Enforcing Your Government Social Media Policy

Building a Strong Foundation for a Successful Social Media Policy

A robust social media presence doesn’t just happen overnight. It also doesn’t happen without considerable thought and planning. Just ask the city of Fremont, Calif. — a community in Silicon Valley in which a team of 15 employees use more than 25 social media channels to reach its 230,000 residents.

“We didn’t jump in right away,” says Cheryl Golden, communications manager for the city. “We spent quite a bit of time internally to get approval to use social media because we were talking about moving from a one-way conversation to a two-way conversation.”

After several months of planning — during which decision-makers determined processes for posting, how to handle negative or inaccurate comments, rules for staff and residents engaging in social media, and how to archive social media activity — the city launched five Facebook pages in 2011.

With a clear social media policy in place, the city quickly expanded to additional Facebook pages, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+ accounts. These platforms help the police and fire departments as well as city entities such as the water park, family resource center and senior center share news and information with citizens and provide citizens a channel with which to communicate back.

As Fremont has expanded its presence online, it has updated its social media policy to reflect the specifics of new platforms. The city has also implemented ArchiveSocial, an automated social media archiving solution. ArchiveSocial helps the city comply with state and local retention policies, streamline responses to public information requests and give leaders peace of mind about the use of social media.

Remaining Confident and Compliant
Fremont adheres to a records retention policy that requires the city to archive and store records for two years, including social media records. Prior to implementing ArchiveSocial, the city manually captured comments that were removed due to a social media policy violation and relied on the social media platform to archive other posts and comments.

“If we had to remove a comment for any reason, we would copy the original post, copy the comment that we were removing and then note why we were removing it,” says Golden. “We saved all of that information in a Word document that was kept on file for two years, [according to] our records retention policy.”

With ArchiveSocial in place, the city can capture all social media activity without relying on the social media platform. Sometimes posts, comments and messages are removed by the original poster without the city’s knowledge, meaning a manual capture method can leave gaps in the official record. And even though Fremont implemented the automated archiving solution less than one year ago, the software was able to capture most of the activity going back to the inception of each platform, creating a more comprehensive set of records.

“It’s much more robust than we were able to do manually, since we weren’t copying every single post and retaining that in a Word document — that would have been too labor intensive,” says Golden.

Resting Easy About Records Requests
According to the California Public Records Act, all government agencies must provide open access to public records and provide an exact copy if requested. In most cases, public records requests must be fulfilled within 10 days. In Fremont, social media is considered a public record, but posts can be difficult to capture since they are often modified and deleted. ArchiveSocial captures all of this data, helping the city provide comprehensive information for public records requests.

“Should a records request have come in prior to implementing the automated system, it would have taken quite a bit of staff time to go through each of the platforms to pull the information that we might need,” says Golden. “Now we have just one place to go to get that information.”

ArchiveSocial is automatic and searchable, which means leaders don’t have to worry about staff manually capturing each and every post or tweet. Instead, staff can focus on big-picture initiatives without getting bogged down in the minutiae of social media management.

While the city has not received a records request since ArchiveSocial was implemented, and has not needed to access the data for internal purposes just yet, Golden says there is a level of comfort that comes with knowing the solution is working behind the scenes.

“It is peace of mind knowing that it’s there and that the system can easily run reports for us on our different channels,” says Golden. “Should we need to respond to a public record request, or any other request, we can.”

Building Government Trust
With a strong policy at the core of Fremont’s social media activity, it’s easier for the city to inform residents about upcoming events, service updates and new programs. It even uses social media to highlight government employees so residents can put a face to the municipality that serves them.

“You want to be part of your community’s conversation, so use the time now to get your policies in place, because it really does help with public confidence in government,” says Golden. “That’s part of the reason why we implemented our program.”

Social media is a crucial communications tool that governments should consider as an effective means to reach constituents. However, Golden warns, “The more players you have within your organization, the more channels you have to manage — you’ll want to consider something automated to capture everything, and that will give your agency peace of mind.”

Tips for Creating and Enforcing Social Media Policy
It’s crucial for agencies to create and adhere to a social media policy. The following tips can help.

  • Involve the city’s HR, IT, legal and communications departments in the development process.
  • Ensure a records retention and archiving plan is built into the policy.
  • Take local, state and federal regulations into consideration.
  • Monitor and moderate communication on social media channels.
  • Make the city’s social media policy publicly available at the top of each social media page.
  • Only remove posts that violate the city’s social media policy. Over the past 5 years, Fremont has removed only about 100 comments from across all of its channels.
  • Ensure staff are aware of and trained on the social media policy. According to Golden, many of the same staff who were involved in the pilot program are administrators on the social media account today.

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