How do Federal agencies like NASA, the Department of Education, and the Department of Homeland Security capture and manage social media records?
To uncover this, in 2022 The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) conducted an assessment of the policies, practices, and procedures related to the use of social media for 10 federal agencies, including the aforementioned and NARA itself. In September 2023, NARA released the findings in the “Managing Social Media Records: Records Management Assessment Report.”
The results of the 46-page report were rather surprising.
The NARA assessment found that agencies were having difficulty keeping proper, compliant social media records given the tools and guidance available. They also found inconsistencies across organizations in processes, procedures, and priority of social media record keeping.
Here we’ll give a high-level overview of the assessment’s context, the key findings, and recommendations for archiving social media content in federal agencies.
Why is NARA Assessing Government Agencies’ Use of Social Media?
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is responsible for assessing the proper management of records within federal agencies to protect rights, assure government accountability, and preserve and provide accessible records.
In October 2013, NARA published Bulletin 2014-02 for guidance on managing social media records. This bulletin provides “high-level recordkeeping requirements and best practices for capturing records created when Federal agencies use social media.”
The bulletin outlines many social media recordkeeping requirements including:
- Determining and defining what social media content constitutes a record
- Capturing and managing “complete” social media records, which must include content, context, structure, and associated metadata
- Identifying whether an existing NARA-approved records schedule can be applied to the record
- Deciding how to manage social media records
- Articulating processes, policies, and recordkeeping roles and responsibilities in their organization with regards to identifying, capturing and managing social media records
- Training staff on how to capture SM records
- Establishing capture and retrieval methods for social media records
But a lot has changed in the social media landscape since 2013. In fact, the number of social media users has almost tripled. As of 2023, there are 4.76 billion social media users worldwide, at least 500 million tweets, 5 billion Snapchat snaps, and 500 million active Instagram users per day.
In light of these changes, NARA’s assessment, released in September 2023, was undertaken to identify the social media platforms federal agencies were using, how they used their social media accounts, how social media records were being captured and managed, as well as the agencies’ compliance with Bulletin 2014-02.
What Social Media Platforms Are Federal Agencies Using?
Every federal agency is different, but this assessment found the agencies using a minimum of five social media platforms to a maximum of 18.
“Outside of the more common platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram, some agencies also used platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest, Flickr, GitHub, Stitcher, Google/Apple Podcasts, Unsplash, WordPress blogs, Medium, Snapchat, GIPHY, Flickr, Twitch, Reddit, Dailymotion, and SoundCloud.”
NARA’s Key Findings for Social Media Recording Keeping in Federal Agencies
NARA’s assessment outlined a variety of challenges, key findings, and recommendations. Here are the top five we felt were especially illuminating:
1. Inconsistent Recordkeeping for Social Media
Though all of the agencies indicated they were developing and implementing specific policies and standard operating procedures to manage social media use, only 6 out of the 10 agencies had specific procedures outlined for capturing and managing social media records.
And only 6 out of 10 agencies reported that all their published social media content was actually being captured and preserved. (It’s not clear from the report whether these are the same six agencies.)
2. Lack of Clear Guidelines
Though most agency documentation did outline basic procedures for a) creating social media accounts, b) which content was acceptable, and c) what records management regulations apply to social media records, few demonstrated a standardized method for identifying and capturing social media content as a record.
As such, many agency staff were unclear on how to determine which social media records are permanent or temporary, who is ultimately responsible for capturing them, and when social media records should be disposed of.
Almost all of the agencies lamented that there was no specific “how to” guidance for federal agencies on managing social media records, and requested standardized approaches that provided more detail and guidance from NARA.
3. Lack of Leadership Buy-in and Implementation Challenges
Even if agencies wanted to implement guidance from the NARA Bulletin 2014-02, they claimed that senior leadership or General Counsel considered the information from NARA Bulletins optional, citing the ambiguous language used in the bulletins.
As a result, teams claimed they were rarely provided the support and resources they needed to fully implement and maintain processes to keep compliant.
4. Inappropriate Tools and Technology for Social Media Recordkeeping
Agencies also noted that it was unclear which tools or digital preservation vendors could assist in preserving SM records per NARA regulations. Exports provided by some of the social media platforms and third-party vendors the agencies were using did not contain complete social media records, and left out key details needed for compliance like metadata.
(Editor’s Note: Pssst…If you’re working in a government agency and do not have a social media archiving solution that provides complaint exports or data retention, Pagefreezer can help. We built Pagefreezer to the highest recordkeeping standards outlined by government regulators like NARA, FINRA, and the SEC, so you’ll always be compliant. Click here to learn more.)
5. Rapid Change in the Social Media Landscape
Overall, the report found that social media and its use is evolving, and requires deeper evaluation to ensure proper management and record keeping. This has become especially pertinent as government agencies are increasingly using social media to engage the public and interact with them through comments, threads, live streams, and direct messages.
NARA’s Recommendations for Social Media Recording Keeping in Federal Agencies
In response to the challenges raised, NARA set specific recommendations for federal agencies to ensure proper capture and management of social media records. Here is a high-level summary of those recommendations:
- Develop an enterprise-wide, automated, and centralized approach — using digital archiving tools.
- Define what constitutes a social media record; standardize the requirements for successful capture and management.
- Determine recordkeeping schedules to manage all types of social media content.
- Incorporate record management training into social media programs along with practical ‘how to” guidance.
- Develop an annual review process for all social media documentation.
- Evaluate records to ensure they are complete as per federal recordkeeping requirements.
The recommendations aim to address the challenges faced by federal agencies in managing social media records effectively, providing detailed guidance for standardized and consistent practices across agencies.
NARA’s Capture Applications and Tools List
One issue that surfaced throughout the report was the lack of appropriate tools for capturing and preserving social media records. Whether the exports from various platforms did not provide enough information to constitute a proper record as per federal requirements or the record keeping functionality did not exist within the tools used at all, it was clear that having the appropriate social media archiving tools were essential for staying compliant.
In order to assist agency personnel in sourcing appropriate social media archiving solutions, the assessment included a list of capture tools and applications in Appendix F of the report.
Though NARA did include a disclaimer that they have not tested nor endorsed the applications and tools in Appendix F of the report, it did include the following statement about Pagefreezer:
“Pagefreezer’s social media archiving solution leverages social media APIs to gather data in real-time, providing the most comprehensive capture of social media content in the industry.”
Why Federal Agencies Use Pagefreezer for Social Media Archiving
Pagefreezer is designed to help government agencies adhere to all federal and state recordkeeping requirements, while making it easy for users to automate capture and preservation. Find out how we’re helping government agencies save time and resources while making sure they’re always compliant with whatever new social media recordkeeping requirement that comes their way.
Additional Resources for Social Media Record Keeping in Government:
- The Challenges of Social Media Record Keeping
- The Most Common Government Social Media Mistakes
- 9 Rules for Government Social Media & Website Archiving Compliance
- Social Media Misinformation: What Can Government Communications Teams Do?
- 7 Questions to Ask When Evaluating Government Social Media Archiving Tools
- Website & Social Media Archiving Guide for Government Agencies