Records management programs can provide great value to units and offices, assisting them with identifying, storing, and organizing their documents. However, to use these services, users have to be aware of them, and records management awareness–or lack thereof– can be a major stumbling block for a program.
As a university campus, our user base tends to be large and decentralized; thus, a primary goal of the records management program is increasing outreach. Often, many offices on campus have never heard of records management. “I didn’t even know we had a records management program” is a common refrain heard from employees. To combat this, the program strives to increase communication and awareness of records management issues on campus. This is particularly important as the program pushes forward with many new records management policies, including updated retention schedules and new procedures for documenting in-office destruction of university records. These updates will be helpful to the university faculty and staff–if they know about them.
Thus, it is important to have a solid outreach plan in place, with multiple communication strategies, that allows the program to connect with as many potential users as possible. These strategies may include group presentations, individual consultations, and social media/electronic communications.
On our campus, the records management program has had excellent success partnering with assorted financial, administrative, and professional groups to present on records management as part of their yearly offerings. It is important to work with as many different groups as possible, given the particularly decentralized organization of the campus; many offices traditionally have had only limited communication with others, even if they routinely perform the same functions or tasks. Therefore, the professional group events have provided a great opportunity to reach out to multiple offices at one time. Most groups have been open to having us present on records management, even if our department must make the first move and take an active approach in seeking out opportunities. In fact, with a few emails back and forth, and a little bit of patience, the program has been successful in scheduling records management presentations with the human resources training program. Not only have the presentations been well attended by staff, but they have given us an opportunity to reach out to users at multiple times throughout the year.
Many of the users first introduced to records management during these presentations will then ask for follow-up consultations. These consultations serve as an opportunity to put a human face on the records management program. It also allows us to answer specific questions in a clear and concise manner and has led to the development of “power users” who will then spread the records management “word” with other departments and refer other users directly to us. Even in the modern era, word of mouth continues to be an effective strategy for promoting the program.
Finally, the program is continuing to increase and expand its online presence through a traditional website as well as social media. So far, the program has had limited success with this method. While the website is a great source of information, the site is currently designed for multiple purposes, including archival research, and the records management section is clunky and confusing. Thus, the program is planning a website reorganization in the near future. Social media poses additional issues. Although the Archives, where the records management program is administratively housed, has a strong social media presence, social media has not been the most effective way of disseminating records management information. The primary issue is that of audience. Because of the Archives’ strong social media presence, the majority of followers are archival researchers, not on-campus staff who deal with university records on a daily basis. Thus, the posts that contain information and updates about the records management program tend to receive lower views, and the program cannot primarily rely on that method of communication when working with campus users.
Building a communication and outreach plan for a records management program can be a challenge, as every organization and program is unique, and a strategy that works well for one organization may not work as effectively for another. However, no matter what communication strategy is used, it is crucial to promote the program and let users know that records managers are here to assist them.