Federal Records Management

NARA Bulletin 2011-02

ATTENTION! This page has been superseded. The information listed below is no longer accurate. For NARA's current guidance please visit  http://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/bulletins/2014/2014-02.html.   Please note that this page is available only as a technical and historical reference.

October 20, 2010

TO: Heads of Federal Agencies

SUBJECT: Guidance on Managing Records in Web 2.0/Social Media Platforms

EXPIRATION DATE: October 31, 2013

1. What is the purpose of this bulletin?

This bulletin provides guidance on managing records produced when Federal agencies use web 2.0/social media platforms for Federal business. Open and transparent government increasingly relies on the use of these technologies, and as agencies adopt these tools, they must comply with all records management laws, regulations, and policies. Successful compliance involves the active participation of agency records management staff, web managers, social media managers, information technology staff, privacy and information security staff, and other relevant stakeholders.

This bulletin further expands on NARA's existing web guidance including the NARA Guidance on Managing Web Records and Implications of Recent Web Technologies for NARA Web Guidance. It is not intended to provide agencies with model schedules or step-by-step guidance that can be applied to an agency-specific use of a web 2.0/social media platform. NARA Bulletins provide fundamental guidance to Federal agencies, who must then determine the most appropriate ways to incorporate recordkeeping requirements into their business processes and identify the specific means by which their agencies will fulfill their responsibilities under the Federal Records Act.

2. What is web 2.0 and social media?

Web 2.0 and social media are umbrella terms used to define the various activities integrating web technology, social interaction, and user-generated content. Through social media, individuals or collaborations of individuals, create, organize, edit, comment on, combine, and share content. Agencies are using social media and web 2.0 platforms to connect people to government and to share information (e.g., providing information or promoting discussion about the agency, soliciting responses from the public, recruiting personnel, and providing collaborative space to work in new ways). As a result, these new platforms support business processes that both create and manage content. Web 2.0 and social media platforms can be used internally, externally, or both. In many instances these platforms are operated by nongovernmental third-party entities.

Social media platforms can be grouped into the categories below. Some specific platforms may fit into more than one category depending on how the platform is used:

Web Publishing: Platforms used to create, publish, and reuse content.

  • Microblogging (Twitter, Plurk)
  • Blogs (WordPress, Blogger)
  • Wikis (Wikispaces, PBWiki)
  • Mashups (Google Maps, popurls)


Social Networking: Platforms used to provide interactions and collaboration among users.

  • Social Networking tools (Facebook, LinkedIn)
  • Social Bookmarks (Delicious, Digg)
  • Virtual Worlds (Second Life, OpenSim)
  • Crowdsourcing/Social Voting (IdeaScale, Chaordix)


File Sharing/Storage: Platforms used to share files and host content storage.

  • Photo Libraries (Flickr, Picasa)
  • Video Sharing (YouTube, Vimeo)
  • Storage (Google Docs, Drop.io)
  • Content Management (SharePoint, Drupal)


Agencies use a variety of software tools and platforms. The examples given above are not meant to be an exhaustive list.

3. How are Federal records defined?

The Federal Records Act at 44 U.S.C. 3301 defines Federal records as:

  • All books, papers, maps, photographs, machine readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics;
  • Made or received by an agency of the United States Government under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business, and;
  • Preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities of the Government or because of the informational value of data in them. [bullets added]

The statute and its implementing regulations place responsibility with each agency to determine what Federal records they are creating. Refer to 36 CFR 1222.10 for guidance on how agencies should apply the statutory definition of Federal records.

4. Are Federal records created when agencies use web 2.0/social media platforms?

The principles for analyzing, scheduling, and managing records are based on content and are independent of the medium; where and how an agency creates, uses, or stores information does not affect how agencies identify Federal records. When using web 2.0/social media platforms, the following non-exhaustive list of questions may help determine record status:

  • Is the information unique and not available anywhere else?
  • Does it contain evidence of an agency's policies, business, mission, etc.?
  • Is this tool being used in relation to the agency's work?
  • Is use of the tool authorized by the agency?
  • Is there a business need for the information?

If the answers to any of the above questions are yes, then the content is likely to be a Federal record.

When agency content is duplicated across multiple platforms or elsewhere in an agency recordkeeping system, the agency may determine that the duplicate content is non-record. For example, if social media platforms are used to simply re-post news and other public affairs communication items that are captured and managed elsewhere, then the social media content may be considered non-record. Keep in mind, social media platforms may offer better indexing, opportunity for public comment, or other collaboration. These factors may add value to the content making that content a record.

