Why you need social media recordkeeping September 23, 2013


Last week I spoke at Akolade’s Social media communication strategies in government 2013 conference in Sydney.

It was a fantastic conference, with inspiring case studies about government use of social media from the City of Sydney, the NSW Police Force, Coffs Harbour City Council, the Department of Education, Training and Employment in Queensland, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Department of Premier and Cabinet in Victoria.

The audience was primarily staff with social media responsibility in NSW government. They were a really great, engaged group who are working each day to transition government business to social frameworks.

My talk was about why recordkeeping is really important for social media business. This was a new message for many in the audience, so for me the conference was a fantastic opportunity to talk directly to people managing the government’s social media business and to discuss how recordkeeping might be an important support for them.

The final version of State Records’ guidelines on social media recordkeeping will be published on Future Proof in just a couple of weeks (the draft version is also available on Future Proof), but in the interim here is a summary of some of what I said at the conference.

Social media content is disappearing

Research done in 2012 by Hany SalahEldeen and Michael Nelson at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia showed that one year after the Egyptian Revolution, 11% of the social media content documenting this momentous event had disappeared.

Your response to this may be that throughout time, we have always lost parts of our history so is this really a big deal?

Alternatively, you may have the view that we are creating so much data now, do we really want to keep it all, particularly a lot of the very informal communications that take place in social media systems?

These are definitely very legitimate views. However I do think we need to be concerned about research like this that flags the widespread information loss that is occurring in the social media space.


Because key government business processes including policy development, community engagement, emergency management, business collaboration and project management are increasingly moving to social media channels. And social channels are complex spaces. They are third party owned and hosted, dynamic and collaborative. Maintaining important information in these environments can be very challenging.

We therefore need to take heed of the fact that a lot of key business operations are moving to social media technologies, and we need to think about this transition from an information-based perspective.

For example, as a result of the transition to social, increasingly there will not be formal publications, or reports, or white papers or meeting minutes or other fixed, formal, standard forms of accountability and history that we have traditionally relied upon.

Instead there will be wikis and tweets and Facebook forums and blog posts and a host of fantastic, dynamic, collaboratively developed content but by itself this will not survive to be the stuff of history, it will not survive to be accessible under FOI or GIPA review, it may not even survive to be part of formal annual reporting a year from now.

And this, potentially, is a very significant problem.

Government business models are shifting fundamentally

It is fantastic that government is empowered to use social media to improve service delivery and in NSW, government organisations are actively encouraged to use social media.

Key government drivers such as the NSW ICT Strategy encourage widespread use of social media for government business to:

  • improve customer services
  • increase access to information, and
  • involve the community directly in government decision making.

Importantly and necessarily, the NSW Government Social Media Policy and Guidelines empowers NSW government organisations to use social media to improve service delivery. It recognises social media as integral to contemporary business communication and to meeting community needs.

At State Records we love social media and have been active users since 2008 (our very informative first Future Proof post was published on 10 July 2008).

Research undertaken by State Records shows that today, more than 70% of NSW government organisations use some form of social media. Government business is therefore definitely moving to social media.

We therefore need to make sure that our models for information governance, information use and information management and continuity are shifting too. At this stage, however, they are not.

State Records’ research shows that less than 20% of government organisations have determined strategies for making and keeping records that support their organisation’s key social media activities.

This is a real risk because if we don’t make sure our frameworks for managing information are appropriately shifting to support social media, we genuinely risk losing our business intelligence and accountability frameworks in these business environments. State Records’ research is showing that these frameworks for information governance and management in social media systems are not moving fast enough.

Communication and information strategies need to align

I was at another event last week where I spoke to a group of people from a large government department. Their department operates in high risk, complex, litigious business environment with lots of stakeholders and lots of necessary community consultation. Very sensibly, they have moved lots of this consultation to social media. As a business and communication strategy, this makes brilliant sense.

But, like many others, they haven’t considered information governance and information management as part of this transition.

I pointed out to them that, given the contentious and long term implications of their business processes and decisions, the legal rules that apply to their business actually mean that they have to keep the records of their public consultation for quite literally decades. These are the actual legislative requirements that apply to the business processes that have moved to social systems.

