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…”

8 responses to “It's a jungle out there: words of caution for negotiating social media

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  2. Diane,

    Another fantastic article offering some helpful advice.

    Social media is a wonderful thing, but, as you point out, there is no shortage of people out there who just do not seem to get it. It is amazing how many people there are, particularly lawyers, who seem to think it is a platform for blatant and relentless self-promotion. I do not know if that simply reflects self-absorbtion or is the result of misguided marketing advice, but I have got to believe that the vast majority of people who are subjected to the efforts of the relentless self promoters are as turned off by them as you are. What they do is not only annoying, but an insult to everyone else’s intelligence.

    I have spoken with a lot of people who might otherwise have much to contribute, but are reluctant to participate in social media for fear they will be spammed by advertisers and relentless self-promoters. And some of these folks worry that they would also be subjecting themselves to identify theft, hacking and a host of other high-tech ills that are happily rare occurrences when basic security precautions are taken. Sadly, it is difficult to dispel these fears.

    Thanks for the complimentary mention and the reference to the Commercial and Industry Arbitration and Mediation Group! As you know, our group has been very fortunate thus far in that those who participate are respectful of other group members, and generally refrain from blatant self-promotion, which allows us to focus on sharing information and helping each other out.

    Phil

  3. Phil, your kind words just made my day.

    Thanks for your thoughts – like you, I’ve met people unnecessarily fearful of social media. It’s too bad, since they’re missing out on a great deal. In four years of blogging and using social media, my negative experiences are vastly outweighed by the positive ones, and fortunately most of the people I’ve encountered here on the web have been a pleasure to converse with.

    You’ve done a great job with the CIAM Group, Phil. The collegial tone is no doubt due to the example set by its founder!

  4. Diane, thanks for your praise!

    I cannot, however, take all the credit for creating the group. The idea was actually Victoria VanBuren’s, who discussed it with me. I thought it would be a good idea to try to drum up as much support for the idea as possible in advance of forming the group, so we discussed it with Karl Bayer, Don Philbin, Robert Bear, Peter Scarpato, and Roger Moak, all of whom were and continue to be very supportive and instrumental in getting the group off the ground and keeping it going. (Had I known you at the time I would have sought out your support, too.)

    We were, of course, delighted when you and a number of other well-known ADR experts joined, including law professors, mediators, arbitrators, and attorneys. And we were thrilled that you and a number of others jumped right in and started actively participating and supporting the group, which encouraged others to do the same.

    So I credit the group’s success to its members, particularly its active ones. From a social media perspective (and I’m no social media expert) I think that’s exactly how it is supposed to work.

    Thanks for all your kind support!

    Phil

  5. Victoria VanBuren

    Diane,

    Thank you very much for mentioning our Commercial and Industry Arbitration and Mediation LinkedIn Group.

    I would like to mention that in addition to Philip J. Loree Jr., this Group was founded and is co-managed by Don Philbin, Karl Bayer, Robert Bear Robert, and Victoria VanBuren. When Karl Bayer and I first discussed forming the Group, we never thought it would become the great forum of ideas that it is now.

    We are accepting new members, persons interested in joining the Group can register here: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=1964382&trk=anet_ug_hm

    Thank you again Diane for being such a wonderful neighbor in the ADR blogosphere!

    Regards,

    Victoria VanBuren
    Disputing: Conversations about Dispute Resolution
    http://karlbayer.com/blog

  6. Victoria and Phil, thank you for alerting me and my readers about the correct identity of the Group’s illustrious founders. My apologies also for my error – and I am glad that you were kind enough to correct me.

    Thanks, Victoria, for the link and invitation to readers to register. I urge anyone interested in intelligent discussion and lively debate about ADR to join.

    By the way, Victoria and Phil, I corrected the information about the group’s founders in the post. Thanks so much for setting me straight – I want to give credit where credit is due!

  7. I think this is a great article. As an MBA/Conflict Resolution masters student, I think these suggestions will really help a mediator to promote their personal brand through social media and to continue learning from other professionals. One thing I would add: It important to consciously document a long-term plan. Often, the most difficult task is maintaing your network over the long term. In such a fast paced environment, you’re network requires constant involvement, communication and monitoring. If you set long-term goals at the onset, you will be more likely to meet those goals.

  8. Erika, thanks for your comment and your great advice. Goal setting is absolutely important. Best of luck to you in your studies – glad you stopped by to read and to add your two cents!