March 24, 2014 By Colin Wood
Though governments generally praise transparency, it can sometimes create new challenges.
In Florida, for instance, the Sunshine Law keeps governments honest while allowing citizens access to any public records or information they might want to see. But for officials at the Lee County, Fla., Visitor & Convention Bureau, it meant finding a way to archive their social media accounts so they could continue operating them legally.
For many agencies, social media may be seen as a mere perk, enhancement or even a distraction. But for an agency responsible for attracting new visitors to the region, social media outlets like Pinterest are indispensable.
“Images are critical to messaging today,” said Laura Chmielewski, director of marketing and communications for the bureau. “Thirty percent of our visitation is international, so images get around a lot of translation issues. So whether it’s Pinterest or Instagram, images are critical to how we tell the story of our destination.”
The bureau looked for a company that would allow them to comply with the Sunshine Law, which is rooted in transparency statutes dating back to 1909, when the city first instated its “Public Records Law.” While it’s relatively easy to provide copies of physical documents, digital media presents a new challenge -- one that was met by Smarsh, a company that provides an archiving platform intended to be comprehensive for all of an organization’s digital communications. Now the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau can digitally travel back in time to any of its social media sites and provide the requested data, should the need arise.
The bureau chose Smarsh, Chmielewski said, because it was the only company officials could find that provides such a service.
Installation, she said, was seamless. “It was actually very, very simple,” she added. And the implementation allowed the organization to continue using new technologies to achieve its business goal, which is to promote the region.
“What I’ve found with Pinterest is that it’s really the first social media channel that is aspirational, rather than just reporting what people were doing or what they had done,” Chmielewski said. “Pinterest was telling me, as a marketer, what they wanted to do, what they dreamed about doing. It gave us a real view into our key markets, what people were interested in everywhere.”
Chmielewski also reported that since installation, she hasn’t heard anything about the system, which is usually a good sign that everything is working as intended. David Ambrose, director of technology partners at Smarsh, pointed out that the ability of an IT director to install and forget about their cloud-based solution is a big draw for many clients.
“So, in their eyes, there’s a checkbox,” he said. “‘I don’t have to add this to the list of items I have to do every week. Smarsh is going to automate that responsibility and do it on my behalf.’”
Smarsh brags that it archives everything, and looking at the list of platforms and hosts it supports, it appears to be virtually true. The platform can not only archive such social media platforms as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Flickr, Instagram, and others, but it also can archive email platforms like Google Mail, Office 365 or Lotus Notes, and instant messengers like AOL Instant Messenger, MSN, Google Talk, and others.
Governments like those in Florida that are required to archive such data need Smarsh because the alternative is to back up everything manually, Ambrose said. “They would have to literally print the email out or make a screen capture,” Ambrose said. “That meant somebody had to do that on a daily basis, save that somewhere, and hope that other people can access it. And never mind that you’re just getting the screen capture and you don’t have any dynamic content. It’s actually in some ways altering the information, so there’s some legality issues there.”
Pricing for Smarsh is done by number of pages to be archived. “For something like Twitter or Facebook, you’re probably closer to the 10 to 30 dollar range [per month], depending on number of accounts,” Ambrose explained. “With something like Pinterest, because we’re looking over so many pages and archiving them, it’s probably a few hundred dollars, depending how large the site is.”
Some of the company's larger clients pay more than that because they use the platform to archive hundreds of various accounts for different divisions of the organization.
“The public sector can now feel comfortable they have a thoughtful archiving and compliance solution in addressing those specific needs: open record laws, e-discovery, records management,” Ambrose said.