What would happen if you lost all of the data you share on social networks? Here's why, and how you should back up your favorite social tools.
Imagine if your Facebook account were suspended and deleted. What would you do if your entire LinkedIn network suddenly disappeared? If your Flickr photos were no longer accessible or if Twitter crashed yet again, only this time for good?
Online networking and collaboration have become a dominant part of our daily routines. According to a recent study conducted by Nielsen and released in early August, social networking occupies twice as much of our time online as any other activity. Facebook and Twitter alone account for 22.7% of our time on the web, with online games and e-mail a distant second and third, respectively.
But while the data you upload and share is inherently personal to you and your network, you don't actually own the information. It all lives on the "cloud," and if any of those services were to crash, you could lose everything you've ever contributed to the communities. That is why backing up your social data is just as important as backing up the hard drive of your computer. You are in the minority of computer users if you backup your data on an external hard drive or if you use a Mac and utilize Time Machine. If you back up your social data, you're in an even more elite group. While the issue of privacy is prevalent to many as well, that's another issue altogether.
"Some people might not want to admit it, and others may just forget, but our social interactions today very much defines who we are as people," notes Julian Ranger, founder and CEO of SocialSafe.net, a social backup service based in the United Kingdom. who just launched their newest version this week.
Backing up your social data, whether business or personal use, while still not done by most users, has become a burgeoning market for a few different companies as usage patterns have risen. But why should you do it, and what services should you start with? In this guide, we will explore what you could potentially lose by not backing up your data, what the different available services offer and how to obtain your data when you need it.
How to Back Up Your Social Media Accounts: Why It's Important for Your Business
When Twitter goes down your follower list and the people you follow completely disappears. Both numbers reset to 0. If you haven't backed up those lists, you have lost not only your customers but also your brand ambassadors. Do you have the Twitter follower list or Facebook fans backed up somewhere, along with all of the metadata that accompanies that data (age, location, etc.)? What about images uploaded from your mobile phone? Did you keep those on your phone, or delete them once they were uploaded?
"As more and more data is fragmented online, there's the potential risk of these services going down or becoming unavailable," says Ben Thomas, the vice president of product and security at Backupify.com, based in Louisville, Ky. and Cambridge, Mass. "More and more of what every user does is happening on the cloud, and there needs to be an ongoing archive of your activity, regardless of whether it is for business or personal use."
Backing up your social data is not quite as simple as backing up everything else that is on the cloud, however. Mozy, Backblaze, Carbonite and others are great services for backing up information stored on the Internet. But they may not be the best option for social networks. There is an enormous amount of metadata associated with social networks, and some of that deserves individual attention. With the rise in popularity of all of these networks, some entrepreneurs have started companies focused on individual tools like Twitter, Facebook, Wordpress and more. Rather than focusing on the larger picture like Backupify, they aim to keep up with programming changes with individual sites and give users more interaction access.
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How to Back Up Your Social Media Accounts: How the Different Services Stack Up
When it comes to backup options for all of the social data that you store on the cloud, there is no single tool that does it all. It depends upon what network you're looking to backup, how much information you want to retrieve and also what sort of interactivity you want with that archived data.
There are two main services that have dominated the space in terms of financing and user-base. Many companies in this space are called point solutions, or specialize in backing up an individual service. But Backupify.com and SocialSafe.net are the most comprehensive options.
Backupify, founded in 2008 and currently with about 80,000 users, has grown exponentially and is a free service for consumers who want to make sure they have an extra copy of their images or videos. What distinguishes them as a service is that they include almost all of the major social networks, from Facebook to Twitter and Picasa to Flickr, while also including Google Mail, Apps, Docs and Calendars.