As agency records officers and social media managers consider what web 2.0 content will be record material, they should identify which components or features of the content should be included. For example, an agency should evaluate which of the various components of a social networking profile, such as the profile itself, posts to the profile, and/or other interaction with the public should be retained as records.

Even if agencies determine the content is not a Federal record, they still have management responsibilities for non-record content. For more information on how to manage non-record content, see 36 CFR 1222.14 and 1222.16.

5. What are the noteworthy records management challenges associated with the use of web 2.0/social media?

NARA evaluated several Federal agencies' use of social media platforms to better understand the records management challenges of these tools. NARA found that the ongoing, collaborative, and interactive nature of social media requires careful exercise of agencies' statutory responsibilities regarding records management. NARA identified the following challenges:

  • Public expectations that all web content is both permanently valuable and accessible
  • Content located in multiple places
  • Recordkeeping in a collaborative environment
  • Ownership and control of data that resides with a third party
  • Interactive content management
  • Identification of record series
  • Implementation of records disposition schedules, including the ability to transfer and permanently delete records or perform other records management functions
  • Capture of frequently updated records
  • Handling of records containing personally identifiable information (See OMB M 10-23)

6. What can agencies do to address some of the records management challenges associated with the use of web 2.0/social media technologies?

Agencies must decide how they will manage records created in these environments in accordance with 36 CFR 1220 and 44 U.S.C. Chaps. 31 & 33. Agency records officers, web management staff, and information technology staff, working with NARA appraisal archivists, should address the records management challenges by evaluating appropriate uses of schedules and tools. It may be helpful to consider the following three areas:

An agency must ensure records management guidance is included in social media policies and procedures. Staff and content creators should partner to articulate clear processes, policies, and recordkeeping roles and responsibilities thereby ensuring social media records are identified and managed. These officials are encouraged to consult with one another on a regular basis so that records management issues can be addressed prior to rolling out new web 2.0/social media platforms. In cases where a social media tool involves collaboration between multiple agencies, those agencies must develop a consensus and strategy for complying with the regulations. Areas to consider include:

  • Identifying what constitutes a Federal record in web 2.0/social media platforms, which could include user-generated content
  • Defining ownership of content and responsibility for managing the records
  • Developing recordkeeping requirements per 36 CFR 1222.24 - 28
  • Incorporating recordkeeping practices and requirements into terms of service
  • Communicating records policies so employees and the public understand how records will be managed
  • Monitoring the ongoing use of web 2.0/social media platforms to determine if that use changes the value of the records
  • Monitoring any changes to third-party terms of service on web 2.0/social media platforms that may affect the management of records

Records Scheduling
After the agency has identified social media content as Federal records, they must schedule those records or apply existing disposition authorities as appropriate. When the social media platform is hosted on an agency web site a new schedule is required for program records per 36 CFR 1225.22 (h)(3). When the platform is hosted outside of an agency web site (e.g., Flickr, YouTube) an existing authority may apply if there is a previously-approved, media-neutral schedule or if the records relate to administrative housekeeping activities per 36 CFR 1225.24 (d). Before applying an existing schedule, consider whether the use and functionality of the platform affects value of the record. New schedules should be developed if the tool provides enhanced processes, functionality, added metadata, or other features. As each agency's use of social media is different, there is not a model schedule that fits all social media or any given platform. (See Appendix A.)

If comments or other postings are inconsistent with an agency's policies, they may require removal from the platform. Agencies should remember their First Amendment obligations when drafting policies and moderating content. If necessary, that content may require an approved disposition authority.

An agency must determine if the records fit the definition of transitory records (see GRS 23 Item 7). Some mission related records will have greater value and must be included in a schedule before an agency may delete content. Some social media records, such as an agency head's blog, may have permanent value.

The strategies an agency uses to manage records may vary based on the platform and other possibilities may emerge as the technologies continue to evolve. Options may include:

  • Saving all content with associated metadata as the complete record
  • Using web crawling and software to store content or take snapshots of record content
  • Using web capture tools to create local versions of sites and migrate content to other formats
  • Using platform specific application programming interfaces (API) to pull record content as identified in the schedule
  • Using RSS Feeds, aggregators, or manual methods to capture content
  • Leveraging supporting specifications, services, data formats, and capabilities that underlie these web 2.0/social media platforms may provide generic functions that may be use to fix, capture, and manage record content

All strategies must enable an agency to manage records throughout the lifecycle, including transfer of permanent records to NARA, as specified in Expanding Acceptable Transfer Requirements: Transfer Instructions for Permanent Electronic Records -Web Content Records.

