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Facebook at Work taps into social networking for businesses

Despite brand recognition, familiarity and big customer wins, Facebook's business offering faces hurdles in the enterprise social networking market.

Facebook has landed its largest corporate customer -- the Royal Bank of Scotland -- for its new Facebook at Work, but the product will need fine-tuning before it can gain traction in the market of social networking for businesses.

The Royal Bank of Scotland recently became the first bank in the world to launch the enterprise version of the popular social networking service, which is still in beta testing and being used by 300 enterprises.

The bank began its pilot of Facebook at Work in July. Royal Bank of Scotland said it will roll out Facebook at Work to 30,000 employees by the end of March 2016, and all of its 100,000 employees will be using the tool by the end of next year.

Despite the win, analysts said Facebook's enterprise option still has hurdles to overcome in the social networking for businesses market. Some analysts said security isn't a concern, but privacy may be. Among its challenges, Facebook at Work lacks business applications integration, a proven track record and specific cost structures. In addition, issues such as widespread user adoption and content ownership are still unclear.

Facebook at Work has the look and feel of consumer Facebook, where users can post photos, create groups, update their work profiles and collaborate with colleagues via their desktop or mobile devices. The idea is to take the consumer experience, already familiar to more than a billion people, and plug it into the enterprise social market.

Security issues downplayed, costs unclear

The fact that a bank has signed up to use Facebook at Work should help allay security concerns that businesses may have about using the enterprise social service. As the world's largest social network, with more than 1.4 billion monthly users, and one of the largest websites in the world, the Facebook platform is secure, meaning it's not easily hackable and data is protected, said Alan Lepofsky, principal analyst at Constellation Research Inc., based in Cupertino, Calif.

Facebook at Work -- how it works

Facebook at Work is separate from personal Facebook accounts, so information you share using a work account will only be visible to other people at your company. Users can link their personal and work accounts via the same email and password, but, as Facebook points out, none of your information, posts or activity from your personal account can be seen on your work account.

To set up a Facebook at Work account, your company must already be using the enterprise-based version. However, if your company is not using Facebook at Work, Facebook does give interested users the option to request more information.

Privacy, however, is a concern among consumer Facebook users, he noted. The free consumer Facebook makes its money based on advertising that leverages consumers' information to deliver highly targeted offers. In its early stages, Facebook at Work is expected to employ a freemium model, with costs added for administrative controls and integrations with other business applications. As a result, the same consumer privacy concerns may not apply to the enterprise version, Lepofsky said.

"I think people often confuse security with privacy," he added. "[But] Facebook will need to make the terms and conditions for Facebook at Work very clear. Items like ownership of content and data residency will need to be explained."

Lacking application integration, proven track record

The major hurdle for Facebook at Work is a lack of integration with other business applications, said Vanessa Thompson, research vice president at IDC, based in Framingham, Mass. And unless Facebook at Work has a strong set of individuals focused on user adoption, she said, Royal Bank of Scotland's user adoption might not be at the level that the bank expects.

"Large deals are always an affirmation that there is market support for a product," Thompson said. "This is not yet a big deal, but it will be if over 80% of users at Royal Bank of Scotland are using Facebook at Work."

Another challenge for Facebook at Work is that it doesn't have a proven track record for enterprise needs, as enterprise software differs greatly from consumer software, Lepofsky said. Organizations need administrative controls over people and groups, backup and restore capabilities, compliance and governance models, integration with other business software, and several other features that Facebook at Work will need to supply -- or find partners -- in order to see widespread enterprise adoption, he said.

Facebook's brand recognition and familiarity among users as a consumer social network could give it a competitive advantage in the market of social networking for businesses. "For several years, social software vendors pitched their products as: 'It's like Facebook, but for work,'" Lepofsky said. "Well, now Facebook is providing that themselves."

On the other hand, Facebook at Work could struggle simply based on its name, he added. "There could be a mental hurdle within enterprises around using Facebook for business needs."

Young workers give collaboration platform a thumbs-up

Familiarity with Facebook has made Facebook at Work adoption a smooth transition at Linio, an e-commerce company based in Mexico that's using Facebook at Work for team collaboration. The groups feature has been a particularly useful tool, and the company has created dozens of groups for teams to discuss ideas, said Jose María Pertusa, Linio's chief marketing officer.

Adoption of the collaboration tool has been easy, he said, since Linio's employees, who average 26 years of age, are expected to use social media in their personal lives, so they can fully understand one of the company's main online marketing channels.

"Facebook is a very natural platform for us," Pertusa said. "Using a similar tool at work for internal communication was a natural fit." 

Facebook at Work takes on the social enterprise market
Facebook at Work's groups feature can enhance team collaboration.

Nearly 1,000 Linio employees are currently using Facebook at Work, resulting in a user adoption rate of about 77%. The company has been rolling out the service gradually, starting with the marketing and commercial teams, and eventually extending it across the company.

"By the end of the year, we expect that all of our 1,800 employees in the eight countries we operate in will be using Facebook at Work," he said.

Social networking for businesses -- the market is wide open

No clear winner has emerged yet in the market of social networking for businesses, which is already crowded with several collaboration tools, including Microsoft's Yammer, Jive, Slack, IBM Connections, Salesforce Chatter and SAP Jam. The global enterprise social software market is expected to grow to $8.14 billion by 2019, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets.

