State Records social media and recordkeeping survey results May 24, 2012

Last month State Records distributed an informal online survey to our NSW public sector records contacts, to ask about social media use in NSW government. In this post we report on all the results.

Why did we develop the survey?

From informal discussions with lots of public offices, we know that many government bodies are starting to use social media applications for a range of business purposes. However, we are also aware that not many organisations are considering recordkeeping in the design and implementation of social media projects.

In our discussions, we find that many people are quite dismissive of social media and some deny that records of any value could be created in this environment. However, organisations need to start to recognise that social media is broader and more complex than a celebrity’s latest tweet or a friend’s Facebook status update.

Real government business is moving to this environment. Much of the business relates to communications and marketing. Some involves emergency management, public engagement and consultation or business collaboration.

In addition social media applications are complex and diverse. Besides Twitter and Facebook, there are blogs, YouTube, Wikis, Flickr, internal collaborative sites such as Yammer, and a range of others. The functionality offered by these applications means that, conceivably, they could become mainstream, core business systems in organisations in the short to medium term. Internal collaboration systems could start to replace email. Wikis could start to replace intranets or project management systems. Facebook could start to replace formal consultation mechanisms.

Therefore it is important not to be dismissive of social media, but to seriously consider how and why it is being used for corporate business. Developing strategies now for the making and keeping of records created in your social media applications could be necessary, depending on your organisation’s specific use of social media.

We decided to compile the survey so we could start to quantify:

  • Is government actually using social media?
  • If so, what social media applications are government bodies using?
  • What are these applications being used for?
  • Are records being kept?
  • If they are, how?
  • If they not, why?

We also wanted to use the survey to raise awareness among recordkeeping professionals in the sector about the need to raise these issues.

It is worth stating that government bodies do not have to keep records of every tweet or every ‘like’ or every minor social media-based interaction. But under the Standard on digital recordkeeping, you do need to identify your organisation’s high risk business processes, identify the business systems that support these and ensure that these systems can make and keep records to document and support these high risk processes.

In social media applications, government business is taking place in external, 3rd party hosted, web-based platforms. For the first time, key business information is not residing on internal IT systems but is possibly owned and hosted by others. For high risk business processes, these systems are not going to keep your data for you for as long as you have need for it. There are few longevity guarantees in social media systems and when your data is gone from these applications it is gone. Therefore, where it is relevant, active plans have to be made to export data from these external platforms and bring it into corporate systems.

Survey design

It should be noted that this survey was not a comprehensive assessment of social media recordkeeping across NSW government. It was an optional and an informal survey. We received 59 responses.

The survey was designed as an information gathering exercise. Participants followed different pathways depending on their responses. Participants could tick all options in each question that applied to them which means that aggregated results for many questions rarely add up to 100%.

Key findings

  • 79% of participants report using social media, 21% do not use social media.
  • NSW government organisations use many different social media applications. The most popular application listed in this survey is Facebook (used by 77% of respondents), followed by Twitter (63%) and YouTube (47%).
  • The top 5 business uses reported for social media are: Promoting the organisation (71% of responses), Publicising events or services (69%), Providing news updates (67%), Providing advice or answering enquiries (38%), Providing a mechanism for open feedback or public consultation (38%).
  • 59% of participants do not capture records of their business conducted via social media, 22% sometimes capture records, 20% capture records.
  • Of those participants who do not capture social media records, or only sometimes capture these records, the majority report that they do not have the tools to enable them to capture social media records.
  • 34% of participants who capture or sometimes capture records use manual screenshots. 29% use a third party tool or service.
  • When asked if they were investigating any methods or tools for capturing records, 34% of participants answered no.
  • Nearly 50% of participants had specific recommendations for the types of advice and online training they would like State Records to provide, in order to assist them with their social media recordkeeping.

A full break down of all these results in provided in the sections below.


What proportion of respondents actually use social media?

When promoting the survey, we specifically asked our records contacts to respond, even if they did not use social media. This is because we did want to establish whether some government organisations were not using social media.

In response to our question, ‘Is your organisation using social media’, 79% said yes and 21% said no.

The majority of people are not capturing social media records

When asked if they capture records of their social media use, 60% of participants said that they do not capture records of their business conducted via social media into their corporate systems.

