Sneaking visits to Facebook underneath your boss’s nose is less common than it once was—more companies are aware enough of the value of social media that they no longer discourage it—but the cat-and-mouse game (and any fun that came with it) may have been dealt a final blow. It was recently reported that, after an extended period in limited release, a brand new version of Facebook—Facebook at Work—will see a full roll-out very soon.
As you may have heard, Facebook at Work is a version of Facebook that’s very similar to ‘Facebook Classic’ and is, as the name indicates, meant to be used in the workplace. It allows you to connect with people (though you follow them, instead of friending), message them, interact through groups, and share content, documents and more. If your company uses Facebook at Work, you can sign in through your personal account, but otherwise there is zero interaction between your personal Facebook profile and your Facebook at Work account.
Since January of this year, several organizations have begun using the service, including RBS, with over 100,000 users, and, as was recently announced, Club Med, with 13,000+. Soon it seems that any company that wants to try the service will be able to—the head of the Facebook at Work team, Julien Codorniou, said it would be widely available in the coming months.
LinkedIn has little to worry about
Contrary to a bunch of reports, Facebook at Work isn’t aiming to be a LinkedIn killer. There’s actually fairly little overlap between what the two services aim to do. For one, it appears that you can’t connect to people outside your own company with Facebook at Work. Content is shared only within your own organization, and there’s no advertising on it—which would make it pretty hard to look for jobs, consume external content, or connect with potential clients through it. People will continue to do that, and LinkedIn will continue to serve that need.
However, Facebook’s new offering will be in direct competition with Slack, Yammer, Hipchat, and other tools of their ilk. Many of these internal communications tools are well-established (Yammer is used by over 200k companies) and well-liked (Slack in particular), which means Facebook has an uphill battle to fight.
Internal communications software is also interesting because it can affect so many people in a big way—shaping how they work, and how they could work better, together.
What Facebook at Work, and these established companies, aim to foster, is lighter, less email-bound communication and collaboration in the workplace. The vision is to change the way people work completely: To make it easier to work within and across teams, to access colleagues’ expertise, and to know what’s happening within your company, preferably while spending less time in meetings.
This is an exciting prospect. A communications platform isn’t the only factor in creating this environment, but it can be the cornerstone of how it works in reality.
So will Facebook be the one to make this happen for the next million companies?
Well, they stand a pretty good chance. In my experience, the best comms tools are not the feature-heaviest. Rather they’re the ones that people like using, that don’t go down often, and whose features are simple and add real value. Facebook, in designing for 1.5 billion people, has to have these goals in mind whenever they do anything.
They also have a big advantage, in that everyone already knows how to use Facebook.
What’s Facebook’s big idea?
One interesting question about all this: Why is Facebook doing this? Yes, it’s a big market, but do they need the money that much? Companies risk losing the trust of investors and users when they stray too far from their core competency. Does a new platform for a new type of customer (enterprise) qualify?
Facebook has ad sales, but besides that, not so much experience dealing with business customers. It’s a different model—essentially a SaaS startup within Facebook, as the head of the Facebook at Work team put it. It’s pretty unlikely that they are putting the effort into moving into this space just because they are jealous of how cool everyone thinks Slack is.
It seems more likely that Facebook’s looking into the future—and seeing how their mission of connecting people will play out down the road if they want to continue to be the biggest company doing it.
People have been on Facebook, at work, ever since the network moved beyond the campus. It started as something that employers actively discouraged or banned (some still do). Then businesses began to recognize its value for marketing, social selling, and social recruiting, among other things, sometimes while still banning it for other uses.
At the same time, Facebook itself has gone from a single thing that connects people in a specific context to a series of different products with different use cases, all centered around communication.
Facebook at work represents the convergence of both trends—the company becoming a bigger, more diverse set of tools for helping people connect in different ways, and the workplace becoming more open to social media, with easier, more fluid communication in general.
Will it happen, and will Facebook become a major player in internal communications? Slack me if you know.