When Anil Chawla built a start-up that uses software to archive social media posts, he never imagined that his biggest clients would be government agencies.
Chawla, a former IBM engineer, founded ArchiveSocial in 2011 to design an efficient way to store and search social media content. The Durham, N.C.-based start-up recently picked up a $100,000 check from Steve Case’s Washington-based investment firm Revolution Ventures.
Federal, state and local agencies have embraced the use of social media Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter to connect with citizens, but many do not have an easy way to capture all their interactions to comply with public records laws. In many states, even deleted posts need to be recorded, but trying to access them once they are gone is virtually impossible or requires a subpoena to the company in question.
That’s one problem Kristi Wyatt was trying to solve when she discovered ArchiveSocial. Wyatt is the director of communications and intergovernmental relations for the city of San Marcos, Tex., which uses the company’s software.
Many officials still use cumbersome manual methods to save their social media posts, she said.
“We were taking screenshots of every version of a post or doing a backup every night,” she said.
If the city received a public records request that required combing through old posts, the process could quickly become a nightmare, she said.
Wyatt came across ArchiveSocial’s software in a previous government role and recommended it when she moved to San Marcos.
ArchiveSocial started out in the private sector trying to sell its product to financial institutions or health care companies. The start-up isn’t the only one in this space. Others, such as Backupify, Smarsh and PageFreezer, offer similar archiving services.
Chawla said the company soon realized that government was a huge untapped market.
“We discovered that most agencies had gone ahead with social media without figuring out how to comply with archiving laws,” he said.
Now 85 percent of the company’s business comes from a mix of federal, state and local customers. ArchiveSocial’s largest federal client is the National Archives and Records Administration.
When National Archives released guidelines for record management in 2013, Chawla called them to see how they managed their social media storage.
The agency was still in the process of evaluating vendors and chose ArchiveSocial, he said.
The company’s growth has been driven by good timing, according to Chawla.
On more than one occasion, officials who agreed to use the software on a trial basis received a public record request soon after, which persuaded them to invest in the product, he said.
The software has other uses. In San Marcos, for example, a story about the harsh treatment of a woman by a local police officer went viral in March. Citizens talked about it on social media, Wyatt said, and a vigilante hacker shut down the city’s Web site in protest. Unknown to many of the commenters, the incident had taken place two years earlier and the police officer already had been fired and jailed.
Using ArchiveSocial’s software, the city was able to assist the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its probe of the hacker and respond to citizens’ discussion of the situation, Wyatt said.
For the Durham company with a staff of only 11, the next step is investing Revolution’s money to hire more engineering and research talent, Chawla said. He declined to provide sales or profit figures.
ArchiveSocial is also testing out analytics services for government customers.