Why Your Records Retention Policy Should Include Social Media
The social networking explosion of the past few years has taken many organizations somewhat by surprise. As Facebook and Twitter began to grow exponentially, most companies and agencies still looked askance at such platforms, dismissed them as juvenile, and (in some cases) even banned them from the workplace. Until now. When it became apparent that social media was utilized by all ages and demographics, organizations began to see the benefits in connecting socially with their clients, customers, or citizens. Social media has become a platform for customer service, crowd-sourcing, advertising, promoting, and beyond. So it is no surprise that around 60% of companies are using social media in some way. Numerous articles and discussions have centered around best practices for utilizing these tools to gain the greatest market advantage, present the ideal company image, reach the largest audience, and so forth. But many organizations have failed to recognize the legal ramifications of this new communications medium, especially where records retention regulations are concerned. Without a policy for preserving social media activity properly, companies could find themselves out of compliance or unprepared for records requests.
Instead of jumping onto social media because everybody else is doing it, without regard for retention strategies, organizations can network responsibly by recognizing these key facts:
Even a tweet should be considered a business record.
Most companies understand the importance of a retention policy that captures their web content and preserves it in a manner that is compliant with regulations and searchable in case of e-discovery or litigation proceedings. As more communication happens online and electronic records multiply, many organizations are wisely seeking vendors that provide admissible archives of online activity -- but how many of these services provide backup of social media content?
Despite (perhaps even because of) its transient nature, social media content should be given the same consideration as traditional business communications. Changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) demand that agencies provide for the capture, storage, and retrieval of digital records that might be required in a judicial or regulatory situation. Ensure compliance by choosing an archiving policy that allows for comprehensive preservation of your company's social media content.
Some industries have specific requirements for social media archiving.
Every business should be aware that electronic records are held to the same retention standards as traditional records. Various court cases have shown that online content (which is expanding to include social media) may be requested in e-discovery, litigation, or audit situations. For some businesses, the directive to preserve social media records is particularly clear. For instance, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) recently issued this guidance for financial broker/dealers:
"Every firm that intends to communicate, or permit its associated persons to communicate, through social media sites must first ensure that it can retain records of those communications as required by Rules 17a-3 ad 17a-4 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and NASD Rule 3110."
Industries that have not yet developed specific rules for social media are in the process: food and drug companies are awaiting FDA guidance on the issue, while government agencies are working to develop records management policies for social media.
Preserving social media activity is good business.
There are other practical advantages to archiving your company's social media history. Having a comprehensive log of customer communications (such as on Twitter, forums, or other networks) can be useful, especially for pharmaceutical companies that might utilize such tools in conjunction with clinical studies or trials. Preserving social media records will also lower time and money expenditures in any legal proceeding and lessen the strain on your IT department.
What constitutes the ideal archiving policy?
When updating records retention strategies, companies should carefully consider the requirements for digital evidence in court, to ensure that their electronic files will be admissible in e-discovery or litigation cases. The Federal Rules of Evidence require a digital timestamp and digital signature to prove the authenticity and integrity of electronic files presented in court.
Companies should also ensure that their social media pages are preserved in their native format, with the ability to re-play as if they were live. This should include video, links, Flash, and other features because simple screenshots are not accepted in regulatory situations. You must be able to prove the exact content of your social media pages from any given date.
Businesses can confidently tap into the power of social networking if they update their retention policies to include robust archiving of their social media activity. For companies that underestimate the importance of preserving these records, the risks will only increase as the corporate use of social platforms continues to expand.