E-Discovery from Social Networks Becomes the Norm

Lora Bentley

Just over a year ago, I talked to HP's information management solutions director, Patrick Eitenbichler, about the importance of archiving and managing Web 2.0 content for purposes of e-discovery and regulatory requests. At the time, he said:

There are business records stored on SharePoint, whether that's meeting minutes, contracts, calendar entries, or even blog posts that the executives have written. [N]ot treating those as business records ... creates a lot of business risk. If there's a compliance audit or a discovery request, [the company] may not have access to the information, or even if they have the information, it may not be searchable.

He then took the opportunity to explain how software offered by the company could help customers avoid such compliance headaches.


In the ensuing 12 months, the scope of Web 2.0 content has expanded to include not only content posted to collaboration platforms, but also content shared on social networks. For companies that have yet to address the compliance issues created by such content, their task has become progressively more difficult.


According to research recently released by Gartner, that trend is not expected to stall out or even slow anytime soon. In fact, the research firm projects that half of all companies will have been asked to produce social networking site content in e-discovery requests by the end of 2013.


Specifically, Gartner VP Debra Logan said:

Social media content is like all other content that is created by companies and individuals and is subject to the same rules, laws and customs ... In e-discovery, there is no difference between social media and electronic or even paper artifacts. The phrase to remember is "if it exists, it is discoverable."

The key, according to Logan, is to craft an overall information governance framework and policies and then to educate the users. Because more integrated content is more difficult to manage, she says, there may be some instances in which banning the use of certain social media types is appropriate.


I'm not so sure. Though a policy banning certain types of social media in the workplace may seem the best course, one should also consider if and how that policy could effectively be enforced given the proliferation of consumer-oriented social media sites.


Educating employees as to when and how social media can be used appropriately in the business, as well as providing examples of poor choices in that arena, along with the resulting consequences, may prove more effective than banning the practice outright.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 23, 2011 9:46 AM Adam Bullock Adam Bullock  says:

My name is Adam Bullock and I work at Smarsh, a company that helps organizations successfully navigate through social media compliance. I have to say - banning social networks isn't the answer when trying to comply with regulatory mandates. While it may seem like an effective way to avoid compliance headaches, it could actually be the riskier choice. The reality is that the toothpaste is out of the tube - employees are already using LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media platforms. Despite best intentions, a prohibitive policy can't fully protect an employer. Instead of outwardly banning these new communication tools, organizations should put an emphasis on understanding how social media is and can be leveraged at the organization, establishing effective procedures for social media record retention and monitoring and enforcing those procedures.

Mar 4, 2011 3:25 PM Lindsey Niedzielski Lindsey Niedzielski  says:

Great post Lora. Social networking is definitely going to be an exciting media to watch grow (even more!) in the future.  We have a community for IM professionals (www.openmethodology.org) and have bookmarked this post for our users.  Look forward to reading your work in the future.


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