June 20, 2022 by Bojana Krstic

Social Media Unstructured Data and How to Utilize It

Communication and collaboration are evolving in the enterprise landscape. The emergence of enterprise social networks (ESN) changed the way employees interact and share information.

In addition, 97% of Fortune 500 companies rely on traditional social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or TikTok for benefits such as affordability, customer service, community growth or more targeted reach.

Much like email and other communication tools, enterprise social networking messages fall into the category of unstructured data.

Why is this important? To fully utilize the power and value of data, enterprises must first understand different types of data and classify them accordingly.

The difference between structured and unstructured data

The term structured data refers to any data that may be stored in a relational database. To put it another way, data stored in a relational database management system (RDBMS), the foundation of SQL (Organized Query Language), is by definition highly structured. Fields and values are very consistent across database entries, making it quick to search and easy to comprehend the relational structure of the data.

On the other hand, unstructured data is defined as data that does not exist in a relational database management system (RDBMS). It encompasses a wide range of data types, including text documents, PDFs, spreadsheets, presentations, videos, photos, audio and more.

So, is social media unstructured data?

Yes, social media is unstructured data, along with all of the current workplace communication tools like mobile text messaging or video conferencing platforms. According to CIO, such data accounts for 80-90% of all data in the digital universe.

Because of the sheer volume of digital communication that takes place in modern workplaces, organizations have a hard time dealing with the large volumes of data generated by various sources, and managing unstructured data is especially challenging.

The challenges of dealing with unstructured data

With the growing amounts of data businesses collect, data has become increasingly difficult to manage. Most organizations still rely on relational database management systems (RDBMS) to store their data.

However, 80-90% of all data is not structured, and RDBMS systems are not designed to handle unstructured data.

This means that if unstructured data is needed, it might take a significant amount of time, effort, and financial and human resources to manually extract the data, move it to another system, and then analyze it.

Because these steps are manual, data extraction, transfer, and review are often error-prone, making the process inefficient and inaccurate.

Ediscovery – This could be particularly problematic in ediscovery, where legal teams deal with electronic unstructured data from various sources (email, social media posts, text messages, images). All these records need to be collected, combed through, exported to an acceptable universal format (evidentiary quality) and then reviewed and presented. Apart from taking a lot of time, this process is very cost-intensive.

Related: Social Media Ediscovery Key Principles

Data security – Unstructured data presents a new problem in terms of recordkeeping and data security. The GDPR and CCPA, as well as rising consumer pressure, are making it harder for businesses to handle information responsibly and to respect the privacy of everyone involved.

Related: GDPR Compliance and Email Archiving – Jatheon

Compliance – Enterprise social media channels, websites, email, and mobile text messages all need to be tracked to meet regulatory compliance — which can be tough to do in real-time, especially for so many data sources.

There are multiple legal requirements that companies, especially those in highly regulated industries, need to comply with. In the healthcare industry, for instance, HIPAA requires organizations to protect patient privacy, while financial service companies need to comply with regulations like FINRA and SEC.

Unstructured data and social media

We’ve already established that the answer to “is social media unstructured data?” is – yes. But what implications does it have for businesses?

When it comes to enterprise social networking, there is a lot of data that has to be managed and this data is both useful and complicated.

Enterprise social networks aren’t only conversational tools; they also make it easier to share information and work together. As a result, companies must carefully assess the legal and data governance implications of any enterprise social network they choose to adopt.

It’s crucial to understand that legal teams have been forced to adapt to the widespread adoption of enterprise social networks and other email alternatives. Legal professionals are used to dealing with documents, not digital communication records.

This means that legal departments must carefully assess how they can treat relevant social media and other unstructured data. Without proper policies, procedures, and technology in place, legal teams might find it challenging to collaborate with other departments, affecting their ability to protect the business.

Related: Social Media Ediscovery and Investigating Employee Misconduct

How to handle social media data

Social networks are a new, valid and important source of data. To preserve these business records, comply with regulations, and support ediscovery, enterprise social networks must be regulated properly and the adoption by businesses has to be done right.

As workplace social networks replace email and become engines for internal communication and collaboration, companies must properly implement these technologies in order to maintain data security.

Here are five best practices to follow:

  • Archive all social media data — Social networking platforms are constantly changing, which makes data archiving all the more important. Social network data must be captured in real-time, archived in an immutable format, fully searchable and presented in context to facilitate evidence review.
  • Develop policies for social media use — Policies and guidelines outline the acceptable and unacceptable uses of social network platforms. Employee training for social media use should be documented and updated regularly, and all activity on the platforms must be documented.
  • Implement retention and deletion policies for social media data — All social media data must be captured, archived, and retained. It’s important to note that mandated and recommended social media data retention schedules vary based on industry, company size, and whether you’re actively using social networks for marketing and communications.
  • Implement monitoring policies for social media use — Social network monitoring helps companies comply with regulations, ensure data security, and mitigate risk. Monitoring should also be implemented to safeguard intellectual property and confidential information, as well as monitor for harassment, discrimination and other types of employee misconduct.
  • Implement e-discovery policies for social media data — Social media data can be used as evidence in legal cases, so it’s important to implement ediscovery policies, procedures, and tools. Since the digital trail created by social media is often long and complex, legal teams need the ability to quickly find, extract, and act on relevant records.

How Jatheon can help

Jatheon’s social media archiving software can extract data from multiple social media sources, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp etc. It provides legal, HR and IT professionals with the data they need to perform ediscovery, compliance audits, litigation support, and internal investigations.

Jatheon’s software can extract data based on a specific keyword, user, date and other criteria, and users can filter data by file type. It also allows users to export the data in a fully searchable, human-readable format, so it can be used in reports, presentations, and data analysis.

To learn more about how Jatheon can help your company with its unstructured data challenges and social media archiving, book your demo today.

Read Next:

10 Best Email Alternatives for Better Collaboration in 2024

Social Media Ediscovery and Investigating Employee Misconduct

6 Best Time-Saving Social Media Investigation Tools

Data Retention Policy: Examples and Best Practices

About the Author
Bojana Krstic
Bojana Krstic is the Head of Content and SEO at Jatheon and an experienced writer on topics like data archiving, ediscovery, and compliance. When AFK, you’ll find her hiking, discovering new music, or road-tripping.

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