Category Archives: Networking and Social Media for Mediators

ADR practitioners to follow on Twitter

Mediators on TwitterYesterday I offered some tips on using Twitter for ADR practitioners. I promised to follow it up with a post pointing you to members of the dispute resolution community you might like to follow on Twitter.

The following are names no doubt familiar to Mediation Channel readers. All bloggers, these are folks I associate with friendly conversation and links to interesting articles and web sites. In each case the name links directly to the corresponding Twitter profile:

Other nice folks from the ADR community on Twitter that you might enjoy connecting with include these:

This is by no means a complete list of all the ADR practitioners, scholars, supporters, and students on Twitter, and I intend no slight to anyone whose name I didn’t include. If you’re a dispute resolution practitioner on Twitter, please post a comment to this post and provide your name and Twitter handle. Or, recommend an ADR professional, scholar, or student that you know on Twitter.

Of course if you’d like to follow me on Twitter, you can find me at @dianelevin.

Twitter tips for mediators: how ADR professionals can get the most from this social media tool

TwitterIt’s almost impossible these days to pick up a newspaper or turn on the nightly TV news or your favorite radio station without reading or hearing something about Twitter.

Twitter is a free (at least for now) communication and social networking utility that allows you to post brief messages, known as “tweets” to others. Twitter invites users to respond to the question “What are you doing?”, using either their computers or cellphones to answer. Brevity is among Twitter’s virtues (and also its drawbacks – it is not the medium for carrying on nuanced conversation) — messages on Twitter are limited to 140 characters.

After long resisting Twitter’s allure, I finally set aside my suspicions and tried it out. I remain today a regular Twitter user. So what have I gotten out of Twitter? There are two chief reasons I have stuck with it — 1)  it’s a fun way to connect with smart, interesting people you might not meet otherwise; and 2) it’s a great source of news and information or a good place to spot trends that affect one’s work. (I’ve got two main reasons, but mediator and blogger Steve Mehta has identified 22 reasons that he uses Twitter.) In sum, Twitter serves as my digital town square. To amplify:

Connecting with others. Twitter is part of the web of phenomena known as “social media” – tools that enable people to communicate directly with each other. It has introduced me to people right in my own backyard, as well as those located elsewhere around the globe. It’s also provided another communication channel with folks I already know, since Twitter permits both public and private messaging (use care when you post that you are not telegraphing sensitive information to the whole world). I enjoy these brief how-are-you’s as we pass each other, on our way to work for the day or home at the end of an evening. There’s a distinct pleasure, too, in experiencing the rhythms of the waking or dreaming world, as a colleague in New Zealand winds down with late-night TV while I drink my morning coffee.

Information, news, and trends. My favorite Twitter users do much more than answer the question “What are you doing?” They are also telling followers what they are reading or watching or thinking about. They share links to articles on topics that interest me. They pose questions in turn, asking for advice, recommendations on products or service providers, or solutions for problems at home or at work. Twitter can be a good place to go to get help – or offer it.

I use Tweetdeck, a tool that runs from my desktop, to sort and manage the flood of information Twitter produces, and also to monitor certain keywords or key phrases relevant to my work. This lets me use Twitter to track public attitudes or perceptions about ADR, or to understand how and why people use or choose not to use mediation, or why mediation or other processes for resolving disputes succeed or fail. Twitter can also help me tune in to the problems that people face as they grapple with their own disputes or upcoming negotiations to help me rethink the way I offer or describe services. Twitter gives me an additional source of data as I listen in on the flow of conversation; many people post messages as they wait in the hallway during mediations.

So how can an ADR professional use Twitter well?

Numerous social media experts have already written countless blog posts and print articles dispensing advice, good and bad, about Twitter. Conscientious Twitter citizen Amy Derby, who writes about blogging for lawyers at Law Firm Blogger, recently rounded up the best with a trio of posts with tips and how-to’s on Twitter. While ostensibly for lawyers, the advice in these posts apply equally to ADR professionals. I particularly recommend “Lawyer Twitter Practices: 29 Do’s and Don’ts” and “Figuring out Twitter“.

