Social Media


As society shifts from traditional methods of recordkeeping to electronic recordkeeping, the issues surrounding the management of electronic records have become more significant. The use of social media within governments is growing rapidly because it enhances communications. We must first understand how to use social media as a positive approach to open government. This guideline provides insight to what social media is, why it is important to government and how to manage proper use.


Government Agencies are increasing their utilization of Social Media to provide improved services, enable citizen interaction and increase overall transparency. Social Media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are allowing governments the ability to explore new ways of working and shifting communication patterns. Because these sites are available to government employees and citizens with internet access, they provide valuable audio, video and interactive capabilities without substantial costs.

The process of improving work processes and adopting new tools to manage social media is not an easy task. Governments are applying more resources towards creating new policies and guidelines to manage proper use of these social media tools.

Developing a Social Media Management Guideline should be considered as an important first step for government agencies that want to engage social media tools. In order to expand public outreach and engagement, government agencies may encourage public discussion and feedback as well as use social media tools for recruitment. The content of these sites must be taken into consideration regarding the retention and disposition thereof. Creating public records through these social networking sites are certain and measures need to be taken to promote proper use, retention management and to ensure compliance with the public records law.

Just as people gain information from the news by electronic media and print media, social media are distinct from traditional media such as newspapers and television. They are accessible to anyone to publish and access information at a relatively inexpensive cost. There is one common characteristic and that is both traditional media and social media have the capability to reach large audiences. The significant factor that needs to be considered here is that reaching out to millions of people through a television commercial could costs millions versus advertising through social media which may cost absolutely nothing.

The Ohio Electronic Records Committee has developed these social media guidelines as a resource for governments that want to improve the quality of government services and encourage citizen engagement.

I. What is Social Media?

Social Media are media for social interaction using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Web 2.0 and Social Media are terms used to define the various activities integrating web technology, social interaction and content creation. These internet based applications allow for the creation and exchange of user generated content. Through social media, individuals or collaborators create, organize, edit, comment and or share content online. Social media is designed to support rapid interactive communications.

A. Web-Publishing – Creating a Web site and placing on the Web server. A Web site is a collection of HTML pages accessed via the Internet.
1. Micro-blogging/Twitter – A free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read other users’ updates known as “tweets”. Tweets are text postings which are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have subscribed to them (known as followers).
2. Blogs – Web sites generally used to post online diaries to include discussion forums. Allows bloggers to express their opinions and ideas on any topic.
3. Wikis – Web sites that allow multiple users to collaboratively create and edit its content. Levels of access and control over editing rights such as adding and removing material can be controlled.
4. Mashup/Google Maps – Web sites that combines data and functionality from multiple sources to create a new service. Example: data from Google Maps can be utilized to add location maps in a real estate listings website.
B. Social Networking – Communicating informally with other members of a site by posting messages, photographs, etc. Allows multiple users to share content and interact.
1. Facebook – A free-access social networking Web site individuals/agencies can join to connect and interact with other people or organizations. Allows users to set privacy settings for controlled access to their profiles.
2. LinkedIn – A business oriented Web site that enables companies and industry professionals to communicate with colleagues and build business relationships. Provides for anyone to start a group based on an association or industry topic.
3. Virtual Worlds – A type of online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another and create objects. Enables the user to perform operations on a simulated system in such a way that it appears and feels like a real environment.
C. File Sharing and Storage – A public or private sharing of computer data or space in an online network with various levels of access privilege. Users download or upload digital information such as music and movies in a network which allows a number of people to view, write to, copy or print.
1. Photo Library – Searchable online databases provide stock images that can be purchased and delivered online instead of hiring a photographer. Using the internet as the primary distribution method, photographers and companies can offer quality libraries for very low prices.
2. Video Sharing/YouTube – A free video-sharing Web site on which users can upload, share and view videos. Any user can view the videos without registration.
3. Central Manager/SharePoint – An application platform that is designed to support enterprise website requirements. Microsoft developed SharePoint to be a highly scalable, multi-purpose platform that is most generally associated with web content management and document management systems.