When asked why they do not capture records:

  • 42% of these respondents said that they do not have the tools to capture social media records
  • 33% said that they had analysed their business needs and do not need to capture any social media records
  • 25% said they could not obtain organisational support or recognition of the need to capture social media records
  • 17% said they did not know they needed to capture social media records
  • 17% said that their records were not exported from social media applications in time and were deleted by the applications before they had a chance to capture them
  • 4% said that they thought social media applications kept records for them.

A minority are capturing some records

22% of respondents said that they did capture some records of their business conducted via social media.

We asked these people why they only captured some of their records. The responses were as follows:

  • 67% said that they did not have the tools to capture a percentage of their records
  • 56% said that they do not know how to capture and keep some of their records
  • 56% have not assessed their recordkeeping needs in all social media environments
  • 44% said that only certain staff can access tools to capture some social media records
  • 44% said that some key staff do not see the need to capture social media records
  • 44% said that they do not have the resources to capture all their social media records
  • 33% reported that they do not know all the social media applications that are being used in their organisation – these initiatives are being developed and implemented without consultation with records staff
  • 22% of respondents said that their tools for capturing records only operate with some of the social media they use.

Some are capturing records!

  • 20% of respondents reported that they are capturing social media records.
  • 34% of these respondents reported using manual screenshots as their capture method
  • 29% are using a third party service such as Hootsuite, Backupify, Tweetake etc
  • 11% are using a monitoring service. 5% are using a custom-built application, 3% using plug-ins and 3% using RSS feed capture.
  • 16% answered ‘other’ and when asked to elaborate they provided responses such as ‘I don’t know’, ‘A record of tweets is being kept in a spreadsheet’, ‘Basic internal methods’, ‘Policy putting onus on individual staff as for phone calls and face to face meetings’.

Therefore, even though records are being kept, the methods used are primarily quite rudimentary and require a fair degree of manual intervention.

One third of respondents are not investigating recordkeeping options

Depending on whether they said they captured no social media records, some social media records or all social media records, respondents were taken on slightly different paths through the survey.

However all were brought back to answer the question ‘Is your organisation investigating or using any methods or tools for capturing records of social media into corporate systems?’

34% of respondents here said ‘My organisation is not investigating or using these methods or tools’. The remainder provided information about the different methods and tools they are using, the results of which are provided in the ‘Some are capturing records!’ section above.

The diversity of reasons given for the response ‘My organisation is not investigating or using these methods or tools’ is interesting.

Some respondents reported they had no internal support for social media recordkeeping, and some did not know that they needed to keep social media records and therefore they were not investigating any options. Others indicated that they had assessed their business needs and determined that they did not need to keep records and therefore were not investigating any recordkeeping options. Some of the respondents who provided this second response actually reported using many diverse social media platforms and said that these were used for multiple different business purposes. In cases like this, organisations need to be sure to assess all their social media uses and not just assume that the technology is being used in a standard ways or the same business purpose across an organisation.

The types of applications being used

Lots of different applications are being used by respondents. Here is the break down, in order of popularity of use.

  • Facebook – 77%
  • Twitter – 63%
  • YouTube – 47%
  • Blogs – 30%
  • Yammer – 30%
  • Wikis – 27%
  • Flickr – 23%
  • Google+ – 7%

Other options listed by respondents were Picasa, LinkedIn and Vimeo.

When individual (anonymous) results are analysed, most organisations indicate that they are using more than one social media application. One organisation identified that they use 9 different social media applications. Most respondents answering this question indicated that they use between 3 and 6 different applications.

What are these applications being used for?

In order of popularity, the responses provided are:

  • Promoting the organisation – 71%
  • Publicising events or services – 69%
  • Providing news updates – 68%
  • Providing advice or answering enquiries – 38%
  • Providing a mechanism for open feedback or public consultation – 38%
  • Providing a mechanism for internal advice, discussion and collaboration – 33%
  • Promoting a resource or collection – 31%
  • Emergency broadcasting – eg flood or fire updates – 24%
  • Collaborating with external business partners – 10%

The one ‘other’ response provided for this question was ‘Hosting videos for internal and external broadcast’.