My own best advice includes these:

Be helpful. When I began using Twitter, a number of good Samaritans introduced me to their followers, offered me tips to make the most of my Twitter experience, and patiently answered my questions or pointed me in the direction of helpful resources to orient me to Twitter. Even those new to Twitter (and that includes you!) can be helpful.  If someone asks a question and you have the answer or the know-how, respond. Someone will appreciate hearing from you.

Provide good content. Twitter is about sharing, not self-promotion. That’s advice I’ve heard others offer, and it’s true. Rather than linking repeatedly to your own site, share links to articles you’ve found stimulating, online content that makes you think, or to online tools that simplify tasks for work or home. Share stuff you’ve learned, ideas you’re mulling over, or something that made you laugh out loud. (By the way, before you link, be careful that the site you’re pointing followers to is legitimate and not a spam blog.) Or recommend another Twitter user you admire to your followers.

Tell followers who you are. When you set up a Twitter account, you create a profile that includes your name, location, your web site, and your bio, and you have the ability to customize your Twitter profile image and background. If you’re planning to use Twitter for business, then when you set up your Twitter account, take time to personalize your Twitter profile. Use your real name and not a pseudonym. Prepare a bio that says something about you in 140 characters – who you are, what you do, perhaps your interests or hobbies. Add a link to your web site or, if you don’t have one yet, your LinkedIn profile. Swap out the default Twitter profile image for one of your own and customize your Twitter background. Before you make your official Twitter debut and let people know you’re on Twitter, take time to post several “tweets” as well to give prospective followers a sense of who you are and what you have to say. Also, if you’re planning to use Twitter for business networking, it can be helpful to provide your location so that others in your geographic area can find you. (I’ve temporarily listed my location as “Tehran” in support of Iranian citizens protesting the recent election results, but otherwise mine lists Greater Boston as my geographic base.) Giving your location can serve as a conversation starter, since prospective followers may have visited your town, grown up or studied there, or have family or friends nearby. (One caveat: be careful about “tweeting” that you’re going out of town on vacation; the criminally minded may be monitoring Twitter.)

Monitor and respond to replies and direct messages. Twitter is a form of social media, so use Twitter to be sociable. If someone mentions you in a “tweet”, reply to them and say thanks. If someone sends you a direct message, be courteous and reply. And don’t stand around waiting for someone to “talk” to you – by all means strike up conversation with people you’d like to get to know better, as well as colleagues or friends you’ve been fortunate to find on Twitter.

Be genuine. Avoid Twitter tools that generate automatic messages to people who follow you. I can spot these canned messages instantly, and they provide me with a reason to “unfollow” someone. If someone follows you, take a moment to reply and thank them; Twitter is about building relationships after all. (One caveat: Twitter is plagued by spam accounts, so be careful who you follow back and reply to. See “Be careful”, just below.)

Be careful out there. Twitter, like any community, has bad parts of town to steer clear of. Some Twitter accounts are created solely for the purpose of wasting your time or taking your money. Before following someone, check them out first. Have they bothered to change the default Twitter image with a photo of their own? Have they provided their location? A link to their web site?  What does their bio have to say about them? What kinds of updates do they post to Twitter – do they link to content you find interesting?  On principle I avoid following anyone whose bio claims they a) are an SEO expert, b) can help me make money online, c) get me thousands of followers on Twitter, or d) can get me out of debt fast. Twitter experts will tell you to pay attention to the follower/following/updates ratio. If someone is following 1000 people but only has 50 followers and has posted only 2 updates, watch out; there’s something fishy going on.

By the way, if you’d like to follow me on Twitter, my Twitter handle is @dianelevin.

Coming next: ADR practitioners to follow on Twitter.

Conflicts of interest in the age of Twitter and Facebook: neutrals must find right balance

finding balance in an age of Twitter and FacebookFacebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – if you are active on any of those sites or on the many others like them – then you no doubt have frequent opportunities to connect.