Just because the organisation’s public debate has moved to social media channels with their perceived informality and flexibility does not mean that genuine, long term, strategic or high risk business is not going on. The organisation’s legal requirements, accountabilities and responsibilities have not changed just because they have moved to a more informal communication channel.

The new oil

In my role I see lots of government business in digital transition and I see a lot of risk across government because information risk is just not considered in these digital transitions.

Today information and data have been called ‘the new oil’, their value is so great.

And in terms of value and potential ROI, social systems are potentially unparalleled in terms of what they can provide to our communities and what they can tell government about genuine community needs.

But, from an information perspective, the majority of us are not managing the transition to social well. We really do need much better recordkeeping to support our social strategies.

With your social media strategies, it is critical that you are aware of your business information requirements, those that apply in both the short and long term, and develop recordkeeping strategies to support these.

But remember that recordkeeping is not about compliance!!!

Now it is very important you are aware that this talk is not about me as someone from State Records saying, ‘The State Records Act says you must make records of every single thing you tweet’.

It does not! You do not need to do this!

Recordkeeping is not about compliance. It is simply about keeping the information that best meets your business needs.

You don’t have to keep everything, you just need to keep the right information that will be needed to support your client responses, business efficiencies, decisions, reporting, reuse, accountabilities etc into the future.

How do I know if I need social media recordkeeping?

Whether you need to keep social media records is based on your specific business needs and risks.

Your recordkeeping strategy should be grounded by and designed to support the business you are communicating about in social spaces.

For example, lots of Council libraries tweet about new acquisitions, promote upcoming events and comment on books they have read. This is a very low risk business activity and probably doesn’t need strong recordkeeping. These tweets can likely be left in their native social application and probably don’t need to be actively managed as corporate records by the Council.

However, if someone from a high profile, high risk organisation was providing advice to clients via social media and people in the community were acting on that advice, given the risk profile that applies to the organisation and the nature business they do, they should be capturing records of these social media exchanges. They need to consider strong recordkeeping frameworks for their social media accounts where staff are contributing to these types of discussions.

So governance supports need to be flexible and scalable and focussed on genuine business needs.

And this governance needs to happen now because we are reaching the tipping point for social media. Its role and value is really starting to impact now.

Understand the information risks that apply to social media

To determine a governance approach for your social media business, you need to understand your business needs for social information, now and into the future, and you also need to understand the specific information risks that apply to social media.

The key thing to be aware of is that, if you need to deploy them, recordkeeping strategies need to be proactive because social media systems are not stable recordkeeping systems.

In general social media applications are:

  • third party owned
  • located in the cloud
  • subject to regular change
  • unable to be relied upon to keep business information for as long as it may need to be kept.

It is not the job of social systems to keep your business information for you. For example, the LinkedIn User Agreement, Section 4.1 – Services availability (last revised 12 September 2013) says:

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.

The majority of other social media user agreements say the same thing because it is not their job to manage your information. The majority do provide relatively stable storage environments but their user agreements make it clear that there are no guarantees. If you have ongoing needs for this business information it is not their job to manage it, it is yours.

If your organisation is likely to need the business information you are generating through your social systems, you need to plan for this information to be kept.

Proactive planning will ensure business information is accessible when you need it.

To help you to do this, State Records has provided a range of advice on how you can make records of your social media business, so you should consider how these simple strategies can be deployed to meet your business needs.

Simply, be smart with social

Social media is such an opportunity for government service improvement and for genuine community engagement.

But it is a risk to government if the transition of business to social environments is not supported by quality information governance frameworks. So work closely with others in your organisation to ensure good information governance operates across all areas of your business, including your social environments.

Developing information governance frameworks for social media will ensure that this important new form of corporate business intelligence is used to better meet community needs, is aligned with corporate strategy and contributes to business outcomes.

It is therefore important to consider how your business can be improved by the making, keeping and using of social media records.

photo by: wonderferret
Louise September 23rd, 2013

Very interesting article :-D.

Kate Cumming September 23rd, 2013

Thanks Louise Mary!

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