Last year we asked over 100 people about their views on the use of social networks in negotiations.
We also asked which social networks they are registered with and how they would use them as part of commercial negotiations, and the responses provide some insight into this fast moving arena.
The participants mostly work within the procurement function of large organisations and therefore negotiate significant contracts on a regular basis.
We wanted to test whether there was an age bias we would need to adjust for, but in fact none was found. Some 5 per cent of respondents do not use any social network and these were spread in proportion to the overall population. There were however some minor differences about the degree to which the older participants felt comfortable connecting with people prior to meeting them.
Of the 95 per cent of people using one or more social networks the three most popular - in order - were Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
It was clear from the interest shown by participants of the survey that their views on social networks are still developing. As one participant put it: “I have never really considered using social media to find out more about our suppliers, but now I will use it more often.”
There is nervousness about using social media among some respondents, from: “It has huge potential however I am cautious with it as etiquette develops”, to the more nervous: “Dangerous. It's a medium that doesn't by its nature lend itself to good practices.” But these comments are outnumbered by the “yes… but” statements such as: “A scary environment but useful!”
Bringing the research closer to negotiation, 82 per cent of respondents think social networks have an impact on their approach to commercial negotiations, and 48 per cent of respondents are connected via social networks to people they negotiate with.
In terms of preparing a meeting and researching the other party, something which the best negotiators do, 78 per cent said they would consider searching for someone, and 45 per cent already do so. From the responses it seems clear that LinkedIn has replaced a general web search as the first place people go to for details about someone, as 37 per cent of the population use LinkedIn (or similar business networking sites Xing and Viadeo) to do this.
We asked people if they were then connecting with people and saw a significant difference between age groups. 48 per cent of the under 45s connect with people they are negotiating with, dropping to 38 per cent for the over 45s. This could suggest a greater reluctance to share personal information as underlined by this older respondent: “I do not like to combine business life with private life, use it separately.”
People accessed social networks differently, with desktops being the least popular way. The people who use desktops are mainly in the over 45s category which may reflect seniority and access to an office with a desktop computer - an increasingly rare sight in modern offices!
Once connected 63 per cent of respondents would endorse a good negotiator, although in discussions after completion of the survey it seems that most were more willing to do this for colleagues than the other party! There was no age bias to this, with responses spread evenly over the respondents.
The results provided a very interesting look at a rapidly developing area. References to Bebo, for example, were met with suggestions that the survey was already out of date!
The amount of information available at the click of a button is greater now than at any point in our history. Negotiation is still a people-based activity and the best results are often obtained when a good rapport is built quickly with the other party. Social networks can have a significant impact on this, by finding areas of common interest and helping to see life from the perspective of the other party. Meeting someone for the first time may soon be a thing of the past as people increasingly connect virtually before they meet.
I’ll leave the final words to a participant: “Used a lot more to promote new ideas, thoughts such as viral videos, shares, tweets, photos with bigger impact. Makes preparing for interviews and negotiations easier and less stressful.”
☛ Andy Brown is a consultant with Negotiation Resource International, a division of PMMS Group