But what happens for ADR professionals – mediators, arbitrators, and others – when clients are the ones who invite you to connect, follow you, or seek to “friend” you?  In an increasingly plugged-in (and wireless) world, when many of us do our networking or marketing online, the risks of this happening are real: the ABA Journal reports that the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission reprimanded a judge who friended on Facebook a lawyer in a pending case and discussed the case by posting messages to the lawyer through the social networking site.

Various codes of conduct for mediators, such as ABA and ACR’s Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators (PDF) (which, alas, are aspirational only with no regulatory teeth to back them), exhort mediators to identify and disclose all actual or potential conflicts of interest, including current or past personal or professional relationships with any of the parties, and caution mediators to prevent harm to the integrity of the process and avoid establishing a relationship with any of the participants once the mediation has ended.  These standards, as my favorite ADR iconoclast, scholar Michael Moffitt, has pointed out before, offer little meaningful guidance and don’t tell me whether following someone on Twitter counts as a “relationship”, professional or otherwise. I can however imagine how one side to a dispute might feel were they to see that I’d connected on LinkedIn with their counterpart two weeks after the mediation had concluded.

So what’s a mediator to do in the digital age? What policies do you have in place for dealing with the day a former client seeks to friend you on Facebook ?

Photo credit: Kostya Kisleyko

Negotiating online relationships: a marketing mistake to avoid

oops! marketing strategies to avoidAs much I have been enjoying Twitter, the social media and instant messaging tool, it has one black mark against it: some followers try to sell you stuff you don’t want. I have quickly learned who not to follow back to avoid an influx of messages that are little more than shameless self-promotion or snake-oil ads.

Occasionally, these self-marketers will also pursue you beyond Twitter, sending you emails that push products or services.  One such effort backfired in a big way for the legal marketing specialist who deployed it.  They sent me the following message that begins with these words:

I have been reading your Mediation Channel and following you on Twitter. It is apparent that we have a mutual passion helping lawyers succeed. I have an opportunity for us to collaborate and do just that.

How flattering! Bloggers love to hear from their readers, so this isn’t a bad way to get a blogger’s attention. There was just one problem.

Despite the fact that my Twitter account links to my blog, which in turn provides my email address on a contact page readily accessible from the plainly visible navbar and from a link in one of my sidebars, this marketer sent this message to a different Diane Levin, who immediately spotted the mistake and took the trouble to forward the message along to me, the intended recipient.

This tipped me off that this marketer hadn’t in fact paid much attention to what was on my blog. In fact, it’s pretty obvious they hadn’t bothered to visit my blog at all. Since marketing is about building relationships with prospective clients, at least make an effort to be sincere and get the important stuff right.

Negotiating Twitter: a mediator test drives the hot social media craze

TwitterSince February, I’ve been test-driving Twitter, the social media tool that everyone these days seems to be talking about.  It’s a social and business networking, instant messaging, and microblogging service, all rolled into one. Twitter invites users to respond to the question “What are you doing?” Every day, thousands of users log in, eager to answer, using cell phones or computers.

Once you set up a Twitter account, you’re ready to begin. You choose others on Twitter that you’d like to “follow” – that is, receive updates from. In turn, like a cult leader or radio talk show host, you gradually build an army of “followers” of your own – i.e., Twitterers interested in getting updates from you. There’s a heady thrill when you discover that Harper’s Magazine, George Stephanopoulos, and The Onion are all following you. Twitter has its constraints: each message that you send – known as a “tweet” – is limited to 140 characters, so each tweet you send demands an economy of thought.

I’d initially been resistant to the notion of Twitter, organized around the premise that your network of contacts actually cares what you’re up to. Twitter conversation at its worst – which you can eavesdrop on here – not surprisingly reflects the banality of daily living, dispatches from the world’s waiting room. When I first signed up and attempted to follow the threads of conversation among those I followed, I was confused by the seemingly disconnected messages popping up on my screen. Twitter at first felt like attending a cocktail party organized by the Mad Hatter. As you survey the room, hoping to catch sight of someone you might know, you overhear random snatches of conversations in progress. The babble of voices rises, each rapidly talking over the other and everyone seemingly talking only to themselves.

