Screen grab of Facebook at Work app from the App Store.
Facebook, which is synonymous with “distraction” in most workplaces, is striving to pull up a chair in the professional environment with its latest product: Facebook at Work.
The upcoming offering has the same look and feel as Facebook, and it will have the same features. Users will use their work email to form the account, which is not connected to their personal account. They can form groups, send private messages, post links on their timelines, update statuses and access the site from a cellphone, computer or tablet. The only major difference: Facebook at Work has a different color scheme than Facebook, so when the boss or colleagues walk by they know that users are working on a project and not cyber-stalking friends.
There’s a free version, and companies can pay extra for certain features, which is how the product would generate revenue as compared with Facebook, which makes money off ads.
The overall goal of Facebook at Work is to improve workflow, increase productivity and decrease dependence on email.
Over a six-month period, 300 companies participated in the beta test for Facebook at Work, including Club Med, Heineken and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Facebook Inc. declined to provide a statement, but Workforce spoke with Jake Wengroff, a social business expert and consultant at JXB1 Social Business, and Courtney Hunt, a digital expert and founder of the Denovati Group, about the new product and their expectations.
Facebook’s major selling point is familiarity: most people know the social network already. In fact, Facebook had 1.59 billion monthly active users in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to Statista.
Hunt believes the familiarity of Facebook will do little to help with the success of Facebook at Work because other enterprise social platforms like Yammer copied the look and feel of Facebook years ago.
Wengroff, on the other hand, said the familiar, intuitive nature of Facebook is what helped it grow so quickly in the public audience when it left the college market. For the same reason, companies may give Facebook at Work a second look. They know Facebook is ubiquitous and that using the site is mostly intuitive.
Despite the familiarity, there are some major hurdles that Facebook at Work will have to overcome.
One challenge is the already crowded enterprise social marketplace. Enterprise social platforms such as IBM Connections, Microsoft Corp.’s Yammer, Salesforce Chatter and Slack have been around for years and have had time to adjust and improve.
Perhaps Facebook at Work will appeal to smaller, younger companies with an aversion to traditional software venders like IBM Corp. or Microsoft, Wengroff said. However, with this demographic Facebook would face competition with Slack, which is currently popular with the young, entrepreneurial crowd.
Facebook has yet to really differentiate Facebook at Work from these other platforms, Hunt said, and it will have to if it wants to make a dent in the enterprise social market.
Also, privacy and security are bigger concerns, Wengroff said. Some companies may not warm up to Facebook at Work because they know Facebook is a data collector. Companies might be unwilling to talk strategy on the platform if they think Facebook will be able to see the conversation.
According to the Facebook at Work website, however, Facebook doesn’t own the data. The company using the platform still owns it.
One final hurdle for Facebook at Work, according to Hunt, is the emphasis on “organizationwide chatter” rather than meaningful communication among team members. She argued that although chatter is good for culture and morale, it’s not good for managing work.
Facebook at Work “is about newsfeed, events, following people and updates. It’s about what people use regular Facebook for,” she said. “It’s a lot of broadcast communication and chat.”
What’s more useful in achieving a company’s goals, she said, is give work teams the most efficient and effective ways to collaborate with each other and get their jobs done. Although organizationwide chatter is valuable, it’s second to communication and sharing within teams.
Overall, Hunt has a more pessimistic outlook on Facebook at Work. It needs more to compete with what’s already out there, she said. Wengroff is more neutral. It won’t be a major revenue stream for the company or displace the competition, but it might get attention from, for example, those smaller, younger companies.
Meanwhile, the Royal Bank of Scotland reported positive results on Facebook at Work coming out of the beta test.
The bank, which employs 100,000 people, found that employees were able to collaborate more efficiently and answer customer questions more quickly using the platform, according to a news release from October 2015. It found the site to be a simple, effective way to share ideas and organize events.