Social enterprise: Can "Facebook at Work" actually work?

I guess you have probably come across the news of Facebook trying to get into enterprise services (If not, read about it here): Apparently, one of the biggest time-sucks in the workplace is working on a tool which aims at increasing collaboration and productivity among employees (in large companies). The top-secret project which is called “Facebook at Work” will allow teams to work in real-time on documents or data and easily chat back and forth, and of course all the activities happen within a social layer.

This is a tricky move. Although Facebook has more members than all other social rivals like LinkedIn, Google Plus or Twitter, it’s also late in the game. Microsoft and Google, for example, have had presence in this market for years pushing enterprise collaboration services through Drive, Yammer (now Office 365), and SharePoint. This is without taking into account the numerous services offered by companies such as Dropbox, Box and recently Asana among others.

Since almost everyone is already on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and his company think they can win this battle. However, for “Facebook at Work” to actually work, they need more than just users. The new platform should satisfy at least three criteria:

Become a habit


On my way to work every morning, I pass by a Starbucks store where people are standing in long lines for more than 20 minutes to get their fresh dose of coffee. I was always wondering why some folks spend so much time waiting in line when they can walk half a block and get a similar cup of coffee from local coffee shop almost immediately.

Apart from the loyalty to the taste of Starbucks products and the brand, this is more a matter of habit. If you buy your coffee from the same store every day for more than a year, it probably becomes a habit and you just do it over and over without thinking.

Facebook’s current platform is kind of like that: People check out their Facebook feed over and over every day out of habit. For Facebook at Work to actually work in companies, such a situation should be created.

Charles Duhigg, the Pulitzer prize-winning reporter at the New York Times, has a nice book on this subject which I recommend (here is the link).

Be part of the day to day job

Based on my experience and well-documented research out there about the adoption of technology platforms in companies, unless a platform is forced to be part of the day to day activities it will not engage people. Let’s say we want to roll out Google Hangout as the preferred way for communication: If people have been using phones to talk to each other for years, they might try Google Hangout and usage might a get a bump in the first few weeks. But then they will slowly go back to their old HABITS!

Now think about a scenario that they can’t use phones unless they pay for the charges. What will happen? Well they need to use Google Hangout. The same goes for the situations where people have to use a certain tool in a business process to get to the outcome.

(By the way Google Hangout was just an example; I am not doing Google publicity here!).

Be general yet valuable to use

You may have heard of the community-based website called GrabCAD. In a nutshell, this is a platform for engineers to store, showcase and share CAD files. This website is more than just a file sharing solution as the service needs to be compatible with many different product development software solutions.

Now, if we want everyone to do their work through Facebook at Work, the platform should certainly satisfy the needs of engineers who work with CAD files among other things. But in reality, there are many stakeholder groups in organizations with different needs. So a Facebook at Work can’t be everything to everyone. Focusing on being the tool of choose for all types of collaborations on everything for everyone is simply not practical.

Facebook knows this and their idea is most likely about providing a set of general services like group chat, or general collaboration so that everyone can use them.

But wait a minute! Isn’t this what people are already doing with Lync, Google products and other tools? There is no question that this tool will cater to the general needs of company folks but then the challenge is how to make it more valuable in comparison to existing solutions. And let’s not forget; this is a new market for Facebook and they still need to learn a lot of things.

Of course time will show how this plays out but these three factors are fundamental for success.

Do you agree with my view? Happy to hear your thoughts.

Photo credit: Ksayer1 / Foter / CC BY-SA

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