Would you move your business data and team conversations to a platform run by Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook advertising machine? While the Facebook for Business brand is nothing new, focused on providing a more effective advertising platform for businesses based on the social connections and information consumption of its 1.3 billion members, rumor has it that a new offering will target team and project-based collaboration under the brand Facebook@Work.
According to a new Financial Times report and related Business Insider analysis, the platform has been in development for years but is being piloted at a number of companies, and it "will allow employees to collaborate, edit documents, collect professional contacts, and chat with colleagues."
These rumors are not new. Experts within the collaboration space have long discussed the potential impact of a Facebook entry into the crowded collaboration field, where platforms from Microsoft, IBM, Jive, Box and many other established players have long been operating. But the ability for the world's most recognized consumer social platform to move into the enterprise space is intriguing, and -- unlike the typical organically-grown or venture-backed startups -- would have instant brand recognition.
Redmond Magazine's Scott Bekker contacted me for my thoughts on the topic, to which I replied:
LinkedIn may be displacing Yahoo Groups and other public chat forums, but my understanding is that they are having a difficult time translating that moderate growth into additional revenue beyond job postings. Yammer's difficulties may be a closer comparison and highlight Facebook's uphill battle to win over the enterprise by aligning ad hoc social collaboration capabilities with business processes."
While it's easy to assume that any large brand will have similar success within new business ventures, one doesn't need to go outside of the social collaboration segment to find examples of massive brand names who failed to dominate in the space. Google, one of the largest, most recognized brands in the world, launched its social platform Google plus to predictions that it would take over the consumer social crown from Facebook. It was met with a lackluster response from the community, at best.
In a similar fashion, Salesforce Chatter was heralded as the app that would steal away social-minded business users from competing platforms. While Salesforce continues to be the leading customer relationship management (CRM) platform, the predictions of massive corporate conversions to the platform due to the Chatter capability has, so far, failed to live up to those expectations.
Following my interaction with Bekker, I gave the topic some more thought, and came up with the following seven reasons why Facebook@Work will have a difficult road ahead:
1. The Market is Already Saturated
SharePoint has been around for 15 years, Yammer for half of that and Microsoft's unified Office 365 platform is at the top of Gartner's leadership quadrant. Add to that mix offerings from IBM, Jive and Box, as well as cloud-based file sharing platforms from Dropbox, Google, Microsoft and other vendors that provide varying degrees of team and document collaboration, and you can see how a new offering might get lost in the crowd.
2. Consumer and Business Segments are Completely Different
Success within one segment does not guarantee success in the other. For consumers, the emphasis is on cost (free), ease-of-use and mobility. While the enterprise may also value these attributes, it's more about security, performance and control (governance) of the platform -- all of which have been issues for Facebook on the consumer side, and would be points of concern for business users.
3. Facebook is No Longer the New, Cool Platform
It's not just that the market has become saturated, but the fickle consumer market is always on the lookout for the new app. As Facebook has matured, becoming a publishing platform for family photos and annoying meme apps, leading-edge users have been moving to upstarts like Ello.co, as well as to well-known sites like Pinterest, Twitter and Tumblr.
4. Many Companies Still Block Facebook
It might be difficult to get convince a CIO or IT Director who's blocked Facebook from the enterprise to try a new business offering from the company.
5. Distrust of How Facebook Uses Content for Advertising
Beyond just accessing the site and eating up bandwidth, Facebook is known for using your content and interactions to serve up targeted advertising. How will this change with the business platform? Even if the company spearheads a marketing campaign around security, who really believes that your intellectual property and internal collaborations will NOT be used to serve up more targeted advertising? This reason alone might turn away most potential business users.
6. Social in the Workplace Requires Alignment with Business Processes
What IBM, Jive, Microsoft and other leaders within the enterprise social space have learned is that social alone is not enough to show value to business owners. Real value is shown when social capabilities are closely aligned with specific business processes, such as how social conversations enhance CRM interactions within a team, allowing sales, support and engineering teams to share a real time and comprehensive view of the state of a customer.
7. Social Adoption is Hard
And finally, what the leaders also understand is that acceptance and adoption of social within the enterprise can mean a cultural change -- which takes time and is labor-intensive. Long gone are the days of "build it and they will come." To be successful, companies need to do more than flip a switch to turn on new tools: they need to train, they need to encourage, they need to constantly show business alignment and value for people to start using, and keep using social platforms. But when all of these standards are met, research has shown that businesses that are more social and collaborative have a distinct competitive advantage over those that are not.
Despite these roadblocks to success for Facebook, there are some points that can be made in favor of Facebook@Work that could help the new business platform to find some degree of success:
Familiarity breeds success
Let's face it: people recognize the Facebook brand, and any new offering will open up a floodgate of tire kickers willing to give the new service a try. Even a modest conversion rate from its 1.3 billion members would be a huge success, and further expand the company's already overflowing coffers.
It will lead to smarter advertising campaigns
While many (if not most) companies would be concerned at how Facebook@Work might utilize their corporate data, many businesses will want to take advantage of the new platform for that very reason. Presumably, this new platform would be tied to one of the most effective advertising engines available, allowing businesses to learn from their internal collaborations and quickly transition that learning into marketing campaigns. It may not suit every business, but any company creating consumer products, for example, could utilize this data to quickly assemble and test new marketing campaigns, assuming Facebook provides additional marketing tools to users of its new business platform.
It could be the low-cost leader
When you have over a billion users, there's a lot you can do with your cost of service to make the platform appealing. Facebook could offer a low to no-cost alternative to competitors, giving businesses a powerful platform that is paid for through advertising (and its underlying layer or business intelligence) rather than through traditional licensing revenue, which could cause a pricing war with the other players.
At the end of it all, competition is good. It tends to increase innovation and decrease costs for businesses. However Facebook decides to enter the enterprise social collaboration space, it will most assuredly cause an impact, and I am as interested to see what they offer as I am to see how the other leaders respond.