Social Media: Benefits and Challenges

muster roll

Confederate Muster Roll from 1861 from the TSLAC archives

Last year, a Confederate Muster Roll from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission reached an audience of 175. Normally, historical artifacts like this list of officers and soldiers are viewed by researchers or visitors to the library, who often do so individually. Through the power of Instagram, TSLAC is able to extend its holdings to more viewers than pass through the physical library in a given week. These viewers can interact with the artifacts in a public forum, commenting on and sharing photos. The popularity of social media has changed the way many businesses, museums, governments, and individuals gain awareness and interact with their audience.

According to a 2011 National Archives and Records Association (NARA) survey, 70% of federal agencies use social media – and in Texas, agencies and local governments are following suit. According to the Texas Department of Information Resources’ Social Media Resource Guide, agencies use social media to:

  • Increase traffic to websites
  • Communicate with public
  • Promote information
  • Provide a moderated forum about important issues
  • Improve customer service
  • Increase brand recognition

As Megan discussed in the recent blog post “FAQ: When is social media a record?”, not only are social media posts important for public engagement, but they might also be considered records. As more and more government entities join the social media game, the analysts here are often asked about how and why to keep social media and what obstacles to consider when beginning this process.

Benefits

Keeping social media posts as records helps your government entity be diligent and comprehensive in its recordkeeping. There are two significant benefits to maintaining social media posts as records:

  1. It ensures compliance with the law.

Social media posts that ARE considered records (those that provide evidence of government business but are not captured in another format or version) may be subject to audits and eDiscovery. For instance, information from an online poll that exists only in social media format would be considered a record that your governmental entity would need to produce in the event of a Public Information Request. Social media recordkeeping is an important part of government transparency.

  1. It helps retain a full picture of government business for continuity and historical purposes.

Unique records produced through social media should be kept like other records because they provide valuable information for your government and public in the present and future. Social media posts help record engagement with the public that act as evidence for developing programs, events, and reports. Further, these posts can be considered historically important, as a record of the relationship between a government and its public.

Challenges

Though the benefits of social media recordkeeping have led many governments to preserve posts using screenshotting, copy-and-pasting content, and software such as ArchiveSocial or SocialWare, capturing these posts pose unique challenges.

  1. Deciding what to archive

This means deciding what is a record and what the record retention is for social media posts. Again, refer to Megan’s post on this subject.

  1. Classifying social media by the retention schedule

You may notice that there is no social media post record series on Schedule GR or the Texas State Records Retention Schedule. This can make it tricky to decide on the correct retention for social media posts. Remember to classify records by content, not format. For instance, a post that generates feedback and complaints would be categorized as:

*GR1000-24 COMPLAINTS Complaints received from the public by a governing body or any officer or employee of a local government relating to government employees, policies, etc. Resolution or dismissal of complaint + 2 years. Retention Notes: a) The 2-year retention period applies only to complaints of a general nature that do not fall into a different category of complaint noted in this or other commission schedules. For example, complaints from the public about potential fire hazards are scheduled in Local Schedule PS (Records of Public Safety Agencies) and have a longer retention period.

 

b) For complaints received from local government employees see GR1050-20.

The Department of Information Resources (DIR) was the first Texas state agency to add Social Media Communications to their state schedule (series AU.053 on their schedule) and we anticipate this being a trend in records management.

  1. Ensuring capture of full record

A social media record is more than meets the eye. In order to capture a full record, the file must include the metadata (such as timestamps, creators, size, etc.). Without this important information, you don’t know the full story of the record, including how long to keep it!

Social media posts contain valuable and unique evidence of government business. Keeping these records helps a government remain transparent and provide evidence of business for both present and future functions. However, there are major capture and retention questions to consider when deciding to classify posts as records. Discussing the benefits and obstacles to social media capture and retention within your organization is the first step toward developing a social media policy that works for you. To view federal agencies’ social media policies, check out the National Archives’ “Best Practices for the Capture of Social Media Records.”

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