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It’s A Jungle Out There: Words Of Caution For Negotiating Social Media

Twitter. 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…”


Diane J. Levin

Diane Levin, J.D., is a mediator, dispute resolution trainer, negotiation coach, writer, and lawyer based in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who has instructed people from around the world in the art of talking it out. Since 1995 she has helped clients resolve disputes involving tort, employment, business, estate, family, and real property… MORE >

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