Facebook is beginning to test Facebook at Work with select partners across the world, as the social media giant aims to take on the big players in the enterprise social space.
Billed as a “separate experience that gives employees the ability to connect and collaborate efficiently using Facebook tools”, the company says many of these tools are already in use such as News Feed, Groups, messages and events.
Seen as a direct rival to Microsoft’s Yammer, Salesforce’s Chatter and business networking service LinkedIn, Facebook says Facebook at Work has been created “completely for use within a company” - that means employees' Facebook at Work info is “safe, secure, confidential and completely separate from their personal Facebook profile.”
“Over the last several years,” comments Jeffrey Mann, analyst, Gartner, “I have done many inquiries which are some variation of “How do we get Facebook for use internally?” or “When will Facebook issue a version for use within our company?”
“I would generally point to pure-play enterprise social vendors because I was pretty sceptical about Facebook doing this, for two main reasons.
“Firstly, their focus is on making Facebook attractive to hundreds of millions of users. Anything that distracts from that objective is a bad idea.
“And secondly, Facebook makes so much money off of advertising from their consumer product that the money to be made off of an enterprise product is not worth the effort.”
But as Mann acknowledges, there have been several indications over the last couple months that this analysis was no longer valid, with the penny finally dropping.
Over the past months, the social media company has added mobile apps for Facebook at Work to the Apple and Android app stores, even launching an official help page.
“It would seem that the risk of distraction and the benefits of diversification are enough to convince Facebook to enter the enterprise social software market,” Mann claims.
“But don’t expect to be able to use it right away. Only participants who work at companies participating in the Beta program can download and use the app.”
While there is not a lot of solid information available on Facebook at Work, Mann believes it looks to take an “interesting approach” that fits in well with the kinds of developments the industry is seeing around the digital workplace.
“Consumerisation is an important part of the digital workplace,” he adds. “Vendors like Google, Dropbox and now Facebook are taking that further than we have seen before.”
According to Mann, their products are not just inspired by what goes on in the consumer world; they are those same products with extensions needed to work in the enterprise.
“That makes for a very different type of experience,” he adds. “I spend a lot of time talking to clients about how to encourage adoption, which generally comes down to how do we convince, cajole, and club users into actually using the stuff that was chosen.”
But Mann’s view is that these consumer-enterprise products don’t have that problem. In fact, he believes that companies spend a lot of time and effort trying to keep their users away from them.
“There may be lots of reasons why they would not be appropriate for all enterprises, but lack of adoption is not one of them,” he adds.
Ultimately, Mann says success looks different for these vendors that have a huge consumer following.
“Rather than having to convince companies to adopt them (like traditional enterprise suppliers must do), they can make lots and lots of money if they can simply convince a small percentage of the companies where their existing users work to adopt them, or even not to actively block them,” he adds.
“That low barrier makes for a very different type of market strategy. This should get interesting.”