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Facebook at Work is a Game-Changer, Folks

In the world of enterprise social networks, Facebook’s somewhat stealthy new offering has the potential to be a real game-changer.  According to TechCrunch, the product, known simply as “Facebook at Work”, is slowly building up a long waiting list of interested corporate customers.

Of course it is.  And why wouldn’t it?  Most everyone these days is working social, or at least giving lip service to the idea of trying– that revolution was fought and won several years ago– and with over a billion users, Facebook is the world’s most ubiquitous social platform.  From an adoption and ease-of-use perspective, there’s very little ramp time or training involved for people to adopt business software that they already use in their home lives.

Yammer has been living off of its resemblance to Facebook for a long, long time now, so one could argue that it’s high time Facebook got a little of its own back.  They’ve wasted no time in doing so.  For example, Facebook makes it easy to flip from your personal profile to your @Work profile and back again– just use a simple pulldown in either scenario:

FB@Work

And getting around the basic user interface works exactly as it does in traditional Facebook:

FB@Work2

Note, however, the telling emphasis on Groups– a feature ramped up for @Work that has (perhaps not coincidentally) been steadily de-emphasized in the free, consumer version of Facebook over the past few years.  Facebook for Work, then, is easily adopted… does that alone make it a threat to the major social platform vendors?  Probably not– where they’ve been well adopted, Yammer, Connections, Chatter and Jive are fairly well integrated into how their customers work, and won’t get pulled out easily– but there’s a lot more to the story.

Three Reasons Facebook at Work Will Succeed

It’s fashionable in prognostication circles to take a skeptical, reasonable view.  That way, you’re never really wrong.  There are three key elements at play in the rise of Facebook’s enterprise platform that make its success more a question of when than if, however.

The adoption of current social platforms is hardly universal.  Yammer, Connections, Chatter, Jive and others all have their success stories, but the reality is that very few enterprise social networks have achieved full adoption yet.  Even the large companies most successful at “working social” feature thriving communities and very successful use cases in one part of the organization or another… often set off by entire departments that are more or less a social desert. While the battle to sell social software is over, the battle to adopt it is still being fought.  There’s plenty of room here for a player with Facebook’s deep pockets, easy adoptability, and built-in user base.

Integration to third-party apps is key for enterprise social platforms… and it’s Facebook’s bread-and-butter. For a social platform to work, users need to be able to seamlessly work with their trusted applications for both data and productivity.  With the social graph, Facebook is a pioneer in this space– in fact, they’re probably the one company more responsible for integrating apps into the everyday user’s experience of social than anyone else.  And with planned integrations to Box and Dropbox, never mind the real power play– Office 365– Facebook looks like a winner here already.

Facebook is always looking for new revenue streams.  Sure, they don’t always find them (remember Facebook credits?) but that hasn’t stopped them from constantly seeking new ways to monetize the “free, and always will be” social platform.  Capturing the enterprise market is a potentially lucrative play that would create a nice, steady stream of recurring revenue that would surely appeal to shareholders and analysts.

Even ignoring the success in the Asian market highlighted in the TechCrunch article, the three points above make things look pretty favorable for a big Facebook play in the enterprise space.  So if you’re Microsoft, IBM or Jive and you can’t stop them, can you at least hope to slow them down?

Three Challenges to Facebook in the Enterprise

Right now, Facebook at Work is missing three key elements for success as a social platform: good governance, reliable partner services for adoption and integration, and a clear commitment to the product from its corporate overlords.

Governance of any internal social network can be a pain to implement and monitor.  Now try it with a platform UX where users are already predisposed toward posting obnoxious kitten memes and photos of their grandchildren, you say.  And you’d be right.  That said, monitoring tools for internal social do exist, and the demonstrable behavioral trend of internal users to be good corporate citizens on social networks (usually enforced by their complete lack of anonymity, that great enabler of bad online behavior) makes this obstacle one we can realistically address.

Service partners play a very big role in successful social adoption, and Facebook doesn’t have them… yet.  Facebook is ramping up its sales staff to meet demand– but who’s going to help companies define those governance policies, install the inevitable monitoring software, and write the necessary integrations to line-of-business data and applications?  A strong partner network and services arm are needed in this secondary market.  One might consider it an opportunity for certain digitally-savvy consultancies (wink, wink).

Commitment, or “Is Facebook the next Google?” No matter how many clients are on their waiting list, nobody at Facebook is kidding themselves about how much revenue Facebook at Work can generate versus their traditional channels in the short term.  This isn’t Facebook’s core line of business– not by a long shot.  But where corporate gmail and inward-facing Google Search Appliances aren’t key to Google’s strategy,  keeping their users locked into their platform is pretty darn relevant to Facebook. It’s not helping Facebook make money when you flip your phone from Facebook to your Yammer or Chatter app to get work done.  But if it’s just a new tab in that Facebook app?  You’re never far away….

These challenges are real but certainly surmountable.  Social networks– and how employees interact with and on them– can be governed, with good monitoring and strong efforts for policy and training.  There’s no shortage of knowledgeable consultants out there who’d be happy to help companies get going with solid, value-adding business cases for Facebook at Work (Microsoft’s mass lay-off of their Yammer-focused Customer Success Managers is rather timely from this perspective).  And while Google and Facebook share a lot of similarities, Mark Zuckerberg’s ongoing quest to monetize his platform and build, then retain its user base sets his company apart from their more quixotic Silicon Valley cousin.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Facebook is the sleeping bear in the enterprise social conversation.  Even the soundest hibernation comes to a natural end in spring.  And if, like me, you live in northern climes, you’ve probably noticed that spring is coming.  Like with iPhone and Android, the big software titans at some point will have to forego competing and simply accept that integration is the smarter strategy when dealing with this product.  That day is coming, and it’s not far off.

 

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