Agencies share best practices on social media records

Federal agencies have been handling social media records management mostly on their own and are only beginning to share best practices with one another, officials said at an event today.

As agencies use new-media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, officials are trying different strategies and finding it difficult to consistently identify, capture and retain official records in those formats, panelists said at the Best Practices in Social Media Records Retention in Federal Agencies discussion held at the National Archives and Records Administration.

The panel discussion on best practices for preserving federal social media records was co-sponsored by the Collaboration and Transformation Shared Interest Group at the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council (ACT/IAC), which released a best practices report today based on input from federal managers.


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The panelists made it clear that best practices are still evolving and adoption is in the early stages.

“Every agency is moving in its own direction,” said Jeffrey Levy, director of Web communications at the Environmental Protection Agency, adding that he would welcome solutions that apply to all agencies. “The rules for retaining tweets for one agency should be no different than tweets for other agencies.”

EPA officials have found it worthwhile to engage the public on Facebook, where the agency has 24,000 fans, and Twitter, with 8,000 followers. He said the agency experienced a surge of activity on Facebook and Twitter after the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

“We would have had zero effect at connecting with those people if we were not on those sites,” Levy said. “There are risks if you do not use the tools.”

Emma Antunes, manager of NASA's Spacebook social network, said the agency sponsors numerous blogs and has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, among other sites.

NASA approaches records management for social media the same way it does for any other content, based on its business use and life cycle, she added.

Unfortunately, federal agencies do not have ultimate control over the retention or destruction of content that appears on third-party social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. “How do we retain legacy records if we don’t control them?” Antunes asked.

In addition, even if a federal schedule allows for destruction of certain records after six months, such as comments in a suggestion box, that might not be possible with a third-party network, she said.

“In my experience, retention of records is easy, destruction is hard," Antunes said.

Catherine Teti, managing director of knowledge services at the Government Accountability Office, said the agency uses the same content for many channels, and it follows the same principles for evaluating social media as a channel as it does for any other media.

Even so, the agency faces a number of technical problems as it works to identify and save the official records on social networks, especially in formatting and storing content when formats are constantly changing. “There are migration and management challenges,” she said.

Darren Ash, CIO at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said his agency took an organized approach that defined the business case for social media before jumping into it.

“We are in a nice situation,” Ash said. “Social media never got ahead of records management. We stepped back before we dove into social media and looked at applying existing policies.”

In considering new-media tools, Ash said he convened a working group with legal, IT, union and communications managers to determine how the tools might be used to further NRC’s mission and to develop a records management strategy. Under the group’s guidance, the commission developed a blog that is captured, turned into a PDF and stored every 60 days, he added.

ACT/IAC also highlighted the following best practices in its report:

  • Develop communications between the social media team and records managers.
  • Define roles and responsibilities.
  • Implement records management for social media as part of enterprise content management.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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