Dealmaking Disrupted: The Unexplored Power of Social Media in Negotiation

By Ben Cook

While social media is absent from the toolkit of most negotiators today, it can kill or enhance your deals. Having dug deep into offensive and defensive uses of this digital phenomenon, we’re pleased to announce that our new article – Dealmaking Disrupted: The Unexplored Power of Social Media in Negotiation – has just been published in the Negotiation Journal of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation.

This work is the culmination of more than a year of research, analysis and exploration that has led us everywhere from interviews with high-profile negotiators and global companies to an in-depth study of a dispute that threatened a cannabis production startup in a small New England town. Building on our May 2020 Harvard conference presentation – and expanding on the case studies we’ve explored in our recent three-part webinar seriesthis article provides a rigorous and comprehensive framework for navigating the digital dimensions of complex or high-stakes negotiations.

Making wise and ethical decisions in the midst of a technological revolution is challenging for any field. But the relative neglect of social media’s transformative impacts among both scholars and practitioners has left many negotiators to fend for themselves in the face of online disruption. Few dispute that the digital era is important for dealmaking, but to date there have been no practical, applicable guidelines for how to make use of social media in negotiations. As a result, mistakes are common, best practices are unclear, and too many popular, widely beneficial deals are derailed or outmaneuvered by more agile blockers. This paper is an attempt to level the playing field – while keeping ethical and privacy concerns at the forefront of our analysis.

For those interested in reading the paper, the full PDF is available for download by filling out this form.


While social media has had profound effects in many realms, the theory and practice of negotiation have remained relatively untouched by this potent phenomenon. In this article, we survey existing research in this area and develop a broader framework for understanding the wider roles and effects of social media on negotiation. Through a series of detailed case studies, we explore how social media can drive important negotiations either off the rails or toward beneficial outcomes—and how savvy practitioners can harness this often‐neglected factor to their advantage, or else find themselves outmaneuvered by more digitally sophisticated parties. Applying the lens of the “3D negotiation” approach developed by Lax and Sebenius, we describe a number of potentially decisive roles that social media can play to enhance actions by negotiators “at the table,” with respect to deal design, and “away from the table.” In this 3D context, we show how social media can help negotiators learn about their counterparts (interests, perceptions, relationships, and networks), directly and indirectly influence the parties, mobilize supporters, and neutralize potential opponents. We show that being proactive—both in cultivating digital influence or allies and in building resilience to threats across online information ecosystems—can provide critical advantages for negotiators navigating a hyperconnected world. We develop a preliminary framework to help identify the full range of platforms, tools, and methodologies appropriate for the use of social media in negotiations, including network mapping software and open‐source intelligence techniques. Throughout our analysis, we stress the importance of ethical and privacy considerations.

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