It’s one of the 2014’s biggest rumors becoming true in 2015 : Facebook launches the enterprise version of its social network, named Facebook at Work.
What is it ? Nothing more than an enterprise social network with the same functionalities and “look and feel” as Facebook. It’s available through a specific mobile application or the main Facebook.com website on which businesses can create their own social network with specific user accounts or by using their employees’ existing ones.
I’ve already shared my thoughts about such an initiative this autumn and this product confirms most of my fears.
What does Facebook at Work offer ? Nothing more than Facebook does. Some see it at the beginnings of new incredible use cases, as for me I see the warning signs of an industrial accident.
Facebok at work is nothing more than a huge conversational thread that seem be good enough for most of their users today. However, the history of this market shows us one thing : what works for Mr Anybody for his personal activities seldom work for the same Mr Anybody when he steps into the workplace.
A simple conversational thread is not enough for businesses today
Enterprise social networks form a wide and heterogeneous category. It ranges from simple conversational threads more structured – and structuring – able to manage process and information governance activities at the same time. To put it simply, the first are easy to jump in but won’t allow activity specific ans task oriented use cases. They’re not reassuring in terms of governance either. The second are more complicated to handle but are able to address real business needs.
For the time being, no one has found the perfect mix and I’m not even sure such a mix exists. Make it simple or make it rich, but simple and rich at the same time is not easy. We should not forget, too, that the large diversity of business needs and situations makes “one size fits all” solutions that force anyone to accept their philosophy irrelevant. We need something able to graft itself on any need so it implies a large functional scope that arms spontaneous and intuitive adoption.
But there’s something very positive with conversational threads : they’re perfect to make one’s first step even if it means throwing them away in the future when organizations understands that such tools are made for conversations an not for work, that anything shared in is nearly impossible to find in the future.
The simplicity of personal tools does imply they work for business
But this field is already saturated. The best example may be Yammer that got more and more functionalities over time to switch from being a tool to start with to being a tool to work with (knowing it’s a part of the larger Microsoft offer that allow most advanced and specific use cases). Facebook comes with nothing Yammer did not have 7 years ago. Worse, there’s no guarantee in terms of privacy. As a free or freemium solution, the market segment is saturated and the only possible targets for Facebook are businesses that are not ready to pay (or not to pay a lot), that have very little ambition and not caring about the privacy of their information capital. Such businesses exist but it’s not enough for Facebook to become a game changer.
The most ambitious and concerned companies will (or already do) work with IBM, Jive, Microsoft or SAP.
Conversation apart from documents and business activities does not work
The fact that network creation can only be done by organizations (and not employees) could look like a pretty good thing in terms of governance but will deprive Facebook of “pirate”, employees-lead initiatives that have made Yammer so successful in the past. More, how does the solution connect with the enterprise directory and the business applications ? In no way today but even the day it would become possible I can’t imagine that many businesses will connect their LDAP and critical business applications with Facebook. Keep in mind that conversations apart from business activities and documents don’t work.
For the rest and as I said in my previous post, Facebook at Work have solid arguments and a large know-how to promote. But nothing proves that what a general public solution successful won’t lead to failure in the workplace (not specific enough, content filtering, poor search engine…)
Facebook at Work has governance issues
Moreover – but wait until we know more about how the product actually works – I’m curious to see how personal and business activities coexist in a single product. Should one employee use the wrong channel once – and only once – to share information and any form of trust in the solution will disappear (and knowing how sensitive the mater is even on closed platforms…). And if switching from one environment to another is so easy, won’t employees spend more time on their personal timeline than on their business one (what, by the way, is a good way for Facebook in terms of monetization…)
So let’s talk about the business model, still not defined as I write. Maybe paid-for, maybe not, we’ll se. In the first case the question is “how much”. Businesses won’t wait until they have 5000 registered users to wonder how much it will cost. In the second case the question is “what is the price to pay for a free service”… and I suspect they won’t like the answer.
My conclusion may look hard but I agree with Frederic Cavazza[In French]. A poor solution that comes 5 years too late and looks like a miscasting. I can’t see who can be interested today except businesses looking for a disposable solution for an experimentation. Too many grey zones and lack don’t make Facebook at Work a viable alternative for a serious business in the context of a perennial initiative.
Facebook at Work : a Trojan Hors to bring Facebook back in the workplace ?
However, the idea makes sense for Mark Zuckerberg’s company :
– development costs close to zero
– ability to test a market a nearly no cost
– a misunderstanding that may make businesses “unblacklist” Facebook, help Facebook to get more traffic on people’s work jours and monetize more and more. Even vicious this idea sounds credible.
In short, Facebook has the means to try something and wait to see what happens. The problem is that their potential clients are not in the same situation.
Facebook can be game changer in enterprise collaboration. But not with this product as it is today.