Archiving Social Media Content: For the 2011 To-Do List, or a Needless Action?

When you consider the enormous number of content transactions on Facebook per month, (30 billion) and the incredible number of tweets per day (approaching 100 million), have you ever stopped to think what happens to this content that flies around cyberspace after it is read, and whether it can be archived?

As social media platforms become prevalent in organizations’ outreach programs, some marketing and communications executives are giving this question some serious thought. Should Facebook posts, tweets, videos and the like be saved by an organization? Is it enough to depend on the platforms themselves when the need to find such content arises?


It’s a topic that should be addressed by communicators, says Sam Ford, director of digital strategy at the PR agency Peppercom. “You should absolutely keep track of those discussions to the best of your ability,” says Ford. “Not just to have access to them in the event of some sort of review or litigation, but primarily because you want to be able to follow up on the conversations you start.”

With PR crises taking center stage in 2010, the possibility of such review by regulatory agencies or a legal challenge surely is on the minds of many PR executives. But archiving of social media content is not in the forefront—yet.

“Archiving this content to most is, I think, an afterthought,” says Gary Kibel, partner at the law firm Davis & Gilbert. Kibel, a member of the firm’s technology, digital media & privacy practice group, says archiving is not an intuitive response, because “these posts will disappear after time.”

Yet for the time content remains “out there,” it is subject the same rules as other communications vehicles, such as e-mails and text messages. Organizations in regulated industries and public companies subject to compliance edicts like Sarbanes-Oxley have long had a responsibility to archive their communications, in systems that can quickly find needed data.

What’s interesting about Facebook and Twitter, says Kibel, is that no matter the cool factor, it’s still a form of communications. “It’s a new tool, and all existing rules still apply,” he says. “If a company posts on Twitter, they are making a claim.” Therefore, it’s legal fair game.


But what happens when an employee posts something on Twitter from their own account via a corporate network—about a company competitor, and that company sues for libel? This brings up a thorny archiving issue. Monitoring and archiving such posts while employees are at work tests the boundaries of privacy, even though many organizations today encourage employees to use social media in and out of the office.

Employers should take a hands-off approach, says Ford. “While companies should keep track of what people are saying about the brand, workers shouldn’t have to be carefully monitored and policed,” he says. “The key is to set out succinct social media guidelines that make it clear what employees can post and not post.”

Making sure that employees who are not speaking on behalf of the company do not use phrases like “we,” for instance, is key, says Ford. “We have to be sure employees have guidelines on how to talk about their work responsibly while not making it seem as if they are official spokespeople,” he says.

Kibel agrees with Ford. “Such monitoring and archiving of personal posts would have to be in compliance with an organization’s written policies, social media site policies and applicable law,” he says. “A company would have to be very careful when it comes to personal social media posts.”


Ford takes the issue one step further, that archiving employee posts could make employees afraid to answer customer’s questions in fear of vulnerability and/or liability. “Keeping track of any and every statement made in social media raises a fundamental question that PR needs to address and ascertain: Are we making statements, or are we having conversations?” says Ford. He adds that one could never keep transcripts of every word a PR team says said to a reporter, and every customer service call isn’t recorded and permanently archived. Social media posts should be treated similarly, concludes Ford.


But maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Archiving social media posts can be an expensive proposition for smaller organizations. And many don’t yet see a real need for doing so.

“Independent archiving isn’t something we’ve talked about as a company,” says Tim Haran, manager of social media content at USANA Health Sciences, a health and nutrition company. “But it does make sense for legal matters and crisis situations, and it may be something we will consider in the future.”

The chief blogger at USANA, Haran refers to past blogs via the Blogger platform, and to older Facebook and Twitter posts on those sites—though the material there goes back only so far. But at present, that’s all Haran needs.

For most, simplicity is the key. “Make whatever the process is, you enact one that is not onerous to maintain,” says Ford. “An incomplete archive is better than an abandoned one.” Ford has the following suggestions for social media archiving:

• Social network sites maintain an archive of all the interactions a profile has had on those sites. “You can download and save those to a file if needed,” says Ford.

• Bookmarking sites as soon as you leave a comment will allow you to easily return to it at a later day.

• Enter new comments in a common Excel spreadsheet. “It’s simple, but time consuming,” adds Ford.

• Consider new software programs that help in maintaining archives across a variety of platforms (see the sidebar below for some specific applications).

It’s clear that as organizations continue to look to brand themselves on social networks, the subject of archiving content will move up on the priority list, but PR executives should tread the topic carefully before taking action. PRN


Sam Ford, [email protected]; Gary Kibel, [email protected]; Tim Haran, [email protected].

Social Media Archiving Tools Offer Variety of Features

As organizations and their employees ramp up social media outreach, PR communicators will have to come up with ways to better archive what could be thousands or even millions of posts in a year. There are now companies that offer solutions that help—and here is a sampling with their contact information and a short synopsis of their offerings:

Arkovi (

Specializes in financial services.

Nextpoint (

Cloud-based technology products for legal and compliance needs.

PeopleBrowsr (

Archives function allows insight into communities, competitors.

Smarsh (

Defines which social networking features employees can access —reviews, approves or rejects messages before they are posted.


Monitors the social networking communications of employees.