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Four Tools for Retaining Records of Your Social Media Content


November 3, 2014  by  Josh Mahar
Category:  Social Media

Four Tools for Retaining Records of Your Social Media Content

A little while ago MRSC hosted a webinar on social media for governments. We gave people some great information on best practices in social media and also highlighted some of the common public records issues that agencies need to be aware of. But one thing we could have addressed a bit better was what tools are out there for actually archiving your social media content to comply with the PRA.

Well, never fear, we’re back with some more information. I’ve done a little sleuthing through phone conversations, web research, and sitting through some overly long demos and sales pitches. I’ve compiled this research into some useful information on four different tools you can use to archive your social media content.

A note before we begin: there are literally dozens of archiving options out there. We chose the four options below because they kept coming up in conversations with various jurisdictions and seemed to be popular options for local agencies. That said, we’re hoping this is only the beginning of the conversation, and we’d love to hear from you on this subject. If you have experiences using any of these tools or if your agency is using something else, please add to the discussion by posting your thoughts in the comments below.

ArchiveSocial

Who’s Using It: Kittitas County, Whatcom Transit Authority, Grant County, Burien, Vancouver, Spokane County, and Edmonds.

Estimated Annual Cost: $1,500 – $6,000; based on number of archived records.

Platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram.

ArchiveSocial got its start in 2012 as a graduate of The Startup Factory, a technology accelerator based in North Carolina’s Research Triangle. Unlike some of the other products that offer a larger suite of records archiving tools, ArchiveSocial has solely focused on social media. While their products are made for both government and financial services, they have tailored their work to the public sector, recently securing a partnership with e.Republic, publishers of Government Technology and Governing magazines.

Like many of the other premium archiving tools, it is a cloud-based program, meaning that records are stored on a secure outside server instead of a customer’s internal network. Records are stored by tapping into the application programming interface (API) of the social platform, meaning it pulls content directly out of the program instead of taking an external snapshot.This allows the tool to capture data in nearly real time and with all of the quality and metadata of the original.

One of the stand-out features of ArchiveSocial is that it offers archived records in a format that looks and functions very nearly like the original. This means that your search results aren’t just a standardized list of posts, comments, pictures, and links, but you actually see how, say, a Facebook post looked and how the comments nested under the post. This makes it very easy to understand the context of the post to determine if it would be a relevant record for a search request. Another neat feature of Archive Social (shared by PageFreezer) is that you can turn various archives to be public-facing, allowing anyone to browse and search the archive. This can be useful in situations when an agency is inundated with public records requests, such as a natural disaster.

Smarsh

Who’s Using It: Arlington, Clark County, Bremerton, Bonney Lake, Othello, and Seattle.

Estimated Annual Cost: $1,000 – $6,000; based on number of social media accounts.

Platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Yammer, Chatter, and Jive.

Traditionally geared toward financial companies, Smarsh got its start in 2001 as an email archiving program. In 2010, the Portland, Oregon-based company expanded its services to include social media archiving, web archiving, and text messaging, now boasting a tagline of, “we archive everything.” For social media, they can archive data for the most platforms of any of the software tools we looked at.

Smarsh’s cloud-based system works similar to ArchiveSocial, capturing data in real time and in the native raw format. Since the product was first developed for email, the search results are visually similar to what you would see in an email client like Outlook, reasonably easy to browse but not quite as flexible and easy as the ArchiveSocial option. Smarsh also gives you a number of export options, but they aren’t quite as comprehensive as ArchiveSocial. While a representative told me that they do have an option to provide a public-facing archive, it isn’t quite as customer-friendly as those offered by other products.

The big benefit to Smarsh is that if you have their full suite of services, and you can use the search for records across mediums. For example, if you are looking for records on a particular subject, you can do a single search to get them from social media, email, text messages, and more, and they are nicely displayed and easily browsable in the search results.

One neat feature about Smarsh is that they also send a monthly DVD of all records retained during that period. This provides a little extra security and also makes things easier if you ever choose to switch archiving systems.

PageFreezer

Who’s Using It: Mountlake Terrace, King County, Whatcom County, and Sound Transit.

Estimated Annual Cost: $900 – $2,000, based on number of social accounts.

Platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Founded in 2006 and based in Vancouver, BC, PageFreezer, as its name implies, was initially founded as a website archiving tool. In 2010, they expanded into the social media sphere. While government is a major client base for PageFreezer, they also tailor their products to private companies, similar to Smarsh

PageFreezer shares many of the same features as Smarsh and ArchiveSocial. It too is a cloud-based system that taps directly into the social API, providing native format records, or what the PageFreezer representative called “evidentiary quality” records. Records can be saved for any amount of time based on an agency’s retention schedule, and they are retrieved through PageFreezer’s user interface, called SaaS. The searching and browsing is robust and intuitive, with records results reasonably easy to browse, as with Smarsh.

PageFreezer is also good about archiving timelines, allowing you to set up whatever retention schedule is required for your records. Like ArchiveSocial, there is also an option to set up a public-facing portal that allows the public to search and retrieve records on their own for a set period of time.

Social Safe

Who’s Using It: Walla Walla County, Cowlitz County, Washington State Office of Financial Management, Governor’s Office, and Attorney General’s Office.

Estimated Annual Cost: $6.99 – 16.99; based on number of social accounts (up to 20).

Platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Flickr, Instagram, Blogs, and Viadeo.

The first thing you’ll notice about Social Safe is the price; it is significantly less costly than the other three options on this list. This is because the product was originally aimed at individual consumers, robust social media users that just wanted an easier way to store and retrieve the information they had posted. With the continuing demand for business and government social media archiving, Social Safe has started to branch out into these markets, although the product still has a more “individualized” feel to it.

Probably the biggest difference between Social Safe and the other arching tools listed here is that it is not cloud-based. Instead of logging on to a server, you actually download a program, and files are stored directly onto your PC. Social Safe highlights that this means that even Social Safe doesn’t have access to your records – just you do. But, of course, the flip side to that is that if you have a larger records retrieval team it can be a bit cumbersome if all of the social media records can only be retrieved from a single machine. Other trade-offs are that your archiving capacity is limited by the space on your machine, and that there likely is a higher risk factor due to the insecurity of an individual computer compared to a corporate-managed data center.

In terms of usability, Social Safe has an interface comparable to the other products. The search function may have slightly fewer features, but it still allows searching on keywords, platform, and dates. Search results appear in a format that replicates the platforms themselves, much like ArchiveSocial. Exporting is limited to PDF, but this is the most accessible format for most requests. The program does connect directly to the APIs of each social platform, but currently the program does not do real-time data uploads, limiting automatic archiving to hourly at best. Since Social Safe wasn’t built specifically for archiving, one of its bonus features is that there is a built-in analytics dashboard, which provides some interesting insights for social media strategists.

Lastly, it is noteworthy that Social Safe has a far smaller support system than any of the other options listed here. Where the other tools have help portals and some phone support if needed, Social Safe has only a few videos, FAQs, and an email question form.

Photo courtesy of Peter Rasmussen.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Josh Mahar

Josh served as a Communications and Outreach Coordinator for MRSC and wrote about social media, government performance, and other local government topics. He no longer works for MRSC.

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