II. Why is Social Media important to Government?

From tweeting emergency information to blogging about the latest job posting, social media has become one of the most effective ways to communicate and interact with the public. Social media provides local government agencies an inexpensive and virtually instant way to reach audiences that typically do not consume traditional media. Not only does social media allow for interaction externally, but it can help facilitate information sharing and collaboration across other government entities. Below you will find just a few reasons why social media is important to government.

A. Transparency – As mentioned above, social media can be used to improve communication with the public and other government entities while encouraging citizen engagement and keeping government accountable.
B. Cost – With many social media tools being at little or not cost, they become an attractive and budget friendly way to enhance your communication and outreach strategy.
C. Interaction – Allows for the immediate creation and exchange of information. Provides citizens and government officials the forum to exchange ideas and get instantaneous feedback.
D. Internal and External Collaboration – Improves interagency communication, reduces duplication and streamlines information for employees. Delivers the platform for multi-agencies to connect and share information such as creating and editing documents.
E. Networking – Social media provides the opportunity to network and become part of new networks. Public, private and nonprofit organizational human networks can generate faster and more accurate information and can serve as valuable resource tools for professional development. The ability to network with other individuals and organizations can produce shared resources, which works for the public good.
F. Information Transmission – Through social media, governments can transmit critical information to their constituents, such as road closures, AMBER alerts, or even severe weather information.
G. Recruitment – Social media is a quick and cost effective way to post employment opportunities and reach out to prospective employees.

III. How do we use social media?

The potential uses of Social Media in general are diverse. One can use a particular venue, such as YouTube or Twitter, in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes. A social media use policy, developed in conjunction with your Human Resources department, will be a useful tool in training staff to see the differences between various uses of social media.

A. Personal – Most users of social media first embraced is a way to connect with friends and loved ones in a relatively informal way. Many people use social media to communicate and express themselves. There are emotional, social and professional risks of social media. “Over-sharing” may harm personal relationships, but it may also affect your ability to gain or retain employment. A Social Media Use Policy can help governments and agencies set explicit expectations for their employees personal use of social media.
B. Professional – Social media is invaluable to entrepreneurs, from musicians to small busines owners, to publicize their goods and services and develop a customer base. Even if you are not self-employed, social media can help you develop and maintain a professional network and strengthen engagement with industry organizations.
C. Institutional – There may be overlap between professional and institioanl use of social media. For example, individuals may have a LinkedIn account for professional networking, but their activity on this site might more readily reflect on their employer, versus the more informal FaceBook. However, when an individual employee uses social media on behalf of their local government, this use is clearly job-related. It is recommended that institutions maintain their own user accounts to social media sites, and that employees use these institutional accounts, rather than using personal accounts which they might also use to disseminate personal information. A policy might require and employee to have two twitter accounts – one with a personal handle or name, and the other with a handle that clearly identifies them as an government employees.