When individual responses are analysed, most respondents indicate that their organisation uses social media for multiple business purposes. Most respondents flagged at least four different uses for social media in their organisation.

This is interesting because it shows that ideally, a recordkeeping strategy for social media would be faceted. It would, for example, provide mechanisms for emergency broadcast messages to be managed in one way according to one set of rules, and promotional messages to be managed in another way, potentially according to a less stringent set of requirements.

What government sectors responded to the survey?

  • 44% of responses were provided by NSW government agencies.
  • 22% came from the local government sector.
  • 12% came from State owned corporations.
  • 7% came from the University sector.
  • 5% came from the Health sector.
  • 2% came from the Parliament or Court system.

There was an 8% ‘other’ response, but the majority of these respondents did not complete the survey.

When individual survey responses are analysed, social media use is spread across all government sectors. Those public offices that said they do not use social media again are spread across the public sector.

What functionality do people want in a recordkeeping tool for social media?

We gave respondents the option to fill out a free text field indicating what type of features they wanted in a tool or service for capturing records of social media. The responses provided were:

  • Simple, easy to use
  • Automation
  • Ability to use something that captures most of the different forms of social media
  • Unsure
  • Comprehensive record-capture and archiving consistent with the requirements of the State Records Act
  • We are looking at this for the future, not sure about what features we require at the moment, it would be good to see what other organisations are doing
  • Stamp of authority from State Records, some context around the record
  • Ease of capture
  • I don’t believe the RM world, the legal world or technology have the answers, other than ‘keep the lot’ indiscriminately.

What guidance or online training could State Records develop to help?

Lots of respondents provided suggestions about the types of advice they would like from State Records to assist with their social media management. Some of these are:

  • What should be captured and when
  • Manuals, checklists, training, suggestions for IT
  • We do not capture as we believe no records are in the social media as they are used. Some advice on how things might be done if the usage changes would be helpful, especially real life examples
  • Role and responsibilities
  • The best tools and what is actually considered ‘a record’ and what does not have to be captured
  • Best practice in managing social media sites. Most appropriate use of social media channels to suit business objectives. Recordkeeping advice and guidelines
  • When do you take records (every hour, every day etc.)? Privacy of other users and storing information. Implication of storing data outside NSW (i.e. US or overseas servers). Decommissioning social media handles/accounts
  • What exactly has to be captured from the sites
  • Practical suggestions for popular tools like Facebook
  • What needs to be captured, approved methods of capture and retention periods
  • Anything that is beneficial to good recordkeeping as many officers do not consider that they should capture public records if they are communicated through social media
  • Tools available to capture social media, types of social media being captured/not captured
  • How to manage the information held in social media as a ‘whole story’ that has context and meaning and captures the entirety of the information being discussed
  • What social media contacts are considered to be record. What policies exist to guide us on the use of social media
  • REAL examples of when you would need to capture information, what type of information should be captured and how to capture it
  • Clearly outlining individual staff responsibility to make/capture records generated within social media apps and how there are covered under the State Records Act
  • Quick checklist of what is ‘social’ and what is a ‘record’
  • Clear guidance to CEOs on what their responsibilities are
  • How these sites could be integrated with recordkeeping systems to make it easier for staff to comply with recordkeeping obligations
  • Risk analysis for records created in social media including potential scenarios. Methods of capture
  • At present it is largely a behavioural issue as the technology lags so badly, so it gets back to recordkeeping awareness

Recommendations for State Records

The survey responses show that many NSW public offices are using social media but strategies for social media recordkeeping are either not in place or rely on very simple strategies like manual screenshots. To better support social media recordkeeping State Records wants to:

  • develop an online training course on social media recordkeeping
  • highlight the risk or strategic importance of some of the business processes moving to the social media environment, and why recordkeeping might be needed to support these
  • highlight the information risks associated with some forms of social media use
  • develop practical advice and case studies to help NSW public offices identify what records need to be captured and how they should be captured
  • ensure any advice provided applies to records created and/or distributed via a range of social media applications.

A big thank you to all those who participated in our survey. We will use the results to help design appropriate training and other forms of recordkeeping advice for the NSW public sector. Watch this space!

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