There’s social media management, then there’s social media management for government agencies. After all, who else can say their posts count as public record under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

To maintain compliance with the law, government organizations must implement thorough social media archiving practices. It’s not the most exciting work, but it’s critical to protecting your agency from future risk. There are a number of social media tools that help government agencies manage this process but before making a choice, you need to understand your state’s unique approach to social media record retention.

In this article, we cover the basics of social media archiving so you can make the most informed decision possible.

Please note: The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute formal legal advice. Please review our full disclaimer before reading any further.

What is social media archiving?

Social media archiving is the practice of backing up content shared by and with an organization so it can be referenced at a later date. These backups are stored locally by an organization so they maintain compliance with public records laws.

A text-based image that says, "What is social media archiving? Social media archiving is the practice of backing up content shared by and with an organization so that it can be referenced at a later date. These backups are stored locally by an organization so they maintain compliance with public records laws."

Unlike traditional public records, social media records are instantly viewable to the public once created by your agency and your constituents. Legitimate (i.e., not spam) comments, replies, mentions and DMs can all count as public record once published on your social profiles.

Many—but not all—states have issued specific guidance around social media public records and their storage. Turn to your state department website for the most up-to-date guidelines for your social media archiving practices.

Why is social media archiving important for government entities?

Archiving social media content is a critical practice for maintaining transparency. Without a social media-specific record keeping process in place, your organization may be unable to comply with FOIA requests for that information.

FOIA may have been enacted in 1966, but its applications are broad enough to apply to modern day technology through their definition of the term “record”. Under FOIA, a record is considered any writing that is created or obtained by an agency or under agency control at the time of the request. That includes books, papers, photographs, videos—and of course, social media content.

Under social media, it includes more than just the content of a post itself. Comments, replies and likes also count as obtained records which also must be archived under FOIA. Even straightforward updates, like this post from the City of Las Vegas Facebook page, are subject to social media archiving practices.

A Facebook post from the City of Las Vegas Government explaining that cash will no longer be accepted at the Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs entry kiosk.

Government agencies are responsible for setting up their own social media archiving processes. Platforms retain social media content, but only for so long. Social networks—like Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram or LinkedIn—are private companies. They’re not bound by FOIA, therefore there’s no need for them to retain user content indefinitely. Once that content is gone, it’s likely gone for good.

How and when to archive social media content

Social media is considered public record across the U.S. but some states have unique public record retention laws that have implications on how and when to archive social content.

If your state does not have specific legislation on how to handle social media archiving, the National Archives and Record Administration offers guidelines on doing so properly. These methods include:

  • Using RSS Feeds, aggregators or manual methods to capture content.
  • Using tools built into some social media platforms to export content.
  • Using platform-specific application programming interfaces (otherwise known as APIs) to pull content.

If your agency uses social media regularly across multiple platforms, you’ll want to go with the API approach. It sounds complicated, but these third-party tools and services simplify the otherwise time-consuming manual effort of aggregating and organizing outbound and inbound content.

The “when” aspect of social media archiving largely depends on your method of choice. If you plan to archive content manually, you’ll want to do so on a weekly or even daily basis to avoid letting the work become too overwhelming. However, if you’re archiving with the support of a tool, you can archive on a quarterly basis.

Social media archiving best practices

The idea of recording and retaining every post, comment and interaction across your agency’s social media presence can feel daunting, but don’t panic. Use these best practices to stay compliant without getting swamped.

Define roles and responsibilities for records management

Allowing social media archiving to be everyone’s responsibility without making it anyone’s job leaves your agency open to a lot of risk. This is especially true for organizations that manage several profiles across platforms. The more information you share on social, the easier it is for a record to go missing.

Avoid this fate by defining archiving roles and responsibilities alongside key social media stakeholders. Work together to identify the following:

  • Who will be the point person for social media archiving? This individual is responsible for developing and maintaining up-to-date record keeping processes as they relate to social media. They’re also responsible for performing or delegating archiving duties at your organization’s set cadence.
  • How often should posts be archived? As mentioned earlier, this is largely dependent on your preferred method of archiving.
  • Where will archived content be stored and who can access it? Open files in shared storage leave agencies liable for any bad actors that may tamper with archived content. To be safe, designate where records (and their backups) can be securely stored.

Reinforce what counts as a public record early and often

When people think of ‘FOIA’, they picture documents, photos and emails. Social media posts, on the hand, aren’t usually top-of-mind. It’s up to your team to ensure every staff member across your organization understands the true definition of a public record and where social media falls into the mix.

Incorporate information on the types of content that are considered public record in your state during staff training and onboarding sessions. Update your social media policy to include explicit do’s and don’ts on social media compliance. At times, it may feel like over-communication but when it comes to the public sector, it’s always better safe than sorry.

Revisit your social media policy regularly

Social media networks change often, and those changes can look like anything—from new terms of service to new features. All these updates can result in changes to your organization’s approach to the social media archiving process. That’s why it’s imperative that you revisit your social media policy regularly.

A good social media policy addresses a number of topics, including personal account guidelines, organization association rules and legal guidelines. These topics are far from static, so it’s best to revisit them on a regular basis or when a major platform change takes place.

Social media archiving tools to ease the process

Now that you have some best practices to reference, you’re ready to check out some tools. The following platforms will help you manage your compliance needs without sacrificing efficiency.

1. Sprout Social

Sprout Social unifies social media scheduling, reporting, listening and archiving into one centralized tool, supporting more streamlined workflows for government agencies. In the event of a records request, marketers can surface specific posts by using the search tool in the Publishing section. Relevant comments and replies can be found using the search tool in the Smart Inbox.

Government agencies can also use Sprout’s Inbox Export to quickly export posts, messages and reviews from the Smart Inbox into a CSV file for record keeping purposes. These exports provide clear documentation of granular metadata, including message type and timestamps, the Sprout user who sent or edited each message and permalinks to the message on the original network.

Animated GIF demonstrating how to export information from the Sprout Smart Inbox into a CSV file.

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3. ArchiveSocial

ArchiveSocial is a social media archiving solution powered by CivicPlus. This tool supports marketers at government agencies with real-time record retention done in compliance with public record laws. While CivicPlus offers a portfolio of solutions for public sector organizations, ArchiveSocial is a point solution focused entirely on archiving.

A screenshot of ArchiveSocial's website home page.

3. Pagefreezer

Pagefreezer is another real-time digital archiving solution that supports the proper retention of web and social media activity. The tool allows organizations of any size to permanently preserve digital content on social and beyond, then access those archives and replay them as if they were still live. While Pagefreezer offers more than just social archiving, they do not offer any social media scheduling, reporting or listening capabilities.

A screenshot of PageFreezer's website home page.

Streamline your approach to social media archiving with Sprout

With Sprout Social, government agencies can consolidate social media management and archival under a single budget line item, all while maintaining a robust level of compliance.

To learn more about how Sprout helps government agencies create stronger relationships with their constituents through the power of social media, schedule a demo today.


The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute formal legal advice; all information, content, points and materials are for general informational purposes. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. Incorporation of any guidelines provided in this article does not guarantee that your legal risk is reduced. Readers of this article should contact their legal team or attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter and should refrain from acting on the basis of information on this article without first seeking independent legal advice. Use of, and access to, this article or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader, user or browser and any contributors or contributing law firms. The views expressed by any contributors to this article are their own and do not reflect the views of Sprout Social. All liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this article are hereby expressly disclaimed.