Why Facebook At Work Is Going To Have A Tough Time

Chris CrumBusiness

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Last week, we got our first look at Facebook at Work, the company's new attempt at a business version of Facebook, mainly targeting the enterprise (at least for now).

It lets workers stay up to date with what's new and relevant at work, includes one-on-one and group messaging, lets users create and join groups to collaborate on projects, and enables them to plan events and invite people from the company. As enterprise social media offerings go, it's pretty basic, though it's very early, and Facebook will continue to add features.

Do you think Facebook at Work will catch on? Let us know in the comments.

A lot of people, however, think Facebook is too late to the game, and just isn't offering enough to compete in the already highly competitive space. Courtney Hunt, Founder and Principal of The Denovati Group, wrote an article for SocialMediaToday earlier this week, contemplating whether or not Facebook at Work will work. The outlook isn't good.

Hunt shared some additional commentary on the subject with WebProNews, and talked about why she doesn't feel Facebook has much of a shot here.

Is privacy a legitimate concern for companies when it comes to Facebook?

"Absolutely," Hunt says. "As they would on any internal communication and collaboration platform, employees would discuss corporate initiatives via Facebook at Work, as well as sharing confidential company and client information, intellectual property, trade secrets and other things that should not be shared or discussed with outsiders. As I understand it, all this data will reside within Facebook’s domain (companies are assigned to their own subdomain: company.facebook.com), and it’s unclear at this point who owns that data, as well as how it will be managed and protected."

"Obviously Facebook has to provide EULAs [End User License Agreements] that lay out their data protection approaches in clear terms, but more importantly they need to be proactive in providing assurances to CIOs and other organizational leaders who have become hypersensitive to the risks of data leaks and hacking."

Is Facebook at Work Underdeveloped?

"As I mentioned in the assessment on Social Media Today, there are limitations in the available features (e.g., all status updates and calendar events are shared company-wide) and a general inability for both companies and users to control and manage their Facebook at Work experience," Hunt says. "In addition, Facebook at Work is missing key collaboration features, including the ability to share and co-edit documents, project and task management tools, and discussion threads that are independent of messaging and chat. Currently there is no ability to use third-party apps to substitute for the missing features, as Facebook has intentionally disabled this functionality."

"I also discussed how companies need integrated solutions, not more separate modules with limited functionality. Employees need to access digital spaces that serve as portals to other platforms and systems, in addition to providing high levels of communication and collaboration functionality in their own right. Just as these employees sit in a single physical space that serves as their individual command center, they need a comparable digital command center from which they can work. In other words, what organizations should be striving for is a system that enables them to realize the initial promise of enterprise intranets. Facebook at Work does not offer that."

"Based on the limited information currently available, it’s hard to say whether and how Facebook will modify Facebook at Work," Hunt adds. "Basically right now all they’re really offering is a stripped-down version of their consumer product for the enterprise market. They’d have to make a pretty big commitment in some new areas to develop something that’s more fully fleshed out."

Is Facebook simply too late with this offering?

"I think so," she says. "Jive was started in 2006, for example, followed by IBM Connections in 2007, Yammer in 2008, and Chatter in 2010. When Salesforce launched Chatter, they called it 'Facebook for Business,' and all of the social business platforms incorporated some of the best elements of Facebook’s functionality and design (e.g., the news feed, user profiles) into their own platforms years ago. Given that, plus the fact that the products include other features that Facebook lacks and have been a constant state of development as enterprise social networks (ESNs), Facebook would have to make a pretty huge investment just to catch up with, let alone surpass, their competitors."

Hunt says she can't think of a single feature feature that Facebook at Work could add to give it a significant advantage over other offerings in the space.

"They would have to add LOTS of features, most of which they’ve never worked on previously," she says. "Even if they tried to focus on serving as an intranet portal with basic communication functionality, they’d have do some pretty significant design overhauls and have the best API integration approach. Again, however, it’s important to note that many of their competitors have already been working on those things for years."

A Lack of Interoperability

"In the enterprise space, Facebook at Work reflects Henry Ford’s stance on customization: you can have any color you want, as long as it’s black (or in this case, white)," she says. "For Facebook at Work to serve as a digital home base/portal, there needs to be a way for employees to connect with other internal systems and external platforms that are relevant to them. Ideally, the platform would be modularized and customizable, and each employee would be able to customize his/her space as well. Most of Facebook’s competitors already offer those things."

"Similarly, they’ve been working on systems integration solutions for years, which is another area with which Facebook has limited to no experience. Yes, you may be able to sign in and comment on a website using your Facebook login, but that kind of interoperability is very different from passing data between internal systems."

Should Facebook be Offering Something Different to the Enterprise Market?

"I think Facebook’s value to enterprises has been and will continue to be as a platform for marketing, branding, sales, and customer service and engagement," says Hunt. "In addition to selling ads and promoted posts, there are other ways they could leverage the platform that could benefit organizations. Maybe instead of Facebook at Work, for example, they could offer Facebook for Brands."

"In addition to having public pages, brands like Starbucks and BMW could create private communities for their most dedicated fans using the Facebook platform," she suggests. "It would basically function the same way Facebook at Work is intended to (with separate but linked accounts) and wouldn’t require as many drastic changes to the core platform to provide enhanced functionality. Brands could use the communities for things like market research, crowdsourcing and idea testing. The benefits to the customers could include having insider status, as well as special offers, discounts, etc. And Facebook could either offer the platform free (retaining rights to the data), or charge brands for providing them with a robust private space in addition to the public access they already have."

Again, it's obviously very early in the life of Facebook at Work, and some companies may just find value in the product, but a lot of sentiments out in the blogosphere are along similar lines to those expressed by Hunt. Facebook's probably not going to have an easy time with this one.

Do you expect Facebook at Work to find significant adoption? Tell us what you think.

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Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.