Taking the rogue out of social media

Topics: Social Media Compliance

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76% of businesses regard communications by social media as formal business records.

46% have no idea that they carry legal responsibility for their content.1

Social media is all around you. From tweets to blogs to Facebook® postings, millions of people are interacting through social media every day in both their professional and personal lives. From a business perspective, these online social outlets present you with a real opportunity to connect more closely with your customers, prospects and partners. But when you open up these new channels for regular usage — without understanding the potential implications — you can create risk and face a slew of records management considerations.

Consider this. Recent research conducted by Iron Mountain revealed that 76 percent of businesses regard communications by social media as formal business records, but 46 percent have no idea that they carry legal responsibility for their content through social media channels. And, a third of the businesses surveyed described their management of social media as “unmanaged and chaotic.”1

As the use of social media continues to explode, so will your legal, compliance and related records management concerns. By applying records management and industry-accepted best practices, you can take steps to prevent social media from going rogue — and still benefit from its high-touch, real-time impact.

Defining and identifying social media records

Many organizations take a sweeping approach when it comes to records management. Instead of determining whether tweets or other social media communication have value, they simply save everything, or nothing at all.

Keeping everything can lead to a costly and inefficient use of storage. It also can create delays during e-discovery given the volume of records to be searched, as well as expose your organization to the discovery of items that could have been destroyed or ignored.

“ First, you should evaluate the type of content contained in your social media messages, regardless of format, and then set policies about what should be retained.“

Sue Trombley, mlis, managing director, Iron Mountain Consulting

On the flip side, retaining no social media content could result in the destruction of potential business records that are required to be held for legal and regulatory purposes. Neither approach is ideal, especially when Gartner predicts that by 2013 half of all companies will be asked to produce material from social media websites for e-discovery.2

According to Sue Trombley, MLIS and managing director of Consulting at Iron Mountain, organizations like yours can minimize these issues by making content king: “First, you should evaluate the type of content contained in your social media messages, regardless of format, and then set policies about what should be retained.

If you’re operating in a highly regulated industry such as financial services, the emerging Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and existing Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) regulations provide

    specific guidelines
for social media.”

If not, Trombley says the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) offers useful guidance that can help any enterprise define and identify records:3

  • Is the information unique and not available anywhere else?
  • Does it contain evidence of an agency’s (or organization’s) policies, business or mission?
  • Is there a business need for the information?

For the best results, you should work collaboratively with marketing, sales, customer service and other stakeholders at the forefront of social media communications — as well as with traditional legal, records management, compliance and IT teams. By doing so, you can better address what constitutes a record and prevent the retention of unnecessary information.

Industry fact:

Market researchers at Gartner predict that by 2014, social media will replace email as the primary means of interpersonal communication for one in five business users.

Source: “Gartner Reveals Five Social Software Predications for 2010 and Beyond.” February 2010 press release.

Integrating social media with records management practices

To manage your social media records, Trombley recommends that you extend the best practices for privacy and security that you’re currently employing in your overall records management program. This includes establishing written policies and guidelines regarding what information can and cannot be shared, who is authorized to speak on behalf of your organization and what social media tools can be used.

“Communicating and reinforcing these policies with your employees is essential to prevent inadvertent access to or distribution of both sensitive and proprietary information,” says Trombley

As you expand your footprint in social networks, you should also ensure that the way you capture social media records is manageable and effective. Just like traditional records, they need to be indexed and archived within context to make searching for them easy. Applying metadata to tag content serves this purpose.

At the same time, you’ll benefit by updating your Records Retention Schedule (RRS) so that it applies to both your hard copy and electronic information. According to ARMA, strict compliance with the rules of a RRS demonstrates due diligence and reasonableness, and can also help you improve control over related records management and storage costs.4

Leveraging new enterprise tools

Given the increase in social media activity, more enterprise software tools are becoming available to simplify the process of identifying, capturing and archiving records per an organization’s defined criteria. For example, some packages offer capabilities that enable you to continuously monitor and then capture and archive relevant social content stemming from Facebook, Twitter®, LinkedIn® and other sources — regardless of device and location. Some also provide you with social compliance modules for FINRA- and SEC-regulated industries, along with workflow routing to decrease the time required for submission and review of pertinent social media materials.

All things considered

Ultimately, social media should become a seamless part of your everyday records management function. By giving your social media records equal importance — and employing a comprehensive approach to securing and managing all your organizational records, you can gain efficiencies, protect your reputation and improve your ability to respond to both legal and compliance concerns.


1 “UK business managers in dark about social media legal responsibility.” Computer Business Review, March 5, 2012. 2 ”Social Media Governance: An Ounce of Prevention.” Gartner Research Note, December 17, 2010. 3 “Guidance on Managing Records in Web 2.0/Social Media Platforms.” NARA Bulletin 2011-02, October 20, 2010. 4 “Social Networks and Their Impact on Records and Information Management.” ARMA, January 25, 2011.