7. What are an agency's record management responsibilities when dealing with web 2.0/social media contractors and third parties?

Each agency is responsible for managing its records, whether they reside on a third-party social media platform or are housed within the agency. At a minimum, these responsibilities include the ability to identify and retrieve Federal records that are being created and maintained on web 2.0/social media platforms. A concern with web 2.0/social media platforms is that a service provider could stop providing their service or delete information from an agency's account. Additionally, agencies may stop using a social media platform at any time. Either way, the agency would not be relieved of its records management obligations.

Where possible, agencies should include a records management clause when negotiating a Terms of Service agreement or other contract with a service provider for the procurement of social media services. The following is a general clause that an agency can modify to fit the web 2.0/social media platform and specific agency records management needs when using a service provider:

The Agency acknowledges that use of contractor's site and services may require management of Federal records. Agency and user-generated content may meet the definition of Federal records as determined by the agency. If the contractor holds Federal records, the agency and the contractor must manage Federal records in accordance with all applicable records management laws and regulations, including but not limited to the Federal Records Act (44 U.S.C. chs. 21, 29, 31, 33), and regulations of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) at 36 CFR Chapter XII Subchapter B). Managing the records includes, but is not limited to, secure storage, retrievability, and proper disposition of all federal records including transfer of permanently valuable records to NARA in a format and manner acceptable to NARA at the time of transfer. The agency is responsible for ensuring that the contractor is compliant with applicable records management laws and regulations through the life and termination of the contract.

The use of this general clause is highly recommended whenever feasible. The inability to use this clause should not necessarily deter an agency from using social media platforms, especially in cases where the third-party platform offers a cost-effective or zero-cost alternative to the agency developing its own system.

When using a social media platform, agencies should determine if they are able to meet their records management obligations by addressing the three records management areas highlighted in this bulletin: policy, records scheduling, and preservation.

Strategies such as taking web snapshots or other capture methods may address preservation when the platform does not offer sufficient capability. However, if the third-party platform does not allow for sufficient or continued access to the content so that the agency can fulfill its records management requirements, the agency should consider this before using the service. Additionally, the agency should ensure their social media usage policies recognize any limits to meeting records management requirements and determine the scope of their usage so that activity on the platform does not generate information which rises to the threshold of being Federal records.

8. What other NARA resources are available?

NARA has the following resources that you may find useful:

  • A Report on Federal Web 2.0 Use and Record Value: NARA has completed a study of Federal agencies that are actively using web 2.0 technologies in their agency mission related activities.
  • Records Express Blog: The official blog of the National Records Management Program (NRMP) at NARA highlights guidance and upcoming events. It also discusses how the NRMP is working with our agency partners to improve records management in the Federal government
  • Toolkit for Managing Electronic Records: A resource for agencies to share and access records management guidance and best practices
  • Disposition of Federal Records: Provides general information about records management
  • Frequently Asked Questions About Records Management: Provides a list of FAQs on noteworthy records management topics


NARA has the following related guidance:

NARA recognizes that web 2.0/social media platforms and their uses continue to evolve. NARA will continue to work with agencies to provide further resources in managing records when appropriate.

9. How is this Bulletin related to NARA Bulletin 2010-05 - Guidance on Managing Records in Cloud Computing Environments?

Some web 2.0/social media platforms discussed in this Bulletin may operate using cloud computing environments. However, cloud computing environments can be used for many other applications. The cloud computing Bulletin provides definitions on cloud computing technology, deployment models, and service models. It also addresses records management guidelines for cloud computing and provides examples of how agencies are applying this technology. Both bulletins should be consulted when developing records management strategies for these environments.

10. How do I get assistance with specific records management questions relating to web 2.0/Social Media?

Agency social media managers, content creators, and other staff should contact their agency records officers and office of general counsel to discuss social media records management issues. A list of agency records officers can be found on the NARA web site at http://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/agency/officers-lists.html. Your agency's records officer may contact the NARA appraisal archivist with whom your agency normally works. A list of the appraisal contacts is posted on the NARA web site at http://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/appraisal/.

Archivist of the United States

Appendix A