Contributing to the sense of disorientation, communications through Twitter often rely upon a shorthand or code incomprehensible to outsiders but recognizable by Twitter habitués. (Twitter lingo — comprised of neologisms like “tweets”, “twitterers” and “tweeps” (slang for your friends on Twitter) — brings to mind critic Dorothy Parker’s immortal review of A.A. Milne’s The House on Pooh Corner: “Tonstant Reader fwowed up.“)

One factor though pushed me to hang in there.  Many of the ADR and legal blogosphere’s most respected contributors had enthusiastically adopted Twitter. I figured if colleagues like Tammy Lenski, Stephanie West Allen, Bob Ambrogi, and Victoria Pynchon had embraced Twitter, there must be something redeeming about it.

So I persisted. Here’s what I learned about Twitter and why I’m a committed (for now) Twitter user.

The natives are friendly.

What won me over in the end was the sociability of Twitter. Twitter regulars like Susan Cartier Liebel and Charon QC patiently answered my questions, tolerated my mistakes, introduced me to their followers, and offered me help and advice. One of them, Amy Derby, a social media enthusiast who publishes Law Firm Blogger, generously shared with me a guide she had created for newcomers to Twitter.

Twitter allows two ways to communicate with others: you can send them a public message, visible to everyone. You can also send a direct (private) message, but only if that user is already following you. (Note that it can be easy to err and send out to the whole world what was supposed to be a private message, so take care before you click.)  Definitely respond to the messages you receive; that’s the point of social media.

For me the rewards in social networking have been great. Twitter has allowed me to get to know other bloggers more informally, outside of their blogs, as well as any number of people outside my profession. Twitter has of course introduced me to mediators and others working or studying in the field of conflict resolution. Located around the globe, they are remarkable individuals whom I would not have connected with otherwise, representing the chance to explore cultural differences and join hands over similarities. This in turn has translated into more readers for my blog. In addition, for those interested in seeing the face of the next generation in dispute resolution, Twitter will connect you with students like Leigh Doyle who represent the future of ADR.

Getting started with Twitter.

Others have already produced superb advice on the topic of Twitter, which I see no point in duplicating. I encourage you to read them:

However, there are some pointers I thought I’d share:

Use Twitter tools to save time.

To make the most of Twitter and avoid the frustration I experienced at the beginning, waste no time and download one of the third-party apps available to manage and send messages on Twitter. The one I’ve decided to stick with, after testing several, is Tweetdeck, which runs from my desktop and allows me to organize messages by group and by topic, so you can better manage the torrent of information Twitter unleashes. Tweetdeck also includes access to several URL shorteners, so that I can quickly shorten the links I send in my tweets. I really recommend it. Also, what no one ever told me: don’t even try to read every single “tweet” that anyone you follow sends out. It’s impossible. Use Tweetdeck or a similar tool to zero in on content that interests you.

Take your time to ease in.

At first I spent time observing to gain a sense of the rhythms of Twitter.  I gradually selected more people to follow and paid attention to how they used Twitter. Like with blogging, each one had a unique voice and each used Twitter differently. Some used Twitter primarily to post links to content, others for chatting with their network, and some plainly for working the room to make sales (for a me a turn-off and a reason not to follow back). What I would suggest is to spend a few minutes each day, perhaps first thing in the morning and then again toward evening, dropping in on Twitter to see what those you follow are discussing. I also began posting “tweets”, tentatively at first, then with more confidence.  For me, these brief, daily visits gradually built a more complete picture of the Twitter experience.

Follow your instincts.

