Editor's note: We have updated this article with feedback the author received from a Facebook representative related to Group Level Analytics.

The past nine months have felt like a lifetime in the social software industry. 

We've seen customer communities slip away, new features introduced and removed, and partnerships grow between unicorns and legacy vendors. 

With that in mind, I wanted to revisit some concerns and predictions I made last year in a three-part review of Facebook at Work.

Much has improved with the product during this time, while some elements have remained the same. The product still needs work — what product doesn't? However, I believe it has made significant progress in becoming a viable enterprise-ready community platform, especially given the deprecation of human-centric capabilities in the competition.

An Important Distinction

Facebook at Work has the opportunity to build communities inside the enterprise in a way that no other vendor does today.  

Notice I wrote “communities” in the enterprise rather than “social.” I’m intentionally separating social collaboration features that help teams and individuals socialize their workflow (like what Microsoft does with Yammer and Office 365 Groups) from a massive online community of people connecting together. 

I am an avid believer that a community is a central destination where an organization’s informal social network is harnessed, where people can become “human” to colleagues, organically discover conversations and share ideas openly, learn informally and build relationships across boundaries. 

This is where Facebook at Work can make the greatest impact. Most traditional enterprise vendors currently appear to be peddling social “productivity solutions,” that promise to extract more work out of employees with less time and effort. The robot-ization of our workforce directly contradicts the original intent of making the workplace human, social and personal — the reasons why I believe so strongly in community for community’s sake.

Critical Updates

Facebook at Work cleared up two critical items I had called out as concerning:

  • Your personal profile is not a launch point for your work account. No longer must people worry about the accidental intermixing of their suit-wearing weekday persona and the “look at my kids!” parenting-fest that embodies their online life outside of work
  • Single Sign On and Active Directory integrations are available. Word has it that integration is simple and quick.

What Facebook at Work Gets Right

Facebook at Work has evolved or introduced the following features, which improve the experience for users and administrators. The improvements provide better community management opportunities, which we all know will lead to greater achieved value.

  • Facebook Live — Live streaming video for CEO Town Halls, breaking news and announcements from the field provides an interesting and exciting addition to internal social capabilities. There is a danger of it being over-used, but with some governance in place, live streaming video creates a new engagement channel for employees
  • Auto-Following Key Groups — Community managers can dictate a set of groups that every single user will be placed into upon account creation. This is a major victory for community managers, because they can ensure that every employee sees relevant content from curated groups from the moment they join. There are no hierarchies or permissions based on department or level — the community is flat and ensures a well-managed first experience for everyone
  • Turning Off Viral Invitations — Admins can turn off the ability for users to invite each other while they’re setting up the initial community. This is critical to seeding content with ambassadors and other early adopters while planning for a formal, strategic launch
  • Variety of Administrative Roles — Facebook has introduced several levels of administration roles, from the ever-powerful Network Admin to content administrators and even data analysts who only have access to the community metrics. This will help community managers divide and conquer the workload of tending to the community without fear of an accidental onboarding of the entire accounting department
  • Editing Posts After Publication — Because #winning. Yammer users especially will know how important this one is
  • Integrated Tutorials and Support Articles — This is a really cool feature. Your community automatically has a group, populated by default with constantly refreshing Facebook at Work videos and help articles. Everyone sees in-context ideas and support for the Facebook at Work product without ever having to leave their feed or ask for help. This is really a genius way to provide instruction to new users, and it’s one of my favorite features.
  • Translations — Nothing says relevance like being able to easily translate posts into your native language
  • Promoted Posts — Those who prefer totally organic and serendipitous information-sharing may not like this feature, but I do. Community managers can promote key posts to appear more prominently in users' news feeds. I see this working well for senior leadership posts that deserve a wide audience, for crowdsourcing information from a broader community, for taking a poll or getting widespread feedback when the poster doesn’t have a huge reach, or simply promoting important workplace information that everyone should see. Yes, one could abuse this, but community managers are there to shepherd a community, not let it grow without any structure. When used correctly, promoted posts can ensure the timely communication of key news

Where Facebook at Work Misses the Mark

You didn’t think this would be an all-out Facebook at Work lovefest, did you?

