What is Facebook at Work? Can it survive in the workplace?
Update: With Facebook At Work now available, what does it really offer the workplace and will it survive?
Facebook may well be the world’s largest and most active social network, but its fight for relevancy in the workplace has been a tough one, which is why Facebook At Work was envisioned and created. Now, three months on from when we initially reported on Mark Zuckerberg’s newest venture, it has found itself out in the wild for a select few to use. But has it been worth it?
Available from the App Store, and soon Google Play, Facebook At Work is initially only available to those who have a work account set up through their employer, meaning it’s still very much in the testing stages.
If you’re one of the lucky few to have a company that’s embracing Facebook’s London-developed work network, you can share posts and images with colleagues using a completely separate account to your personal one. Think of it as a more interesting LinkedIn homepage feed, or perhaps Asana’s task management combined with Slack’s chat and filesharing abilities.
If that last sentence meant very little to you, then perhaps Facebook At Work isn’t really high on your list of must-have workplace initiatives.
However, Facebook At Work is all about improving workplace efficiency. The California-based social networking company says its Groups feature plays a key role in this uncharted territory as – like Slack – it cuts down on pointless workplace emails and long email threads by providing a customisable place for conversation.
Is Facebook At Work secure?
The primary concern around Facebook At Work during its announcement stages was privacy. Our own Barry Collins speculated this could be the undoing of the product, stating “the biggest potential stumbling block for Facebook at Work is whether companies will be prepared to entrust sensitive business data to the social network, which has a chequered privacy record.”
Luckily, Facebook has seen this as a potential issue and has promised that absolutely no data will be stored and monitored, so even high-level company business could be discussed across the workplace network securely.
This raises the question of how Facebook will make money, as it’s not making use of adverts or third-party apps on the current build.
Currently it seems a little up in the air, but a subscription model is looking like a safe bet – although no pricing has been announced as yet.
While this all seems well and good, the real test will come when Facebook At Work opens its doors to all businesses instead of a select few. Its track record of being banned in a number of workplaces doesn’t help matters – especially as employees can link their work accounts to their private ones and flit between the two networks as they please – and it’s also got a lot of competition to go up against.
That said, while LinkedIn is a corporate powerhouse in the business online networking space, it’s hardly a place people might want to “hang out” online.
It’s also worth noting Dropbox and its ilk were initially shunned by employers, as was the now invaluable Google Drive and its cloud-based Office-like services. Looking at those platforms now, it’s almost impossible to imagine working without at least one of them regularly.
So could Facebook At Work be that next platform?
While we still have to wait for Facebook to polish up its enterprise offering, it seems the company could have a pretty good stab at breaking into the workplace.
(17/11/2014): Using the world’s biggest social network during office hours might not be considered slacking off for much longer, with the expected launch of Facebook at Work.
The world’s biggest social network is hoping to get a foothold in the business market, according to the Financial Times, which claims the company is developing a product designed specifically to foster communication between co-workers
Facebook at Work will allow users to “chat with colleagues, connect with professional contacts and collaborate over documents”, according to the FT, which claims the product is already being tested with some companies ahead of a full launch.
Facebook at Work could step on the toes of a number of other web services aimed at professionals. Inter-office communications would compete directly with rival social networks such as Yammer, which Microsoft bought for $1.2 billion in 2012.
The option to establish contact with business contacts would target LinkedIn, which is currently the best known social network for professionals.
Document collaboration, meanwhile, would go head-to-head with services such as Google Drive and Microsoft Office Online. Unlike Google and Microsoft, which charge businesses to use such services, Facebook plans to let companies use its service for free, according to the FT, at least initially.
Matter of trust?
The biggest potential stumbling block for Facebook at Work is whether companies will be prepared to entrust sensitive business data to the social network, which has a chequered privacy record.
Facebook generates most of its revenue by harvesting user data to deliver targeted ads, but whether businesses will be happy to have the social network storing and picking through their data is questionable.
Larger enterprises may also seek assurances as to where their data is being held. Data stored on US servers, for example, would be subject to US laws and could potentially be examined by American law enforcement agencies.