Free beer
Facebook will be rolling out a free version of its Workplace platform in order to make Workplace "more accessible." PHOTO: Stefan Barna

Facebook revealed a new free model for its Workplace enterprise collaboration tool last week which some speculate will open the door to a “deeper pipeline of customers.” 

But like many free enterprise software tools, the model lacks crucial features such as administrative controls and analytics.

Enterprise collaboration analysts shared those thoughts with CMSWire following the announcement of Facebook Workplace's new free Standard model, which is due out “soon,” according to Facebook officials.

The Standard model will run in parallel with the Workplace Premium model, which the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social media and social networking company launched last fall. Premium costs $3 per user for the first 1,000 active users, $2 per user for the next 9,000 active users and $1 for each additional active user.

Organic Adoption, the Route to IT's Heart?

“Facebook is learning what enterprise collaboration software vendors have experienced for a long time: the enterprise sales cycle is long and user adoption takes a lot of work,” said Carrie Basham Young, CEO and founder of Talk Social to Me. “By moving into the freemium model for Workplace, Facebook appears to be creating a deeper pipeline of customers that will make the sales cycle a bit easier.”

Basham Young compared the move to a similar one (then independent) Yammer made in 2010. It opened the doors to rapid, organic adoption to “build pressure on IT to move to the paid model.”

Facebook Workplace’s free model, like the Premium version, includes:

  • Live video streaming
  • Voice and video calls (desktop and mobile)
  • Workplace and work chat apps (iOS, Android) 
  • Unlimited file, photo and video storage
  • Unlimited team and project groups
  • Desktop Notifier for Windows
  • Secure collaboration between companies

However it lacks enterprise features and administrative support including:

  • Administrative controls to manage communities
  • Monitoring tools for IT teams
  • Single sign-on (SSO), active directory support
  • Integration with G Suite, Okta, Windows Azure AD and more
  • One-to-one email support for administrators. 

Competing in a Crowded Collaboration Field

“The challenge with the free Workplace offering is that administrative controls and analytics aren't included, which I think are critical to any software deployment,” Basham Young told CMSWire. 

“If companies don't understand what's going on with the platform at scale, and if they don't have a way to identify points of success and of improvement to attack, they run the risk of quickly losing interest and seeing the value that might otherwise be captured with Workplace. Companies trying out the free version of Workplace should still focus on business value.”

Workplace Facebook

Critics have told us Workplace is Facebook’s challenge to Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn. Facebook faces a considerable fight if it's looking to take on Microsoft with its Teams and Yammer platforms and Office 365 suite, which saw commercial revenue growth of 47 percent and consumer subscribers increased to 24.9 million, according to Microsoft's most recent quarterly report.

The field also includes the already-established Jive, Atlassian, Cisco and Slack, as well as Google's G Suite.

No matter the challenge in the enterprise, though, Facebook is Facebook. It has the brand name and familiarity of use that come with 1.23 billion daily active users

A Launching Pad, Not a Long-Term Solution

Much like the company’s vision — give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected — Facebook wants to “connect everyone” via its Workplace platform.

“This means people who work only on mobile, on the go,” said Vanessa Chan, communications lead for Workplace. “This means large companies with distributed workforces. This means small businesses. This means companies in developed and developing markets. Workplace Standard will make Workplace more accessible and make it simpler for businesses of all sizes across the world to get started.”

The free version will help “reduce the friction of getting started,” according to Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst for Future of Work for Cupertino, Calif.-based Constellation Research.  

That doesn’t mean “free” lasts forever, regardless if enterprises don't pay money for the platform. Eventually, companies seeking production and value out of an enterprise collaboration tool will need more than chat-chains and "likes."

“A small organization,” he said, “can quickly get up and running and decide if they like the platform or not. But even small companies at some point will most likely opt for the paid version if they find the tool is providing value. 

"Why? Things like administration controls and integration. The real value of a collaboration tools comes when people can get real work done inside them, not just chat and have conversations. To do that, you need to integrate with the business tools people use to get work done.”

Free Comes at a Cost

Rob Bellmar, executive vice president of business operations at Omaha, Neb.-based West Unified Communications Services, sees Workplace’s freemium version as a direct counter to Slack.

But he cautioned businesses who rely exclusively on freebie tools.

“They are generally less reliable and secure, and should only be a secondary option for more established enterprises,” Bellmar told CMSWire.

He also warned that many enterprise software users download free tools without asking or informing their company’s IT teams. This, he said, creates shadow communication and collaboration activities that are difficult to manage and control. 

“To avoid these issues,” Bellmar said, “IT managers need to offer and implement enterprise grade collaboration solutions and maximize adoption across the team.”

Digital strategy consultant Sharon O'Dea suggested in a blog post the move may be tone deaf and ignores how the enterprise procurement process works for enterprise social solutions.

"The danger, for Facebook, is it doesn’t necessarily lead to these teams going on to choose Workplace — and could have the opposite effect of pissing off the very decision-makers they’re relying on to buy its product," she wrote.