Employers have frowned on the use of Facebook in the office for years, but the days of hiding the social network's website from the boss could be numbered.
Last week, the Internet giant officially released Facebook at Work, the business-friendly version of the popular website's mobile application.
The app, now available for download from the iOS App Store with Android availability to follow, will give users access to improved collaboration from a familiar platform. But it's yet to be seen if Facebook's consumer-first reputation will help or hurt enterprise adoption.
Facebook at Work's features
The service, which is only available to businesses chosen for a private beta, features a news feed very similar to its consumer counterpart's main interface. Once invited to Facebook at Work by an employer, people can sign up and link their work and personal accounts without any crossover of data.
The business version lets users organize news feeds based on the most relevant information. Employee profile pages mimic personal Facebook profiles, allowing workers to view job titles and the responsibilities of their colleagues to find the right internal expertise. Facebook at Work will also enable users to create groups and events, and share documents.
The application will enable individual and group chats directly from the app, a feature that could become an entry point into the enterprise, Nemertes Research Group analyst Irwin Lazar said. If widely used, the feature could replace other instant messaging tools.
"This puts Facebook in competition not only with social vendors, like Jive, but it also puts them in competition with all the mobile messaging and collaboration tools, like Hipchat," Lazar said.
Businesses may find Facebook at Work lacking in news feed controls. For example, employees can take any item from their personal news feed and post it on their business account. Also, the organization can access employees' status changes or posts.
Beta users have expressed data governance concerns. Facebook has not been clear on whether messages can be stored and archived in case of an audit or lawsuit, Lazar said.
"There are a lot of outstanding issues to solve," he said.
Facebook has not released pricing and has not said whether it would offer a free version supported by ads.
Facebook for Work … really?
Not all businesses are sold on the value of enterprise social tools, and those that see more negatives than positives could view Facebook at Work as a time-waster.
"That's a hurdle the enterprise social industry is still trying to get over," Rob Arnold, analyst for Frost and Sullivan Inc., said. "But I think Facebook for Work is a good thing for the industry."
The Facebook name could help win over some social critics, Arnold said. In addition, enterprises won't have to spend money on training, since many employees are familiar with the consumer platform, a benefit competitors like Microsoft Yammer, IBM Connections and startup Slack don't have.
However, to expand its usefulness, Facebook at Work will need connectors to UC and collaboration software, and to business applications such as human resource systems, Arnold said. The application also needs business-grade security.
"Facebook at Work is either going to find success, or it will open the door for other vendors and service providers by raising the profile for enterprise social technology," Arnold said.
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