What should agencies do when social media channels close down?

Last week I received the following email:

Dear Hashable Users,
We regret to inform you that the Hashable mobile apps and Hashable.com will be shutting down on July 25th. The service will be unavailable after this date.
While we are still very passionate about making better connections and meeting new people, the time has come for us to focus our energy elsewhere.
Some of you have stored valuable information in Hashable, and we want to give you the opportunity to save that data for your own records. If you’d like to receive a file with your complete history, please log onto Hashable.com, navigate to the “Profile” tab, then to the “Your History” section on that page. You can download the file by clicking “Export full history to .csv” and accepting the dialog that pops up.
We are incredibly grateful for all the people we have met through Hashable. Thank you for all your support, and we hope to connect with you again in the future.
All the best,
The Hashable Team

It made me think about the situation that faces organisations when the social media tools they use close down.

How does the organisation tell people interacting with them via the service? Where will they move the community to? Can they extract and reuse any data they or their community have entered into the service? Who else will be able to access and reuse this data?

With the thousands of social media tools that now exist it is inevitable that a proportion of them will close down. In fact I’ve been surprised at how few have done so – largely because of the low cost of keeping them running.

Where agencies are using these services, what is their recourse? It’s hard to hold a company to a service level, or sue, if you’re paying next to nothing for access and the service is domiciled in another country with no local presence.

The key is to prepare and risk-manage before beginning to use these types of services.

Define why and how you’ll use a social media service, what data you will be providing into the service and what data you wish to collect (and in what timeframes and formats).

Ensure you’ve carefully scrutinised the privacy policy and terms of use, both for your sake and for your audience – you may have an obligation to point out differences between your privacy policy and the policy of the service.

Check that the service allows you to extract your data if necessary and, if required, also confirm whether you can delete your account and purge all data.

Devise written exit plans for likely future scenarios. These should, at minimum, include:

  • The social media service closing down in an orderly fashion,
  • the social media service closing down suddenly and unexpectedly (for a short time or permanently),
  • the social media service being bought and integrated into the offering of another company, or
  • your program ending and needing to be closed down, even when the social media services you are using are still going strong.

These plans provide a framework to help you, your management and your successors to manage any shut-down in a measured way. They also form part of your governance and risk-mitigation strategy.

It’s also important to put in place a regular back-up and review strategy. Back-up data from your account by downloading it every month (or if the service doesn’t support this, reconsider if you’re happy using it).

Also periodically review whether your stated purpose for using the service still reflects how you, and your audience are using it, and whether you need to adjust your approach or your data management policies. This review should include checking whether the service’s privacy policy or terms of use have changed – avoiding the risk of the ‘slippery slope’ where you create your agency’s account under a strict privacy policy, but find that your rights have eroded over time.

Together with the above, keep an eye on emerging services that might build on the tools you already use. I don’t recommend switching horses regularly, however if a social media service important to you and your stakeholders is closing, knowing where you can move the community to maintain the conversation is important to have at hand.

As is often quoted, failing to plan means you’re planning to fail.

This is as true for social media as for any other channel or project. So prepare yourself for the future by planning and keep a watchful eye on the services you use and how and why you’re using them.

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Julián Rodriguez Orihuela

In our government (Buenos Aires City) we had the last of the items you mentioned, programs that were to exist for a limited time. We now try to avoid that situation, centralizing those kinds of projects into the general government account.

David Dejewski

An excellent piece about how social media should affect our risk management strategy. Thanks for sharing, Craig.