Facebook at Work : stroke of genius or huge joke ? Like many people, that’s the question I had in mind when the enterprise edition of Facebook was announced. So I was both curious, excited and skeptical when it came in my workplace in the middle of autumn 2015. Now it’s time to share my feedback
Facebook and Facebook at Work : two separate hermetic environments
First I received an invitation email. I register and I’m proposed to either create a specific id/password for Facebook at Work or use my personal account’s one. I choose this 2nd option. Same login/passwords but two different platforms, the good point being that I can switch from one to another in just one click. The two zones are clearly hermetic : impossible to share anything from the one to the other. The security freak that is sometimes inside me says it’s a good thing, the mature user thinks it’s a pity, the consultant who helped a lot a businesses with enterprise social networks implementation think it should be possible in one direction but not in the other. But Facebook at Work has to reassure a market first and “internal” clients who are not their usual ones so I understand they wanted to leave as little room for questioning as possible, most of all regarding to IT.
Similarly Facebook and Facebook at work are two distinct mobile applications, just to really make people feel that “it’s not the same thing, it’s not the same environment”. Same for messenger that has its “professional” equivalent : Work Chat.
Facebook at Work : neither training nor onboarding
With only a few exceptions, it’s the perfect copy of the social networking platform we all know, a darker interface reminding that you’re using the enterprise version. If you want to customise it to comply with you company’s branding rules, you can change the logo and…nothing more. Of course there’s no ad on facebook at work since clients will have to pay for it after the official release.
The first contact with the platform is very easy. I think this is the very good thing about Facebook at Work : no training was necessary to onboard users. The tool and its functionalities are known by everyone so everyone is able to use it from day one. The only thing we did is sharing some guidelines on groups creation and management to avoid the duplication of groups on a similar topic and a fragmentation of the activity.
In less than one week, Facebook at Work is widely adopted. Simple and familiar enough to cause a spontaneous adoption, Facebook at work will reassure businesses that are very uncomfortable with the effort required to deploy to deploy an enterprise social network.
Facebook at Work is more about the group than people
No training does not mean no concern. What matters is the use cases. What are the ones that can more or less spontaneously emerge on Facebook at Work ?
First take : if, on Facebook, users are more likely to be active on personal profiles, here it seems that groups are taking the lead. Maybe because starting with an empty platform makes people focus on finding places to gather or because groups have a purpose. That’s something I often noticed with any enterprise networking solutions : in a work environment it’s more about the group than the individual. Of course some leaders will emerge over time and will have a strong audience on their profile, but an enterprise solution is more about a shared purpose than personal networking. By the way you don’t have “friends” on Facebook at work. You can decide to follow some people but the concept of friends has been removed.
Second take, and it’s not a surprise, the biggest and most spontaneous use case is to set information in motion to strengthen interactions and ties between people (most of all those who don’t work together on a day to day basis). Like the “consumer version”, Facebook at Work is the perfect solution to set information in motion, create ties and even engagement.
Facebook at Work personifies the difference between social networking and social collaboration
This point leads to the never-ending debate about enterprise social networks : setting information is motion est good, now so what ? In other words : how do I use it to organize and collaborate in the context of my work. And such a use is often one of the least spontaneous ones.
Is it possible to use Facebook at Work to organize ? Kind of. You can decide to create groups to host conversations about, let’s say, projects, put the potential is limited? Except status updates sharing, it’s not possible to structure work, manage task manage knowledge, have a narrow governance of shared documents. Documents are attached to posts, period. No wiki, no task management, no document management, no integration with any business applications. And the text editor is….not existing. Like in Facebook it’s impossible to format text so Facebook at Work is not for long content that need formatting to remain readable.
Is it a lack ? I’d rather say no : that’s not what Facebook at Work has been designed for, it’s neither it’s DNA nor it’s philosophy.
Facebook at work perfectly personifies how the market is split between “flow-centric solutions” that set information in motion and favor engagement on the one side and social collaboration solutions that have a more structuring approach on the other side. The ones are simple, easy to start with, the others are more rich, complex and harder to adopt. The ones have soft benefits, the others ambition hard and tangible ones. What is best ? I’m bending towards the seconds but a business can also have the following reasoning ;
• social collaboration solutions are often more rich bur harder to adopt
• their promise is higher but seldom delivered at scale
• their complex adoption makes it even hard to use them for simple use case “à la Facebook”.
• [this point will never said openly and assumed but it really weights] : we want a self supporting technology without having anything to change, hoping that technology alone will drive change.
• So it’s better to choose a solution that has a low promise but will keep it without effort rather than a solution with a high promise that requires more effort…knowing that if we don’t do things properly, the second solution will even deliver less than the first.
I’m sure that it’s what Facebook had in mind when they designed the solution. The assumption should have been that a simple solution that perfectly addresses the lower levels of the Maslow’s pyramid of the social/collaborative/networked organization (share information, build ties, create engagement) is better than a solution that addresses the top of the pyramid knowing that very few businesses managed to reach the top and that today’s clients eventually know that and have lower expectations.
To date, Facebook at Work is a great social communication solution, not a social collaboration one.
Can Facebook at Work afford remaining an island ?
As I’m writing, the solution is still not commercially available in its final version. Moreover, it’s obvious that it will have to continuously evolve. The question is to know whether Facebook at Work can afford remaining an isolated island or must become richer and more integrated with the rest of the enterprise IT to climb the collaboration Maslow’s Pyramid.
In my opinion the answer is yes. Moreover there are solid rumors saying that Facebook will soon be offering APIs to go in this direction.
But I admit the answer may not be so easy for Facebook. Facebook at work has a key competitive advantage regarding to its adoption for basic but essential use cases. Becoming richer would make it lose this advantage without being able to compete against Microsoft, IBM, Jive or SAP at the upper level. These “usual suspects” perfectly master this territory and I have no doubt that most IT people will be more comfortable to grant access to their ECM and business application to them rather to Facebook. Knowing how difficult it is to drive the adoption of advanced use cases because of the required organizational transformation, we can also imagine Facebook deciding that the best solution is to stay where they are, excel at delivering a simple value proposition instead of fighting to promise a Grail very few business reached in the past, whatever the technology.
Don’t choose a technology but be honest regarding to your ambition
So, what conclusions could we draw at this stage of the product development.
As I wrote Facebook at Work is a great social communication solution but not a social collaboration one. This should remind anyone that one should never choose a technology based on its richness but based on one’s ambition. From today’s perspective, Facebook at work can outperform the competition on some use cases and be way too poor to compete on others. What should be assessed is not the technology but one’s needs to set ambition at the right level.
So it would be perfect for some global or specific use cases, will be better for some departments and functions than for others, but cant’ be considered as a collaboration platform able to meet the needs of a large business.
Can the best solution be Facebook at Work + another platform ? I’ve always been convinced that, thanks to APIs and Open Standards), a business could have a flagship and many small ships navigating around, provided the platforms can share information and be interoperable. In the case the point will be to avoid overlapping. In the end the point is more about the governance and urbanization of the collaborative IS.
One things is sure : Facebook at Work will be massively adopted wherever it will be deployed. The point is to know what for and to set the ambition at the right level.