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:
Using TinyURL.com, which allows for the creation of custom links, I reduced it to:
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:
- Log in to your LinkedIn account
- Go to “Accounts & Settings” (upper right-hand of the LinkedIn page);
- Under “Profile Settings” locate “Twitter Settings”
- 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.)
* * * * * * * *
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.