Can Facebook win the workplace?

The enterprise is becoming the new battleground for social networking and collaboration tools – and now the bane of many office managers, Facebook, is determined to fight for its share of the market.

Already monopolising people’s screen time outside of work (Facebook has 1.35 billion active users who spend an average of 1400 minutes a month glued to the platform), its last remaining frontier is the office, and yesterday the company announced a pilot launch of its Facebook for Work at Facebook platform in a bid to turn procrastination and cat videos into productivity.

> See also: Why Facebook has spent $19 billion on WhatsApp

The new business version of the Facebook app is being trialed at a handful of businesses with a workforce of 100+ and will allow users to create closed internal Facebook networks, so employees can share selfies with each other to their hearts’ content (or presumably actually discuss work).

For years, the consumer network has been laced together via big players like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat, tapping into the huge audience and latent need to connect likeminded individuals around a common theme. But can this effectively cross over into the work environment? Tristan Rogers, CEO of Concrete, an expert in improving profitability through improved enterprise collaboration processes (with clients such as Gap, Tesco F&F, George and Marks & Spencer), points out the collossal cash cow that awaits Zuckerberg if he can pull it off.

‘As with most things, we are witnessing a swing in the market, as investors and entrepreneurs now think the enterprise is where the opportunity and money is,’ says Rogers. ‘And they are right, because the enterprise today is still a graveyard of old desktop and server side software that is increasingly at odds with a generation Y audience that has been using the cloud platforms the social software entrepreneurs and investors built 5-10 years ago.’

One cannot question Facebook’s financial means to build a workplace version of its ubiquitous social network, nor the fact that despite many detractors, it has become a real business with real revenue. So far so good. But what about its ethos; its business DNA?

‘As a social network, Facebook is built on the principle that people ‘want’ to share information with each other,’ says Rogers. ‘It is a voluntary network with no predetermined goals or outcomes. One can do what they want on Facebook with whomever they wish. That is not very ‘enterprise’. An enterprise is built on pre-defined rules about outcomes, quantities, margins and repeatability. Workers are given roles and responsibilities, and the ability to perform these to the best of their ability can drive their personal success.’

> See also: Facebook’s Workplace platform

With the likes of Slack, Asana, Dropbox and Box all banging on about enterprise value – and Google and Microsoft throwing their weight around too – Facebook at Work is ‘inevitable,’ says Rogers. But that doesn’t make it a sure fire bet. Many have tried to become ‘the’ enterprise social network, with limited success.

‘Do you remember Yammer – The Enterprise Social Network?’ asks Rogers. ‘Microsoft bought it for $1.2bn with revenues of around $20m, generating a circa 60x multiple. Why? Because it had 100m users. And some schmuck at Microsoft thought that $10 CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) was cheap, when actually it was cack. And this is because a user account is not worth anything unless the user that it belongs to is using it and is deriving value from it.’

This is the billion dollar issue with enterprise software: it has to drive value.

‘And this is particularly true of SaaS vendors whose service mantra is judged by the ongoing value it generates,’ adds Rogers. ‘No value? – switch it off / stop using it. That’s what happened to Yammer. And that is what could happen to ‘Facebook at Work’ unless it can work out what the value proposition is for the enterprise.’

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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