One of the problems with all forms of social media is what to do when someone wants to connect with you, whether it’s the former co-worker on LinkedIn or the ex prom date attempting to friend you on Facebook.  On Twitter, the question is, do you follow back those who follow you? I’ve heard conflicting advice about following; some suggest following anyone who follows you as a matter of courtesy, others, like Twitter evangelist Kevin O’Keefe, sensibly suggest a more reasoned approach. Obviously building your connections in Twitter is important if you intend to use it for business or social networking; however, Twitter limits to 2,000 the number of people you can follow, so you do need to be selective.

The rule of thumb I developed for following is simple. I follow those a) whose tweets interest me; b) aren’t using Twitter to shamelessly flog goods or services; and c) don’t Twitter while driving. (I’m serious about that last one. I was once almost killed by a cellphone-wielding driver.) Before following someone, I like to look at their Twitter page to get a sense of what they post and check out the web site their profile links to.

Know Twitter’s shortcomings.

Twitter is no magic bullet. Although it can used for microblogging (short messages with links to relevant content), text messaging, and networking, this multi-purpose tool is by no means a perfect, one-stop solution. It is certainly no substitute for publishing a blog of your own, since you do not own the content you create on Twitter and Google does not index the outgoing links, which means the sites you link to from Twitter do not receive the search engine recognition or value they would gain otherwise. These issues have led Small Business Trends to wonder whether Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites are turning us into digital sharecroppers — and to offer this advice:

Use it to drive traffic back to your own websites or the page on Amazon where your book is for sale; to create personal brand visibility online; to develop a reputation as an expert; to expand your network of professional contacts; to create a community of fans and followers; and to spread word of mouth about your business. But don’t use social sites like Facebook, FriendFeed or Twitter as the place where you publish the majority of your intellectual property or devote the majority of your efforts…. Be an owner — not a renter.

For this reason, be sure you have a plan in place before you start using Twitter or any other social media tool. Know what you’re using it for.

Also, remember that your clients are on Twitter, too. I have seen mediators tweeting from the negotiation table, sometimes posting updates I’m not sure they would want their clients to see. Twitter is a public forum; someone can easily overhear you. However, Twitter can also serve as a quality monitoring tool — your clients just may be twittering about you, too. That may be reason enough to get yourself a Twitter account.

* * * * *

If you’re already on Twitter or are about to set up an account, you can follow me at @dianelevin. If you have other tips or best advice to contribute, please feel free to do so in the comments section to this post.

Twittering from the mediation table: social media come to ADR

twitterI recently joined Twitter.  Twitter, for those of you not yet familiar with this social media tool, is a social and business networking, microblogging, and instant messaging service.

Messages sent via Twitter are short, limited to 140 characters, demanding an economy of expression of its users. Twitter is based on one simple question: “What are you doing?”  Millions of users around the globe are eager to answer, sharing with their network brief updates, news, and ideas sent via computers and cellphones.

Not surprisingly, Twitter, God help us, has come to mediation.  Mediators and clients alike are sending dispatches from the mediation table addressing a range of topics:

A Twitter member for only 7 days, I remain undecided about Twitter’s usefulness to me and plan to tell you what I think once I’ve given it a little more time. Others have ably weighed in, pro and con. If you’d like to connect with me via Twitter, you can follow me here.

Where are all the female law bloggers? Hanging out in the ADR blogosphere of course

Legal women who blogC.C. Holland, writing for Legal Technology, laments the lack of strong female voices among legal bloggers and asks, “Where Are All the Female Law Bloggers?

Holland may not have looked very hard.

There’s a bunch of us — loud, proud, and outspoken — right here in the ADR blogosphere. We include:

Me, Diane Levin, here at Mediation Channel

Vickie Pynchon, Settle It Now Negotiation Law Blog

Stephanie West Allen, Idealawg and Brains on Purpose

Gini Nelson, Engaging Conflicts

Nancy Hudgins, Civil Negotiation and Mediation

Dominique Lopez-Eychenie, her eponymous French language blog

Jan Frankel Schau’s Mediation Insights

Phyllis G. Pollack, PGP Mediation Blog

Paula M. Lawhon, San Francisco Mediation: A Better Solution

Dina Lynch Eisenberg, Mediation Mensch

Andrea Schneider, Nancy Welsh, and Sarah Rudolph Cole, ADR Prof Blog

(I’m also going to make dispute resolution professional and blogging role model Tammy Lenski an honorary lawyer since no list of women who blog about mediation would be complete without including her and her two blogs, Conflict Zen and Mediator Tech.)

