How does information retention and disposal work in social media environments? #IAM_2014 May 28, 2014

Can You Etch It - Social media refrigerator magnets - Laser engraved

In our next post to celebrate Information Awareness Month, we are again looking at social media.

As information professionals, we need to respond to the fact that a lot of key business operations are moving to social media technologies. 

As part of business transitions, we are seeing that government operations like:

  • policy development
  • community engagement
  • community consultation
  • emergency management
  • business collaboration, and
  • project management

are increasingly moving to social media channels. These third party owned and hosted, dynamic and collaborative social channels are however complex spaces to manage information.

Business operations need to be supported by good and robust information, no matter where they are transacted, and so as information professionals, we need to make sure that our models for information governance, management, use and sustainability are also moving into social frameworks.


Transitioning information retention and disposal rules to social frameworks

One particularly tricky information governance and management requirement to manage in social spaces, however, is the implementation of the formal rules that apply to information retention and disposal.

Retention and disposal requirements are really about effective business management and accountability. They are designed to ensure that high value information will exist for as long as government business and the community need it, and that low value information can regularly and routinely be disposed of.

Meeting your retention and disposal requirements in social spaces involves proactively developing governance arrangements and information management strategies to ensure that important information is identified and protected.

Traditional retention and disposal operations do not work in social media environments. For example, in many social systems, account owners do not have the capacity to delete time expired content at scheduled intervals, nor to implement rules to enable high value information to be retained for specified periods of time.

As the following example shows, the majority of social systems make it very clear that it is not their job to manage your business information:

LinkedIn User Agreement, Section 4.1 – Services availability (last revised 12 September 2013)

‘We may change or discontinue Services, and in such case, we do not promise to keep showing or storing your information and materials…For avoidance of doubt, LinkedIn has no obligation to store, maintain or provide you a copy of any content that you or other Members provide when using the Services.’

Strategic and risk appropriate information management decisions therefore need to be made to ensure your high risk/high value social information will be available and accessible for as long as you and your clients require it.


How do I know what social content needs ongoing management?

State Records’ extensive guidelines, Strategies for managing social media information, contain a lot of advice about how to manage the different forms of business information generated in social systems.

The section Management strategies for social media information looks at different information management strategies you can apply in social systems, depending on the needs and risks that apply to the business you are performing .

Each of these strategies helps you to identify content that does or does not require ongoing management and then gives you ideas and options for managing different forms of social media business information.


How do I apply retention and disposal authority rules to social media information?

Retention and disposal authorities issued by State Records identify the many different forms of business that NSW government organisations perform and specify the rules for how long information about each form of government business needs to be kept.

These rules are risk dependent in that they differ according to the type of business being performed.

For low level business, retention rules are generally short – that is, information about this business often only needs to be maintained for one or two years. Information about higher risk, longer term or strategic business generally needs to be kept for longer periods of time.

Commonly used social channels, however, usually do not operate in this way in that they do not differentiate between different types of business. They are designed to enable multiple forms of business to be performed in one central collaborative location and an organisation’s social channel is designed to be a one stop shop for clients.

Therefore from a legal and information management standpoint, all sorts of information and all sorts of retention rules can be intermingled in a corporate social system. For example, on a Council’s Facebook page there might be:

  • notifications of road closures (which have a 2 year retention period under GA39, 28.10.4)
  • complaints about Council services (which have a 2 or 7 year retention period under GA39, 6.5.1 and 6.5.2)
  • public comments on Council’s revised Land and Environment Plan (which have a 10 year retention period under GA39, 18.3.2)

The key to managing this diversity of requirements is to focus specifically on organisational needs and risks and to proactively develop an information management approach that enables these needs to be met and these risks to be mitigated.


Examples of social media information retention and disposal strategies

To ensure they have information about Facebook communications for as long as they need it, some councils are doing regular global exports of all their Facebook data using tools like Facebook Activity Logs and then keeping these logs as long term business information.

Other councils are taking a more differentiated approach. They are taking screenshots of complaints, comments or other social content that needs to be integrated into Council’s other business channels for response, action or information. Or they are copying or summarising this feedback received via social channels and then integrating this into business as usual channels.

In this approach social information that is needed by the business becomes integrated with standard business processes and relevant retention or disposal requirements can be applied as part of these business as usual processes. Social channels can continue to operate as dynamic engagement environments and more rigorous rules about information management can be applied elsewhere. In this approach it is not necessary to capture low risk/low value information and apply formal retention and disposal rules to it. It is likely that this information will continue to be available on the relevant social channel for the short periods that it is required for business or client purposes, and this is an adequate retention strategy.

With this differentiated approach, more rigorous information management strategies such as a needs-based information strategy or an information management for accountability strategy can also be applied whenever business needs require this.


Social is the new normal

Through social systems, traditional information is transforming rapidly. Instead of, for example, formal correspondence documenting public approval or disapproval for a Council’s draft Land and Environment Plan, there is increasingly wikis and tweets and Facebook forums and blog posts and a host of fantastic, dynamic, collaboratively developed content.

It may look different, but this information is the new normal, it is the new form of data that our governance and accountability frameworks must be applied to, and this includes our formal retention and disposal requirements.


In summary

Meeting information retention and disposal requirements in social spaces really means:

  • adequately planning for what social information you need to capture and keep in the medium to long term, and
  • developing strategies that will ensure this information is kept within appropriate business channels for as long as your retention rules say you need to keep it.

Strategically, to meet information retention rules and requirements, the best approach in social systems is to extract and manage  information with ongoing business value and leave the information with short term or limited business value in the social system. The information you extract and manage will then become subject to your corporate retention and disposal rules and the low value information can serve out its short term retention periods in its native social application.

If you have developed successful strategies for managing your social media information and applying governance requirements, such as retention and disposal rules to it, please do let us know.


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