IV. How do we manage social media?

A. Establish Goals & Objectives for Use – When considering social media use it is important to set clear goals and objectives for utilization. An agency must identify who the target audience is and the expected outcome for use.
B. Identify Stakeholders – In order to ensure agency goals and objectives are aligned, it is important to identify your stakeholders. Consider how other agencies, the public, staff and your leadership are affected by the decision to employ social media.
C. Policy Considerations – It is important to consider how social media use will impact agency policies and procedures. Consider how it will affect your agency legally and how it will affect functions like records management, human resources and IT.
D. Account Management – Consider policies for managing the creation, maintenance, preservation and destruction of social media accounts. It is important to communicate with your IT department during implementation. Also, ensure your legal counsel has had the time to review and approve the Terms and Conditions for Use prior to establishing a social media account.
E. Employee Use & Access – Develop a policy identifying expected agency uses for social media, restrictions for personal use and consequences for violating the policy. Outline employee conduct expectations. Specify through a disclaimer that comments posted by employees are personal in nature and do not represent the views of the agency. Address the consequences of inappropriate conduct on personal social media sites. Control the types of employees who are allowed access to social media sites and limit the types of sites they can access. Request an official business justification in order to access and use social media pre-approved sites.
F. Content Management – Ensure the agency is able to effectively manage content. Consider standards for information accuracy, syntax and removal of obsolete information. Identify what information will need to be retained and whether information posted on the social media site are primary records or secondary copies. Establish or modify an existing retention schedule to identify social media records and the retention thereof. Assign an individual or group of individuals the responsibilities of managing the content of the social media sites per the approved retention schedule.
G. Records Retention – It is important to first determine if the information being placed on the social media site constitutes a public record (O.R.C. 149.43). If the information is deemed to be a public record, an agency must determine if the information is the primary record or a secondary copy. If the information is duplicated elsewhere (i.e. Press Release), then should be considered a secondary copy. If the information is the “primary record,” the information must be retained in accordance with agency records retention and disposition policy. Many times existing retention schedules can be applied to social media content; however, it is important to remember that some social media content is tranistory in nature and existing retention requirements may not be appropriate. Retention of communication sent and recieved via through social media should be managed in accordance with existing communication or e-mail policies. It is also important to remember that information posted on social media should be considered available indefinitely. Never post information that may require future deletion or removal. It is generally problematic to to destroy or delete information once posted.
H. Legal Issues – Agencies need to ensure that all local, state, and federal laws and regulations are followed. Consider issues related to privacy, freedom of information, accessibility and applicable public records laws; especially as it relates in how your agency handles requests for public information. It is also very important for your agency to read and understand and for your legal counsel to review and approve the social media site’s Terms and Conditions for Use.
I. Security – Policies concerning how to manage information placed on social media sites, user name and password protection, and how to handle the removal of inadvertent posts must be established. The last point is particularly important if posts contain protected information. Agencies must also understand their security risks, meaning certain social media sites may only be appropriate for certain types of information. Ensure the security of data and technical infrastructure by developing best practices. Implement password security and add controls to monitor web site content as posted or viewed.
J. Training – Agencies must develop a plan for training staff on policies, procedures and how to actually use the social media tool. Documentation should be maintained on attendance and an audit should be performed to ensure compliance.
K. Evaluation -Agencies must consider how they are going to evaluate the success of using social media. If the time your agency invests in developing and managing a social media tool is not proportional to the goals and objectives established, then a new strategy is needed.
L. Advertisement – Consider how your agency will promote the social media tool, to encourage user participation. Agencies should consider marketing to organizations with similar functions and services, local media outlets, list servs, or even your e-mail contacts. Think about your target audience and their information seeking behavior.
M. Citizen Conduct – Agencies must develop policies concerning citizen conduct and the removal of inappropriate content. Consider what information should be retained to document the removal transaction. Again, a disclaimer on the social media tool will inform the user of your policy and terms for removal. Agencies must also determine whether two-way communication is appropriate. Some social media tools allow the administrator to adjust the settings to block user feedback. Just remember if your agency allows two-way communication, you may get negative commentary.
N. Technology – It is also important for agencies to maintain and upgrade systems as necessary to keep up with the most current social media techniques. Citizens utilize technologies like social media to network with each other and discuss issues and topics they are concerned about. A review of technology and relevant social media tools should be apart of your agency’s evaluation process.
O. Preservation – The preservation of social media content can be challenging. Some social media sites provide users tools to extract information in open formats, while other sites do not. Agency’s must consider how frequently the information will need to be captured, the stability of the social media site, and the functionality of the tools used to extract the information. Depending on how your agency uses social media and how frequently, consideration must be given to how you will find captured information. This is particularly important when social media content is subject to a legal hold. Commercial tools may be available to assist agencies in archiving and search social media content, but many times these tools are not “one-size fits all.” It is also important to remember to that the social media tools do not consists of just posts, but embedded files, links, photos, vidoes, etc., which need to be addressed in your agency’s preservation strategy.