Social Networking – Impact on Records and Information Management – ARMA Whitepaper

Feb 13

The ARMA Foundation published a paper titled Social Networks and Their Impact on Records and Information Management last month. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, having presented/published widely on this topic over the last 5-6 years, usually under the title “What Do Records Managers need to know about Web 2.0“.

Supporting research into the topic is the right thing for ARMA to do for its membership. But….I wanted to like the paper more than I actually did.

Unfortunately, the paper itself serves to reinforce “generation gap” stereotypes that themselves deserve to be put into the historical archives. The “us” vs. “them” divide that the paper assumes is not one that would encourage a recent college grad to enter this profession. Section 3 (titled “Issues Influenced by the Generation Gap”) is especially loaded with assumptions and stereotypes that simply don’t ring true. Social Networks are not kid stuff, and many of us grey-hairs are not inept in their use for professional purposes.

The final sentence of the paper boils down quite neatly everything that I perceive as flawed about this piece:

If we, the RIM professionals, do not establish the rules, classify the information, restrict access and train employees, we will find more and more of our corporate knowledge available on Social Networking sites.

Heavens. What an awful thought. To have more and more of our corporate knowledge available on Social Networking sites. How terrible to consider what might happen if citizens, consumers, businesses and households had more data and information upon which to make their decisions.

Really, I do get it: Records Management professionals do indeed have to be the voice of oversight, risk identification, and must manage the enterprise retention and disposition in line with both internally- and externally-imposed rules and regulations. But the entire tone of this paper paints the picture of the records manager as isolated, ruler-snapping defender of the status quo. Hey you kids, get off of my bar code reader.

The ARMA members I know (and have known for a decade+) are more in tune with that precarious balance of online content and communication with business goals and risks than this paper lets on.

My recommendations?

  • Understand new media usage policies. Is there a corporate blogging or social media policy for staff?  Then update it fast. And stop assuming only officially designated PR people are communicating about your company. Make a point of educating everyone in simple, clear language so the risk of incorrect information leak is reduced. Like it or not, every employee or contractor who engages with other humans in person, via email or online is representing the company already. Be a coach, not a wet blanket.
  • Map retention to content function, not file formats. If a retention schedule would put a different rule on a blog-communicated product announcement than the traditional email announcement, it’s time to review the schedule. It’s the records managers job to keep up, not hold down progress of the rest of the company.
  • Understand how collaboration tools are used. Are there IT sanctioned or rogue deployments? What needs corporate retention or preservation rules? What about hosted applications or Software as a Service sites? Are content ownership and protection obligations clearly defined? Figure out why the business users are out of synch with policies if they’re using unauthorized tools/networks. Maybe the rules are hurting their ability to get things done efficiently. Records and IT departments are both there to guide – yet serve – the business. It’s easy to forget that part.
  • Take advantage of the enthusiasm. Tagging pictures on Flickr or blog posts—no problem. Encourage the “personal tagging” of content in corporate content management repositories. Only you need to know it’s real metadata. Play up on the personal productivity gains, and less on the ‘comply or die’ message.
  • Live the social media experience to understand it, don’t just analyze it arms-length. Subscribe to blogs, contribute to professional wikis, and join discussion forums or mailing lists on industry websites. Become comfortable with new social software tools and embrace the benefits. Watch what your company customer service or marketers are doing and ask how they measure effectiveness and ask why it works.
  • Figure out what new tools or approaches you need to bring to the table. Can you capture tweets? Put a lifecycle on a blog? Instead of entrenching into old habits, figure out how to test new utilities to save time and future headache. None of this is going away. Thank goodness.

I’d really like to hear other opinions on the paper. Perhaps I’ve been working in this subject area for too long and have become too entrenched in my own point of view. Let ‘er rip.