An enteprise social network by Facebook : is it a joke ?

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So Facebook would be reportedly preparing an enterprise version of its social network. This is not really new – the information dates from this summer – but it’s interesting – or incongruous – enough to spend two minutes on it.

What would Facebook join the enterprise market ?

The first question we should ask ourselves is why would Facebook join the enterprise social networks market. There are tons of possible answers but three look more relevant than others to me.

1°) Money. There’s an established market for enterprise social networks solutions and Facebook is good at social networks. It’ enough to, at least, raise the idea of such a move. Moreover, the “Enterprise Facebook” word has been used so much to qualify industry solutions – even if it did a disservice to them in some ways – that Facebook is at least presumed legitimate.

2°) Enterprise social networks face adoption issues, Facebook doesn’t. Even if there are few exceptions that prove the rule, many solutions have an affordance and user experience issue. Here again the comparison with Facebook is often made…What could make Facebook thing they have a competitive advantage regarding to their competitors.

3°) The foundations of such a product exist. First there’s the Facebook we know. Second, ti seems that Facebook employees have developed internal collaboration use for their own use. The meeting of the two worlds could lead to something worth without too much effort.

It’s only worth what it’s worth but it’s enough for Facebook to think about the enterprise market  and more than enough to raise a rumor. Remember that Linkedin is often reported to have similar intentions.

An entreprise Facebook ? There are some upsides

So let’s consider the bright side of things, from an enterprise and end user perspective.

A “made by Facebook” solution would certainly use a large part of Facebook’s user interface and look & feel, what can be seen as a good thing to improve adoption. That’s something we can witness in any organization : end users are used to some tools in their private lives and use them as benchmarks. What does not look like their personal applications is rejected, no matter the product is good or not. In this case, end users will have something that looks familiar and it does really matter. Facebook benefits from a shared experience with users in their private lives and that means a lot in the age of the consumerization of IT.

Second, Facebook has a deep knowledge and expertise. Either one likes the company or not, they think social by default while many legagcy vendors are still stuck in their own cultural revolution. For anyone considering the innovation potential, Facebook scores points.

Then Facebook has something that is far from being the norm in enterprises : an open standards culture that makes it easy to integrate third-party tools in their own solution. Remember that social networks are nothing but hubs and that their value lies at their periphery.

Last, the graph and more broadly anything that help to understand interactions, relationships, needs and push the right content to the right people, prioritize what matters. It’s a major stake as most users suffer from information overload and lack time. Moving from email to enterprise social networks did improve things that much. New channel but same – or even increasing – volume. Many industry solutions are still very limited in this perspective and even if major players are working hard, invest in data and content analytics, in graph-like functionalities, it’s still too early to say it works. On the other hand we know that Facebook can do.

The enterprise market is a wrong idea for Facebook

But everything is not that bright. The corporate IT market is very specific and there’s a bif difference between selling ads to the marketing department and collaboration solutions to the IT.

Similarly, having developed tools for one’s own use and packaging them in an offer for customers are two different things. Facebook is a service provider, not a software vendor. These are two radically different jobs and even if we may think that they’re not that fam, the gap is big, at least from a cultural perspective. We’ve already seen many businesses that were leader in their field trying to crack a complementary one and fail because they didn’t realize how high the step was. More, an enterprise social network is not self-sufficient nor self-sustaining : understanding the business IT environment, its constraints, the vertical solutions to integrate with them would something quite new for Facebook. I don’t even mention the change in business model : no data or advertizing based revenue. Licence and service…and nothing proves the opportunity will ba as lucrative as expected.

Second, thinking that the job would be made easier by a better affordance is a big mistake. Event the solutions that look the most like Facebook in terms of ergonomy and experience face adoption issues. In the context of work affordance matter but is not enough : it’s about making sense of things in the context of one’s job. Facebook will face the same change management and transformation issues than its established competitors.

Another point, the approach helping Facebook to target content and audience to less overwhelm users with information may not be that relevant at work where the relevance of a content is appreciated from the receiver’s point of new, not the publisher’s or a third-party’s. Without even mentioning that search is non-existent in Facebook and does not meet enterprise needs. Of course, all of this can be improved and fixed but it require a deep change in the product philosophy. The risk of seeing Facebook lose some assets by trying to adopt to the enterprise market and end in the same situation as its competitors is high.

Last but not least, the enterprise social network market is an overcrowded one where seats are very expensive for any new comer, should his name be Facebook. This market is in a consolidation phase and even Jive, the historical leading pure player is at risk. That should make Facebook cautious before making such a move.

Facebook and the enterprise : a problem of trust

Facebook has a legitimacy issue on the enterprise market – a general public social network is not the same at selling collaboration to enterprises – but, most of all, a problem of trust.

As Google is learning it the hard way, businesses are very vigilant about what is one with their data, how they’re used and by whom. Making enterprise customers believe that you’re going to forget what has been the heart of your business business for years is difficult, if not impossible. From this perspective, Faceboo, Google and others will always be presumed guilty and dishonest. And it’s not going to change anytime soon.

Then there’s the Facebook image. When businesses describe their enterprise social network as a “Facebook for businesses”, it has two consequences. The first, positive, is to help anyone to understand the big picture. The second, and the market is still suffering from this one, it’s the negative image of the service, of its usage, of its downside and it’s not going to disappear.

As many reasons that make me say that even if the idea is legitimate and no one can refuse to assess it, the specificities of this market, its requirements and the welcoming Facebook may get from IT and corporate buyers make the hypotheses less than likely. It would be a big mistake for customers taking a leap in the dark while there are plenty of established enterprise vendors with good solutions and for Facebook too, with the risk of undertaking deep changes with no guarantee of success.

Ima Credit : Facebook via Shutterstock