International Mediation Institute honors mediation blogs from across the globe

Mediation blogsThe International Mediation Institute (IMI), a public policy initiative creating international competency standards for certifying mediators, has conferred a great honor upon a select group of bloggers.

IMI has created a special section on its web site to recognize the work of mediation bloggers from countries around the world. IMI’s list of bloggers, with links and brief descriptions, is prefaced by these words from Herman Melville that capture beautifully the spirit of both mediation and blogging:

We cannot live only for ourselves.
A thousand fibres connect us with our fellow men;
and among those fibres, as sympathetic threads,
our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.

I feel privileged that Mediation Channel was among those included. I’m in the company of the likes of Geoff Sharp (New Zealand), Tammy Lenski (U.S.), Marcus Brinkmann (Germany), Sanjana Hattotuwa (Sri Lanka), and others who have contributed in significant ways to the quality of the conversation about ADR on the web. You can explore the complete list of mediation blogs at the IMI web site.

Thank you, IMI, for your generous support of our community of bloggers.

(Hat tip to Samil Demir who publishes the Turkish language Arabulucu Blog.)

Mediation bloggers: are you making the most of the social side of blogging?

connecting with the world through blogsNancy Hudgins, an attorney and mediator in California, began blogging just this year at Civil Negotiation and Mediation, a blog that puts the “civil” back in civil litigation.

She recently shared with readers the discoveries she made about the addictive nature of blogging and also its surprising benefits. She described how blogging has engaged her intellectually while connecting her personally to readers and fellow bloggers.

Nancy has readily embraced the most appealing part of blogging — its capacity for bringing people — not just ideas — together. Nancy consistently demonstrates what successful bloggers do best — linking to other blogs to point her readers in the direction of ideas that have captured her attention. She also links to new bloggers, welcoming them warmly. Her generosity of spirit and her confident voice have set her apart as an ADR blogger of distinction. Nancy is a mediator who really gets what blogging is all about.

Sad to say, not all ADR professionals who blog appreciate this. In my travels around the web, all too often I find bloggers who resolutely refuse or fail to link to other bloggers, something I just don’t understand. Even when it’s evident that they have drawn inspiration for their posts from the work of others in the blogosphere, they neglect to acknowledge the source of their ideas. Some don’t have any outgoing links at all — not even to other web sites, let alone to other bloggers — as if fearful that if they send their readers away, they will not come back.

In a different but allied context — legal blogging — Kevin O’Keefe, a lawyer and blog evangelist, makes the case for linking to other bloggers:

Imagine a legal conference or seminar where lawyers never referred to what another said. Imagine a legal article not referencing previous writings by other lawyers. We’d get no where in the discourse of law. And lawyers that refused to enter into such discourse on the law would never establish themselves as reliable and trusted authorities in their niche area of the law.

Blogs are the same darn thing – discourse on the law. It’s this discourse that further enhances your reputation as an expert and grows your business…

Plus rule one on marketing your blog is linking to other blogs. The more you send people away to more valuable resources, the more valuable you become to your target audience.

“Being more social is what gets traffic to your site,” as Kevin said recently.

These isolated bloggers are definitely missing the point, as media writer and former lawyer Brian Clark has explained:

People often choose the attorney or other service provider they connect with the most. Since different people connect with different things, joining in on a conversation that naturally compares and contrasts your style and expertise with that of your peers is smart marketing. More importantly, it exudes confidence.

Blogging and not linking to fellow bloggers is like going to a party and standing in a corner talking to yourself. Why bother to get all dressed up if you’re not going to mingle with the other guests, join the conversation, maybe even dance?

But blogging is not just about increased traffic to your site or a smarter marketing strategy.

