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Can ECM software fix the social media records management problem?

Social media records management presents a new challenge for companies. Is enterprise content management software the best tool to aid in this effort?

These days, social media is just part of doing business.

Social media platforms have given companies new outlets to manage relationships with their constituencies that enable audiences to communicate in new ways. Customers can post product grievances or glowing product reviews, and users can engage with one another about a company or issue. From Twitter and Facebook to company blog forums, audiences have taken to these channels in droves because they are real-time, alternate avenues to phone-based communication and enable audience members to engage with one another. The effect of crowdsourcing on these interactions has brought new value -- and new challenges.

While social platforms are undeniably gathering steam -- according to Fast Company, 93% of marketers use social media for business -- managing social streams has become a thorny problem for many companies. In addition to the challenges of effectively monitoring social conversation, there are challenges in capturing and managing that information. While enterprise content management tools have been one of the go-tos to capture information, experts say that ECM may not be best suited to the task.

Where to be, and who owns social?

Before companies can figure out which social media records management tools they need, they have to determine which channels they should focus on. But, experts advise, the choice of channel depends on where the audience is. "There's no single answer," said Laurence Hart, founder and owner of Washington, D.C.-based consultancy Word of Pie LLC. While technology companies may default to Twitter and LinkedIn, consumer goods companies marketing to mothers may find more of their audiences on Facebook and Pinterest. Companies should focus on channels with the most chatter on their issues, he added.

Another challenge is deciding who owns social media content: marketing, sales, customer service or another department. Hart pointed out that assigning social media to one department is a mistake. "It should be a joint effort between the CIO and the CMO," he said. The primary purpose of social media is marketing to establish a brand identity and drive sales. But to bring it back into the company, whether for monitoring or management, requires IT involvement.

In addition to running the behind-the-scenes systems, the CIO can ensure that proper security controls are implemented. The information collected becomes attractive to hackers, and while it can be used to inform business decisions, it can also be a liability, according to Hart.

"The biggest challenge is that there is a lot of pull between the CIO and the CMO," Hart said. CIOs are more focused on operational difficulties and the day-to-day nuts-and-bolts infrastructure, while the CMO can get tired of waiting for a system to manage social media. "Part of the expertise that the CIO brings is how marketing-focused systems fit into the infrastructure. The CIO has to own it from the user perspective; otherwise, it's not worth acquiring," he added.

Does ECM software fit the bill?

Given the wide dispersion of social conversation, content management systems generally aren't the best tools to manage social media. According to Hart, marketing or CRM platforms such as, HubSpot or Marketo may be the best way to house social media data. These help track the sales cycle and tie social media into company strategy, he said.

Another challenge is that e-discovery and information governance have extended their reach into social platforms. Experts advise viewing social media as an extension of email and applying enterprise content management (ECM) principles where necessary -- but not necessarily in an ECM system.

Email was the starting point for investment firm O.N. Equity Sales Company (ONESCO), which was using an archiving tool from Smarsh to handle its email communications. Social media presents compliance issues for the Cincinnati-based firm, which is owned by insurance company Ohio National Financial Services and is subject to Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) oversight. In 2010, FINRA released guidelines for regulating social media -- and at the behest of Ohio National, ONESCO started a pilot program to use social media for customer service, marketing and recruiting, according to Lonny Elfenbein, compliance consultant.

In heavily regulated industries, social media posts require review, approval and archival, which is why ONESCO turned to an archiving tool instead of ECM. The company captures posts for review to ensure they comply with FINRA advertising standards, then archives them so that records can be provided to regulators if needed, Elfenbein said.

ONESCO's system allows users to search for posts by date and even keyword if needed. However, "the main function for us is review and archival -- and to produce [previous posts] if necessary," Elfenbein said.

But according to Chris Zybert, marketing and media coordinator at Manchester, N.H.-based document management company New England Document Systems, ECM systems can still play a role in wrangling social media -- at least when it comes to retention. Companies often struggle with determining what constitutes a record and what needs to be saved. It comes down to the liabilities that the content poses, Zybert said, and this is where ECM systems may become useful. "Just like email messages, not every social media message is considered a record. However, when this groundwork has been established, analytics and ECM systems will be used to organize and evaluate the information," he said.

Social media is an evolving portion of ECM, and ECM systems need to have the ability to review social media information semantically and automate the classification of content that needs to be retained so that staff only deals with exceptions to the rule, according to Zybert. This eases the process of saving the content, which can otherwise spiral out of control.

Part of that automation can happen because platforms like Twitter and Facebook have opened up application programming interfaces, which allows companies to import content into systems, Zybert said. However, existing social media tools, like HootSuite, often do what ECM systems do, and companies may not need to start from scratch or develop connectors to their ECM systems. "ECM is going to be how to extract from systems or merge [content] to save what's most important, but also provide the analytics behind the channels to make the business more efficient," he said.

Establishing retention plans can be difficult, though. "It's a loaded question. When it comes to retention, it's different for every organization and industry," Zybert said. What it really boils down to are compliance questions, and any social media retention strategy needs to mirror the retention strategy for other electronic communications, he said.

For example, companies using social media for customer service need to apply the same retention policies they'd use for other customer service communications, like email, Zybert added. "Just because it's on a different platform, [social media content] gets muddied a little bit. But if you consider it like an email, it should work on the same standards," he said.

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