The product still needs some work to be community manager friendly. The company has shown interest in hearing from users about where it can improve, so here’s my list of things that need to change — from the nitpicky, to the “seriously guys, this one is important.”

  • Group Management — Users who create groups can add a custom header, add and remove users, receive flagged messages and edit privacy settings. What group managers can’t do is send a broadcast message or announcement to their group, essentially making them list moderators without a lot of programmatic control. As groups are the heart and soul of a community, group managers should be able to do much more. Which leads me to the next issue …
  • Group Level Analytics — Don't exist. Group managers need to know what’s happening, how the group is growing, who the influencers are, and what’s being viewed and shared. Without these insights, a group is an unmanageable black hole
    Update: A Facebook representative informed me a CSV export is available for administrators. Overall community administrators can export a list of groups that notes the name, privacy setting, number of members, number of posts, reactions, etc. for each group. A list of all network users is available as well with similar quantitative details: users are "ranked" by their influence and contribution rate for the overall community, although I'm not sure what the calculation entails.
    This is a step in the right direction and gives community managers the chance to spot strong and weak groups, inactive users and potential influencers. However, it does not change my analysis that meaningful group-level analytics (detailed insight into one single group's activity, behavior, superusers, etc.) are unavailable. The representative did say that more is possible via the API.
  • Data Export — This is where I grumble the most. There’s no way to export data in any format from Facebook at Work (unless, I suppose, you pull it from the API). Other enterprise social tools allow community managers to export content in CSV format. Community managers use this information in many ways, from creating reports to targeting disengaged users via email and reaching out to influencers. It’s also critical for e-discovery and information holds. Facebook at Work needs to offer a simple download tool for overall admins and group managers in order to support effective programming and information management
  • Hashtag Organization — There isn’t a clean way to organize and manage hashtags. Yes, you can click on a tag and see all of the associated posts. But if you’re an organized community manager, you like to know which tags are popular and where to find trending content. A simple way to surface hashtags and their associated posts in a non-stream-based view would be a big improvement for the structurally-inclined
  • Icons … I Just Can’t — Call this issue a pet peeve. When a group is created, Facebook at Work allows the group manager to choose the icon that appears in the left hand navigation bar. If you don’t choose one, it automatically assigns you one. Now these icons are, for the most part, just silly. In addition to a globe and a person, you might choose a skateboard, a fish, a broken heart, a Red Solo Cup of country music fame, a beach ball, animals, a sun and a skull. We are not decorating junior high school backpacks here, people. We are setting up enterprise communities. When one of my clients created a group about tackling impoverished children’s health, do you know what it assigned as the random default icon? The skull, in an unfortunate twist of bad luck. The iconography (which cannot be changed, by the way) is terribly inappropriate for a corporate environment and sends a signal that the community is just a bit less serious than it really is
  • A Bit of Bugginess — A few bugs pop up here and there, apparently stemming from the extraction of public versus enterprise features. For example, with a few clicks, you can get to a blank “Activity Log” that looks to list out your account’s apps and games. We know that Facebook isn’t launching Candy Crush for the enterprise any time soon, but it should work on removing those accidental dead ends that remind users a bit too much of the personal side of Facebook.

Can Facebook at Work Take Hold in the Enterprise?

No perfect solutions exists for workplace communities. And not every company is seeking a community. Some may want to drive productivity gains while others value the relationships that people build with each other. 

As community managers know, it’s not the tool but the people and programming that make enterprise social a success.

At a time when traditional enterprise software vendors are selling their social wares for the benefit of productivity and efficiency, Facebook at Work has an opportunity to own the standalone community market. Free from the pressures that other enterprise software vendors face, Facebook can aim to be the relationship-building and humanizing product that seems to be lacking elsewhere. 

No, Facebook at Work can’t digitize your company’s workflow, but it can help foster positive relationships amongst colleagues. It cannot replace your intranet, but it can bring individuals to life in unexpected ways. Yes, it might be “yet another tool” that isn’t integrated into other systems, but it’s one that people will want to use for conversations that they may not be having today. 

So, if you fear the robotization of your workforce, and want to prioritize your people and their relationships, Facebook at Work might just work for your community-building needs. Just be prepared to wait for important and necessary improvements. And watch out for that sneaky skull — I’m convinced he’s following me.

Title image Nghia Le