times Bits Blog, Ars Technica, or Lifehacker, which regularly discusses strategies for security online.

Preparation.

When it comes to online disasters, be as well prepared as you would be for real-world ones.  You must prepare because no prevention measures are 100% foolproof.  It doesn’t always matter how strong your passwords are, how conscientious you are about updating software, or how strong the security measures are that you take. Prepare as if disaster will certainly strike.

Prepare a list of all the online accounts and sites you have. Then go through that list and ensure that you have back-ups of everything you care about. (In the case of WordPress, back up your database and download copies of your files by FTP. Also download an XML backup of your posts from your WordPress admin panel.) It’s what kept my own recent brush with hackers from being the unmitigated disaster it might have been. Have a plan in place and everything that you need organized and at hand so that if the unthinkable happens, you’ll be ready.

Back-ups aren’t just for blogs by the way. You can back up your contacts and profile information on LinkedIn, or information on social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook. And definitely back up the contents of your hard drives – don’t forget about them.

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This is the dark side of social media. Be safe out there, friends. And be ready.

Negotiating social media: the sequel

Negotiating social mediaLast week I posted “It’s a jungle out there: words of caution for negotiating social media“, an article with my recommendations about using social media wisely and courteously.  What spurred me to write it were some unpleasant and fortunately isolated experiences with shameless marketers on social media sites.

I noted the irony when yesterday I received an email from someone I’d recently connected with on one of those sites. The message read as follows:

You are among the many contacts of [name omitted]. Before we begin sending you any information, we want to be certain we have your permission.

CONFIRM BY VISITING THE LINK BELOW:

[Link omitted]

Click the link above to give us permission to send you information. It’s fast and easy!

I was first baffled and then annoyed. I wrote back to the sender asking for more details about the content I’d be receiving. They replied, assuring me it would contain news along with highlights from the sender’s blog. I wrote back again, asking for the RSS feed for the blog so that I could follow it with my newsreader if the content interested me. They wrote back and told me that the blog didn’t in fact exist yet. No thanks, friend.

I realized that perhaps the contact settings on this particular account weren’t explicit enough. I added the following information in the hopes that this will deter similar communications going forward:

I am delighted to connect with others online. Social media make it possible to build relationships and forge alliances that transcend geography and time zones.

Please be aware though that my interest in connecting does not extend to receiving solicitations from you for services or goods that you or those you serve as agent for offer. Also, I am not interested in being added to your newsletter list; I get enough email as it is, thanks. If you publish a blog you think might interest me, you can let me know. I’m a blogger myself.

If you do not honor these simple requests, I will have no choice but to decline your invitation or to delete your connection from my account. I regret that I must even post this message at all, but unfortunately I’ve encountered a number of people using social media for persistent and unwelcome sales pitches and not for networking. I am grateful for your understanding and look forward to connecting with those who share my appreciation for building relationships distinguished by integrity and trust.

I’ve added a version of this notice to my social media page on this site as well. Against all odds, I remain hopeful that at last folks will begin to get the message.

It's a jungle out there: words of caution for negotiating social media

the social media jungleTwitter. LinkedIn. Facebook.

Chances are you’ve set up a user account on at least one of these sites or maybe others besides these popular three. Learning how to navigate these social media sites can be overwhelming,  but with the right approach they can be well worth the time you spend building your profile or your portfolio.

I’ve enjoyed my experiences with each of these. Twitter has become my office water cooler, a place to swap news and strike up conversation with some interesting folks while I drink my morning coffee or take a break for lunch.

I’m stimulated by the freewheeling discussions in the groups I’ve joined on LinkedIn, particularly the Commercial and Industry Arbitration and Mediation Group founded by ADR reinsurance expert Philip Loree Jr., Victoria VanBuren, Karl Bayer, Don Philbin, Robert Bear, Peter Scarpato, and Roger Moak.

Facebook, which I use for personal connections, has turned out to be a great way to stay in touch with far-flung friends and family or to get to know on a more personal level the people  I know through my professional ties.

But using social media is not always a bed of roses. I’ve had a couple of experiences lately that have been total bummers. In one case, someone I’d accepted an invitation from on LinkedIn immediately began hitting me with sleazy sales pitches. They became the first person I’ve ever had to disconnect from on LinkedIn (ironically, this person has a reputation as a social media maven).  In another case, I reluctantly took the unprecedented step of unfollowing on Twitter a fellow mediator due to the annoying frequency of self-serving updates they posted, the constant linking to spam sites, and their unhealthy obsession with their follower count. This kind of behavior just ruins it for the rest of us.

Fortunately, these kinds of incidents are rare. But nonetheless, drawn from my recent experiences, here are some social media suggestions to help you 1) play it safe and 2)  improve the quality of life for others online.

  • Know who you’re connecting to. Before I accept any invitation to connect, I make sure I know whom I’m dealing with. This is particularly true with the business networking site LinkedIn, which urges users to remember that what counts is “the quality of the connections and not … the quantity of connections”. For any site that you’re using for business-related networking, trust constitutes the basis for the connections you’ll be making. Ask yourself, would the person inviting you to connect be someone you’d be willing to recommend to others?  Today in fact I declined an invitation from someone on LinkedIn whose profile was missing all relevant information. Without knowing who they were, what kind of work they did and where, or any information that told me something about them, I was not yet willing to accept their invitation, and wrote back and explained why, asking for more information and their help so I could decide.
  • Be willing to say no. Mediators tend to be nice people. But don’t let your desire to be nice to others stand in your way of turning down an invitation to connect. Don’t hesitate to unfollow or block someone who is annoying you. People who are insensitive to social media etiquette will probably not even notice when you do, so don’t feel guilty about it. I think LinkedIn is correct here; it’s the quality not the quantity of your connections that matter. Besides, life is too short to tolerate schmucks.
  • Create a social media policy. Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, but I like guidelines. Well-crafted guidelines set expectations, create certainty, promote fairness, and make life easier for everyone. If you establish your own social media guidelines, you can point to them so that people know that your decision not to follow or friend wasn’t arbitrary or personal, it was based on good reason. A few months ago I had fun crafting a half-tongue-in-cheek Twitter policy; it hasn’t seemed to deter spammers much, but it’s a great conversation starter and my friends on Twitter get a kick out of it. Feel free to use mine as the basis for your own.
  • Remember that social media is about sharing, not selling. Please, no sales pitches. No shameless self-promotion. ‘Nuff said.
  • Be trustworthy, not trusting. That’s a wonderful piece of advice from the authors of Getting to Yes that applies as much to social media as it does to negotiations. Social media are ideal for building relationships; use them to build ties not burn down bridges. Show yourself to be trustworthy by being helpful to others, passing along useful links, or sharing noteworthy news.Your reputation depends upon it.

Rudyard Kipling might have had social media in mind when he wrote, “A brave heart and a courteous tongue. They shall carry thee far through the jungle…”

Getting to yes with blogging: even the big guys can learn something about social media

The fable of the lion and the mouseSome of us in the dispute resolution blogosphere have noticed but perhaps have been too polite to say anything…that is, until now…

One of the major players in the negotiation world is blogging.

These folks may know a lot about negotiating…but it looks like they could use a little help getting to yes with their blog.

Just a suggestion…

Blogging isn’t about constant self-promotion. It’s not about continually plugging stuff you sell.

Instead…

It’s about conversation.

It’s about connecting with others.

It’s about sharing what you know.

Please let me share this: a post on six things effective dispute resolution bloggers do. If you need help removing that thorn from your paw, just give this mouse a shout.