Once you tackle determining whether social media content are records, the job is not quite done; capturing social media records is an extremely important aspect to successfully managing the records. Social media capture helps guarantee your government body has access to the records for review, use and, ultimately, destruction at the end of its retention period. This task can be challenging because not all capture methods are created equal; some capture methods fall short of encapsulating the entire record while others might do a state-of-the-art job while costing money. In her May 5 blog article, “Social Media: Benefits and Challenges”, Emma Martin touched on the challenge of ensuring the full capture of a social media record.
Many governments in Texas are under the misconception that the state’s web crawler, Texas Records and Information Locator (TRAIL), guarantees their online content is captured. This is not the case; TRAIL provides access to Texas state government information contained in electronic publications, but, due to existing limitations, does not currently capture content hosted on third-party social media tools.
You can learn more about TRAIL on TSLAC’s website, or by watching our webinar on the service, “Understanding the Texas State Publications Depository Program and TRAIL”.
Capturing social media records is necessary while at the same time complicated; there is often more than meets the eye with these records, including metadata and other contextual information (such as attached links and photos) and different types of capture methods may be required depending on the nature of the record. Despite its dynamic nature, governments with social media records need to maintain an accurate and authentic copy of the information (§7.76).
More than Meets the Eye
Metadata, commonly referred to as data about data, gives these types of records context and authenticity. For example, the metadata of an email provides the email sender, the email recipient(s), blind copied recipient(s), the send date, the email title, etc. To paint a picture of the amount of metadata created and stored behind the scenes of even the smallest social media record, a tweet of 126 characters contains over 2,300 characters of metadata. Whether it is the metadata of an email or the metadata of a tweet, the way records are captured matters.
Metadata enables records to retain their functionality and appear and exist as originally intended. For example, a Facebook post containing a link would need to be captured in such a way that the link was still accessible in order to be functional. Furthermore, a tweet with an attached photo would not be fully captured without the picture in addition to the tweet’s text.
Capture Methods Vary
There are a number of methods a government can employ to capture social media with varying degrees of success and ease. As a general rule, it is not a good idea to rely on the social media tool for recordkeeping; government bodies should keep a copy of the record within their own filing system.
Application or Software
The gold standard of managing social media records is the ability to capture social media records when they are created as close to real time as possible and then archive these captures to be viewed at a later time. Using this method would, for example, allow the Twitter posts, @replies, retweets and mentions of your government’s account to be captured and archived even if the content is later deleted. It also accounts for the changes a social media record can undergo when the user edits the original post or when the post garners “likes” and comments by capturing the record repeatedly over time and archiving all versions.
Though TSLAC cannot recommend any particular software or service there are many out there that offer social media capture services or web crawling services, such as Archive-It. Some companies specifically market to and have done business with governments, such as ArchiveSocial. If this is the route your government body wants to pursue, a cursory Google search of “social media capture” or “social media archiving for governments” will present a myriad of potential options to consider.
Social Media Platform
Companies who host social media tools are under no obligation to maintain, permanently or otherwise, the content created with their tool. The exception to this is if a contract or service level agreement (SLA) was put in place. Forming a SLA with the provider or host of the social media records is a way to establish rules and guidelines regarding the accessibility of the full records. Unfortunately, most popular social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook do not offer contracts or SLAs.
Some social media platforms have features built into their system that lend themselves to capturing content. You can request an account’s archive of tweets from Twitter and also download your information from Facebook.
If the previous options are not possible or feasible, a last option for social media management is to manual capture. Copying and pasting social media posts into a word processing program or taking screenshots of content are not the most efficient or thorough tactics for capturing social media records although if this is all your government can manage it is truly better to do something than nothing at all.
In fact, according to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), a number of federal government agencies use this option with various methods, including converting screen captures into a PDF/A format—this is an archival version of PDF specifically intended for digital preservation of electronic documents—, copying and pasting directly into Word, and managing multimedia records in the appropriate format while capturing as much contextual information separately in a word processing program.
The pitfall with the manual capture method is copying and pasting does not fully encapsulate the metadata of a record. Dustin Haisler of e.Republic and Anil Chawla of ArchiveSocial presented on this topic at the eRecords Conference last November; The Texas Record covered this content in “e-Records Conference 2015: What Every Records Manager Must Know About Social Media”.
Keep in Touch with Social Media
Social media technology and usage is constantly evolving therefore making specific recommendations outdated before long. With this in mind, there are resources available you can reference when deciding what capture method will work best for your office. It is also a good idea to keep current with trends in social media technology and usage in order to stay on top of successfully managing your government’s social media records.
Whichever social media capture method you land on be sure to document and discuss the method in the social media policy for your government. Drafting and instituting a policy for your agency or government body is a must when traversing the social media landscape. It establishes guidelines and expectations for social media usage on behalf of the government. We will be discussing this more thoroughly in our next blog article in the Social Media series.
Social Media Blog Series:
- Social Media Benefits and Challenges
- Social Media Records and Retention
- Social Media Capture Methods
- Social Media Policies and Procedures
Case Study – North Carolina Archives
NARA – Best Practices for the Capture of Social Media Records
Public Record Office Victoria (State Government of Victoria Archives) – “FAQ- How should a social media record be captured”
Records Management Interagency Coordinating Council (RMICC) – “Review of Electronic- Records Management Practices at Texas State Agencies and Institutions of Higher Education”
Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) – “Social Media Resource Guide”
TSLAC- “Managing Social Media Records”
Let us know your thoughts and experiences with social media and social media capture in the comments below!