And the backup itself is quite easy. You take your cloud-based and software-as-a-service (or Saas) data, enter your login information for each service you want to backup, set your preferences and then it's out of your hands. Backupify will automatically download data every 24 hours (after the initial data download, which could take longer depending on the size), and the data will live on Amazon's Simple Storage Service. Although the company is designing their own Application Programming Interface (API), enabling their service to interact seamlessly with other software. They notify you via email when your backups are complete, and if you ever need to obtain the lost data for any reason, you reach out to them and they share a zipped file or downloadable link. For Twitter, you'll receive a PDF book within weeks of signup that includes all of your data from the service. Your entire tweet history, mentions, direct messages, and more will be included in the PDF. On Facebook, it includes photos (your own and those you are tagged in), friends, status updates and more.
"For Backupify, it's all about comprehensiveness and ease of use," Thomas says. "We want to be the central hub storing all of your social data, so you don't have to jump between services and you can very easily be certain that your social activity is covered, no matter what may happen."
For businesses, Backupify offers a premium product that gives an added level of security to Google Apps, Basecamp and other-business based tools. It is still evolving, but they are focusing much of their growth strategy around making their Google Apps product feature-rich.
SocialSafe.net, on the other hand, is less about the actual backup and more about you owning your data that you share on the web, regardless of what it is. Based in the United Kingdom, they are a collaboration between iBundle and 1minus1. Their main focus is on Facebook and Twitter, and they are releasing a new version that will take it beyond a simple backup service. In short, they do Facebook backup better than anyone else on the market right now.
"I use SocialSafe.net every day," says Matt Monahan, the director of business development at tmpSocial, a social media monetization company with offices around the United States. "It helps me sleep at night knowing that at any moment I could disconnect from Facebook and I would still be able to own all of my data (pictures, status updates, and friend list).
And their largest point of differentiation from a company like Backupify is privacy. Rather than backing up all of your data and storing it for you, SocialSafe includes an application that you download to your machine, which will then automatically go in and bring down the social data. There is no additional storage of that data elsewhere, so it's essentially giving you true ownership.
"My fundamental view is that the biggest issue with all of this data out there is privacy," Ranger says. "You don't want others to see all of this, and that includes companies like ours. That's why we aren't another web service that simply takes your data and information. We designed an application that you could download, and you are then in full control."
The plan for SocialSafe from the beginning was to integrate it with the newer www.dadapp.com, billed as the digital answer to disorganization by letting you manage the plethora of information you are putting out there on the web. A new version of SocialSafe.net launched this week for a one-time $6.99 fee, but is very loaded from a feature perspective. The upgraded version is focused on backup but also on pulling together all of that digital information in a sort of digital diary. As Ranger says, "it was important to us to emphasize the digital diary aspect of this. People have been keeping diaries forever, and these networks are the 21st century version of that. Your social interactions define who you are, so why wouldn't you want that information saved somewhere to look back on years from now."
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How to Back Up Your Social Media Accounts: Picking a Service
You are convinced that your social media accounts and the data that is maintained on each are just as important as the files you keep on your computer. But how do you choose the right service for you?
First, take inventory of the social media tools you use. If you use Facebook and Twitter but maybe not any Google applications you might not need a service that covers all of those and more. You should also take in to account future growth. Social media continues to develop and a social media service you aren't using now may be relevant to your business in the future.
In addition to services like Backupify and SocialSafe, there are smaller point solutions that could be preferable to users, despite only offering a single social network. They are so plentiful and vary by service, however, so if you're looking for a comprehensive solution, these are your best options.
Regardless of the option you choose, and even if you choose to go with a much smaller point solutions provider, it is as important to back up your social data as everything else on your computer. Over time, these services will eventually lose your data. For example, try finding your Facebook status update from one year ago today. By utilizing these services, you can ensure that when one of the social media services you use crashes you don't lose valuable information.
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LOU DUBOIS is a Philadelphia-based Social Media Editor for NBC Universal's local news affiliate (WCAU-TV). He is an experienced writer, editor and marketer who has worked with and written about Fortune 500 companies and small businesses, focusing on social media, emerging technologies, small business success, entrepreneurship, sports business and corporate policy. Previously he worked for Social Media Today, Sports Illustrated, the Associated Press and SOBeFit Magazine, along with various newspapers.