Facebook at Work has roared onto the scene with a very loud battle cry that is distorting the public’s perception of what enterprise social networks are. Today we'll compare the Facebook at Work product against existing internal social networking products in order to describe its strengths and weaknesses for enterprise customers.

Editor's Note: This is the second in a three-part series

5 (Ridiculously Easy) Steps to Join Facebook at Work

A client gave me access to its Facebook at Work account and I’ve been using it for a few weeks. As you might imagine, Facebook at Work is incredibly easy to use with zero guesswork or confusion. While employees will appreciate the ease of use, the extreme end-user focus will cause headaches for the enterprise. Here’s an overview of the signup process from start to finish.

Step 1: Create an Account and Log In

Via an email invitation, Facebook at Work prompts new users to log in with their personal Facebook account and password to gain access to their corporate account. Facebook auto-populates your profile picture and name, but you can change them. You’re asked for your preferred pronoun. You’re asked for your mobile phone number so that Facebook can text you a link to download the Facebook at Work app. Within a minute, you have an account and a mobile app ready to go.

Step 2: Join Groups

Next, you’re prompted to join (or create) groups. Facebook wants your feed to be relevant, engaging and full before you see it — which is one of the biggest challenges of traditional ESN tools that don’t do a good job of directing you to good content at first login. The clean interface of Facebook takes the group-joining complexity level down to zero and ensures that relevant content will be in your stream immediately.

Step 3: Arrive on Your Feed

Finally, you’re inside Facebook at Work. It looks, feels and behaves exactly like Facebook, with a few minor interface tweaks like a custom company logo and a grey — not blue — Facebook header. Administrators can decide who has access to chat, voice and audio calls (-1 for Facebook here: this is going to frustrate administrators who don’t necessarily want Facebook at Work to be a unified communications platform). 

There is no noise of unnecessary buttons or features. There will be little to no ramp up time for employees using this tool if they’ve used Facebook before. Compared to the thorough employee and admin training often required for more complex tools, Facebook at Work’s onboarding process would cut training needs down to nearly zero.

Step 4: Create Content

Posting to Facebook at Work is identical to posting on Facebook. @mentions are easy and fast. Users can post text, files, share emotions and check in. The interface makes it quite clear that you’re posting to your business community, not your personal account. Because you can toggle between the two accounts, this is an important feature. 

What I don’t see are pinned messages, featured documents or highlighted announcements. There is no configurable real estate for community managers to post training materials or important links — which are expected features in current ESN tools. What the product features in simplicity and ease for end users, it equally lacks in content prioritization for community managers who need to direct users to key pieces of information.

Step 5: Create Groups

This is the biggest design win that Facebook has made over traditional ESNs. Most existing interfaces become incredibly busy when dozens of groups are listed in no particular order on the left-hand side of the screen (ahem, Yammer). Other tools allow groups to contain project management and document co-creation, individual blogs and nested sub-spaces, becoming a crowded buffet of overwhelming possibilities (ahem, Jive). 

Facebook has totally streamlined the concept of Groups by asking users to classify groups into four distinct categories: Teams and Projects, Open Discussions, Announcements and Social. It then lists all groups under the corresponding headers in the interface, making it easy to visually navigate between group types in your sidebar. This simple classification system helps new enterprise users easily understand the “why” of group creation and each group’s top-level purpose, reducing fear and uncertainty that often times deters users from joining or posting.

An Empty Watercooler or a Gateway Drug?

For most tech-savvy employees, Facebook at Work is just plain easy. It makes sense that RBS experienced rapid user adoption, because the tool itself is incredibly simple to use. But end user adoption alone does not an enterprise-grade tool make.

Despite reducing administrative overhead to nearly nothing, Facebook at Work is destined to become the corporate digital watercooler, unfettered to any alignment to enterprise needs and community management capabilities. Maybe that’s Facebook’s long-term strategy, though — to get employees used to talking, cooperating and sharing meaningless chatter, and eventually they’ll shift those ingrained digital habits into other facets of their actual work processes. 

Facebook has certainly shifted how we communicate, consume and share information in our personal lives, and they may be banking on ushering in a new way of working slowly and patiently, with simple conversation as the gateway drug. This strategy will take much longer, but Facebook’s got nothing but time. Its current Facebook at Work product may just be an enterprise Trojan Horse that we embrace with open arms.

In my final installment, I’ll share reasons why Facebook at Work is problematic for the enterprise today, as well as my fear for the enterprise community management profession as a whole if Facebook at Work becomes a dominant player in the industry.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  D-Stanley