Most importantly — to me at least — the social aspect of blogging means the opportunity to make real and meaningful connections with others who share my passion. Blogging has introduced me to people I would never have met otherwise. It has brought me a wide network of colleagues and friends I can turn to for advice, for support, for a laugh when I need one. We have wrestled with ethical dilemmas together, joined forces in the face of adversity, shared confidences, weathered setbacks, celebrated triumphs.

The best part of all of this is that the social side of blogging is not just for bloggers. Readers like you can directly participate by adding your comments. And who knows? It may motivate you to start blogging, too.

The party’s just getting started.

Want to dance?

Serving – and keeping – your membership: an open letter to organizations for ADR professionals

Getting and keeping membersLast week, mediator and blogger Geoff Sharp asked his readers for some help (links to follow are to PDF documents so click with care):

Tuesday next week I am facilitating a breakfast session on how our two local New Zealand professional mediation organisations can serve us better – “How LEADR and AMINZ can better serve New Zealand mediators – a discussion

Can you help me prepare – what’s the best thing your local organisation does for you – how does the mediation organisation you choose to pay and belong to add value to your practice?

He asked for his readers to post their answers in the comment section. I was late weighing in (Geoff had to ask that question over what was for Americans the long 4th of July weekend), but I finally gave him my response this morning. I decided to reproduce my comment here (with some later refinements in my thinking), because I think Geoff has asked a particularly important and thoughtful question. This is particularly so for me because in the course of the past year I allowed memberships in three organizations for ADR professionals to lapse.

What follows is my open letter to organizations for ADR professionals everywhere, with some advice on how to keep, not drive away, members:

  • First, provide your members with useful information that helps them do their jobs. A regularly published electronic newsletter for example that shares news, business tips, as well as links to news stories or web sites that are directly relevant to our work. Avoid drily written, heavily footnoted articles on obscure topics that aren’t useful to most of us toiling away in the trenches.
  • Second, provide value for those membership dues. Provide regularly scheduled programming (workshops, panel discussions) taught by respected and experienced professionals that will teach us something meaningful, help us deliver services more effectively, or give us tools to help us manage and market our practice better. Don’t waste our time with programs that don’t do any of those things. Schedule meetings and networking opportunities too at locations that encourage as many people as possible to attend, and not just for folks in one single geographic location, particularly if your mission is to serve a larger geographic area. Vary the meeting place to accommodate those different geographic constituencies.
  • Third, speaking of membership dues, if you increase dues, make sure that the increase is fair and also ensure that you are fulfilling your obligations under point #2, above. We want to know that our dues are delivering us value.
  • Fourth, provide us with discounts and services that add value to our membership — discounts on professional liability insurance or access to credit card processing, for example. Give us listings in an online directory so that clients can find us and make sure that we can easily update our listings, including the all-important contact information. Provide us with notices of job opportunities in our field, but don’t make prospective employers pay ridiculously high fees to post online job postings on your site, which will discourage those employers from doing so.
  • Fifth, communicate with members regularly and reliably. And by all means communicate with your members when you make important decisions that directly affect them. (One of the many reasons that I let my membership in ACR lapse is that they quietly dropped the ball on the mediator certification issue without bothering to inform their members — after making such a big deal out of the member survey on certification and appointing a panel to explore the issue.)
  • Sixth, respond to member inquiries, questions, and concerns promptly. Commit to resolving issues rapidly. And don’t ignore letters and emails. (In one case, I never received quarterly publications or even membership renewal notices, despite numerous requests over a three-year period to correct my address.) In fact, make it a point to conduct surveys of your members and ex-members from time to time to find out how you’re doing and what members really need, and then be responsive to the feedback you get. Earn and deserve the trust of your members.
  • Seventh, show appreciation to volunteers and to those who have served on your boards of directors. They have given up business opportunities to serve you and to help advance the good work of your organization. Express gratitude for their commitment and their service.

If you do these things, your members will thank you by renewing their member dues and by encouraging others to join you.