Managing social media

Social media is another tool for conducting business and enables you to collaborate, participate, contribute and reuse information online. If your agency uses social media, the information created is a Commonwealth record and needs to be managed.

Social media can be:

  • blogs
  • wikis
  • social networking sites
  • instant messaging
  • social bookmarking
  • media sharing
  • collaborative editing sites.

When your agency uses social media, it is obligated to keep accurate and sufficient records of all government business activity. This information is kept in a usable and accessible form for as long as it is needed to support your agency’s business. Your agency is required to account for all its actions and decisions under administrative law.

The Archives Act 1983 does not define information and records by their format. If you create information and records as a result of using social media, it is subject to the same business and legislative requirements as information and records created by other means.

Social media and information management issues

Social media and third party sites

Under the Archives Act 1983, there is a property based definition of Commonwealth records. It means that social media records held in their native applications at third party sites may not be legally regarded as a Commonwealth record. This is something where you need to apply risk based decisions regarding leaving them where they are or seeking to capture them into your internal systems. Web 2.0 practice is to 'go where the people are'. Your agency may often use popular third-party social media tools. However in some cases, for example when setting up a blog, using an agency-hosted or Government-hosted tool may be a viable option that would also ensure that the information remains Commonwealth property.

Social media and the ‘authentic record’

Social media is dynamic. The content is ever-changing and government information may be taken up by others for use and reuse. It is important that your agency keep an accurate and authentic ‘original’ copy of all information posted on social media and save it as a record.

Social media and responsibilities

If your agency uses social media, it should have a social media policy.It may be part of your agency’s records information and management policy. Your social media policy provides advice about the information and records management obligations that accompany social media use.

Web administrators may routinely capture records of social media interactions, but the social media policy needs to be clear about when this routine capture may not be sufficient, and when individual authors have responsibility for capturing information from the social media tools they use. Staff in the information and records management unit should be able to assist with these decisions.

Social media and capturing interactions

The same information and records management principles apply to social media content as to other information and records created in your agency.  Staff using social media tools for official purposes need to consider which information and records need to be captured to comply with your agency records management policy, or discuss this with your information and records management unit.

Should all social media interaction be kept?

Different information has a different value and purpose. There are different requirements for creation, capture and retention of this information. For example, spam or junk mail may be disposed of immediately.

More valuable social media information and records such as feedback about policy, announcements or complaints need to be retained appropriately. This decision is not always clear cut, and a judgement must be made about the material’s relevance to your agency’s business. Information and records management staff can provide advice on your agency’s information management needs.

Case study

Agency X has a Twitter account which is the only way a policy unit releases new policy updates to the public.

The policy unit consults information and records management staff who advise that, in this instance, the 'tweets' are a record that need to be captured and retained.

The Information and Records Manager exports the 'tweets' in plain text format into the agency's records management system.

The Information and Records Manager also determines that this use of Twitter justifies fortnightly capture of official Twitter exchanges.

Help and feedback

The Agency Service Centre can give advice on problems that your agency may face in making decisions on the information and records management obligations that arise from their use of social media tools.

More information

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2016