Facebook at Work, which is not officially on the market yet, has said about 300 enterprises are currently testing the enterprise service, according to Lepofsky. "So, while late to the game, Facebook at Work could still be a key player in this space," he said.

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How seriously would your organization consider using Facebook at Work as an enterprise social collaboration tool?
Not sure our organization will be ready for such a step since average user is over 40.  We are still working on using SharePoint as collaborative tool for document sharing.
Not. The parent has proven far less that trustworthy; why would I expect better behavior from the child? I can't afford to risk my company.
Interesting insights, VeronicaS and ncberns, thanks for taking the time. Personally, I don't think age is much of a factor. There are plenty of people over 40 or 50 who are familiar with Facebook's user interface. But yes, I could see how younger workers would be more familiar with Facebook and pick it up easier. And security and reliability, I thought, would be an issue, but the analysts said otherwise. We shall see. Pretty interesting.
Hi Luke, you are correct that there are plenty of people over 40+ using facebook but my personal observation is rarely do you find anyone under 40 who has not used Facebook whereas many people over 40 are not interested in using Facebook. Could be concern over security or just not interested in social media although they do use internet. They may be more comfortable with face to face interaction and don't really trust social media/internet. Being a facebook user since 2007, interestingly enough, I have noticed a decline in using facebook among my Millenniums friends and increase in use by my 40+ friends.
All great points, thanks again VeronicaS. There are certainly generational differences at play here. I think it largely comes down to user familiarity, ease of use and limited training for employees -- those are huge benefits for a company and its IT department.
Depends on the offered features and price.
Let's take software development and testing as an example.
  • We do need to collaborate on requirements definition. Tools like Confluence and Blueprint have interface elements similar to Facebook.
  • We do need to ticket and track items like work units, change requests, and defects. Each of these items is a data object that requires tagging, assigning, status change, and so forth.

But dev tools also have such critical functions as integration and reporting. Only collaboration would be nearly useless, so roll up your sleeves, FB developers :)

I tend to see smaller businesses, like the "mom and pop" type shops using Facebook as a means to get their brand to the public. I do not see a lot of other major companies I have dealt with using Facebook.

Facebook is actually used by many businesses as another access point for their customers. My wife has had great success interacting with different businesses in that way. Have a problem? Post it on that company’s Facebook page, and you’re almost certain to get not only a rapid response, but also a positive response.
I see two levels of interaction happening here. First is the use of Facebook as a general platform, which many people already do via their personal accounts ( I have a page for my blog, as an example). then there's the actual Facebook at Work model that is being discussed, which is more "Facebook as Corporate Intranet". To that end, I'm somewhat skeptical, as beyond messaging and posts, what else does Facebook integrate with, and how does collaboration actually happen? What is being collaborated on? Cold they be a player? Certainly, but I think they need more than their current platform to be truly compelling. If they do get that, then yes, I could see them being a formidable player, since so many people already know how to use the platform and are fluent in its workflow and feature set.
It astonishes me to see a bank signing up to use Facebook at Work. It's difficult for me to see how that jibes with the various regulations banks have to follow (at least in the U.S.; perhaps in Scotland it's different?)
Thanks for the feedback, everyone. And you're right, Michael, Facebook at Work is more of a corporate intranet for a company's employees to communicate and collaborate rather than a business using Facebook as a general platform. And you're right again – for now there's a lack of integration with other apps, according to analysts.

As for collaboration, picture it this way: A team of employees is working on a project and needs to exchange ideas quickly in real time or asynchronously. They can do that via Facebook at Work with posts and messaging – and perhaps other capabilities. The app is still in beta.

And yes, Sharon, the fact that a bank signed up to use Facebook at Work is eye-catching but apparently they feel comfortable with the level of security. RBS does have an international presence.
@Luke O'Neil

"A team of employees is working on a project and
needs to exchange ideas quickly in real time or asynchronously. They
can do that via Facebook at Work with posts and messaging

Nothing beats live brainstorming with a whiteboard for quick ideas. Why would they need a Facebook for that?
Lots of excellent ideas also pop out from the originally informal talks - in a kitchen, by a watercooler.

For asynchronous exchange the great importance is in rich media, attachments, and history. Does the Messenger provide that?

There are still useful features, in my opinion - those based on socializing, voting, polling. It would be cool for each team to have their internal blog page, for example.
agareev, your suggestions do require that people be in the same place at the same time. the nice thing about online solutions is the discussion can take place asynchronously.
All good points, agareev and Sharon. Thanks for the feedback.

The problem with a whiteboard -- and I assume you're referring to Dry-Erase boards and not digital whiteboards -- is that everyone on the team would need to be in that meeting and it's not exactly easy to capture, share and save that info on the board; unless you take a picture of the board, send the photo around to co-workers, and then you have a fairly reliable photo to rely on for future discussions.

With FB at Work, and other similar apps, users can indeed exchange rich media, attachments and history. I'm not sure if FB@W has an internal blog page, but, yeah, that'd be cool.

For more info, check out the FB@W Help Center:

And certainly FB@W is not for everyone, just depends on how you work and what works for you.
Maybe I'm still in the dark ages here at my current company. Some of us use IM for contacting co-workers, and for most group communications we have groups set up in Outlook. Most have our messages set to refresh every 5 min or less. If inter-company communication is critical , there is always the the phone and conference calls. Granted, the Facebook idea may be best for when employees are out of the office. As long as they have a smart phone. That won't work for me, I still have a flip phone. I have no desire to be connected 24/7.