Attention public sector communicators, are you archiving your social media content?

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Does FOIA mean anything to you? If not, you probably work for a private organization and this post isn’t for you. For everyone else, read along.

FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and other state-level public records laws are a big deal for government agencies and organizations. Essentially, the public is entitled access to virtually any unclassified document, including emails, text messages and social media content.

The digital age and FOIA haven’t exactly gotten along swimmingly, so to speak, for a variety of reasons. First, many people aren’t overly familiar with the extent of FOIA, and as a result, don’t realize everything they should be archiving. Second, technology is evolving so rapidly that it can be difficult to keep up with the law (which isn’t a sound legal defense).

One of the biggest examples of this? Social media. According to FOIA, government entities are required to keep records of all social media activity, including posts, third-party comments, meta data and deleted posts.

I recently learned this myself on a fantastic webinar from Government Technology magazine and was not alone in my “Oh @#$” moment. The overwhelming majority of attendees (upwards of two-thirds) had no plan in place for archiving their social media pages for potential FOIA requests.

So if you, like me, were surprised to read this, here is a quick primer on the dos and don’ts of social media archiving.

What not to do

Keeping an Excel or Word document of posts isn’t enough. Neither is taking screen shots of your page. Neither of these includes the meta data needed to verify that the posts you captured are authentic. Who’s to say you didn’t edit the document or Photoshop the image after the fact? While it might seem like enough, these will quickly be written off as inadequate.

The good-enough plan

Most of the major platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow you to download an archive file of your account history. Here are the how-to guides for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. While this plan checks the box, there are two potential issues with this strategy – 1.) there is no guarantee that these sites always will make this feature available and 2.) you have to remember to download the archive on a regular basis.

The great plan

Not surprisingly, a variety of third-party companies have developed services that help public-sector organizations archive social media content automatically. Also not surprisingly, these services come at a cost – usually in the $200-$1,000 per month range, depending on the number of accounts and posts an organization needs archived. If you post a lot and/or are subject to frequent FOIA requests, it might be time to subscribe to one of these services.

Some reports admit that FOIA requests for social media content are still extremely few, but that doesn’t mean a person won’t submit one. Be sure that you have a policy in place (and you practice it) to avoid a major headache down the road.

Greg Surber

Greg Surber, APR, is a public relations strategist through and through. He works on a variety of accounts, leading research projects and content strategies, but he also has extensive experience with more traditional PR efforts including national and trade media relations campaigns.

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