Facebook just declared war.

It’s no secret that Facebook is Goliath when it comes to personal social networking. But until recently, enterprise social software vendors and practitioners didn’t have to worry about Facebook stepping on their toes. We would hold Facebook up as a paradigm so that senior leaders at companies across the globe could understand what an enterprise social network actually was.

Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

In late October, however, Facebook shared that Royal Bank of Scotland had used Facebook at Work with a 90 percent engagement rate, and planned to add 30,000 more users in the next few months. By announcing that a highly regulated customer just piloted its new product with amazing success, Facebook threw down the gauntlet toward existing social vendors, companies already deploying social technology, and to the entire community management profession. Essentially, Facebook sent the following messages:

  • To Vendors (Microsoft, Jive, VMware, etc.): Hope you enjoyed your time being the exclusive provider to regulated industries. We have this all figured out now, thankyouverymuch
  • To Current Enterprise Communities: Your 40 percent adoption rate stinks
  • To Community Management Professionals: I don’t know who you are, but please don’t let the door hit you on your way out

Facebook has started its slow, steady war for the enterprise. Until know, much of the battle has been behind the scenes — quiet negotiations with key customers and discussions with executives. The RBS announcement was its first real public battle cry — and yes, I believe it was much more than just a customer win announcement.

All of us in the community management and enterprise social profession should approach this recent announcement with caution and respect. Facebook is letting us know that as a company and as a product, it can and will reshape the enterprise social industry in the next five years. Those of us who don’t incorporate Facebook at Work into our strategy and worldview just may be out of a job.

Facebook Calls the Shots 

We know that Facebook has billions of regular users. It has no competitors. It has loads of money, power and influence. Facebook controls the message with respect to its product and the social networking industry in general. 

Facebook can do whatever it wants in the realm of social

Plus, everybody loves to talk about Facebook. When it comes to news, Facebook receives the spotlight on demand. We must remember this — and remind ourselves that Facebook has tremendous self-awareness about its own power. Calculating media and public response is absolutely part of its strategy.

When Ingrid Lunden at TechCrunch wrote that Royal Bank of Scotland piloted Facebook at Work with a reported 90 percent engagement rate, mainstream media raced to pick up the story. Facebook knew this would happen. The Wall Street Journal, CNN and more quickly published follow-on articles about the RBS pilot. 

Mainstream media hasn’t exactly been rushing to talk about enterprise social deployments when Jive or Yammer secures a customer win, though. Facebook is a media darling, and when it speaks, the world not only listens, it amplifies the message. The mainstream media coverage almost made it sound as though Facebook had finally introduced a brand new kind of tool for work that would help employees collaborate with each other — something that those not in the industry might just believe.

We’re Selling Apples, Facebook is Marketing Oranges

On the one hand, all of us in favor of working out loud, enterprise social and collaboration should be excited that this is finally a hot topic outside of our industry. On the other, the 90 percent engagement statistic that just blasted its way across global headlines is bad news. 

Enterprise community professionals know that no large company has achieved 90 percent engagement at scale, because groups like The Community Roundtable have spent years gathering data and documenting engagement rates. (For average internal communities, the norm for engagement, if defined as members contributing on a monthly basis, is about 41 percent. When I asked Lundgren about the 90 percent term, she said she believed that it referred to the percent of invited users who logged in during the RBS pilot.)

Facebook at Work made its grand media entrance last month with metrics that don’t align with our industry standards. My fear is that this marketing plug will change expectations in the corporate world at large simply because Facebook endorsed the data. Facebook is testing its ability to control the message in the enterprise social space, and that message is that adoption and engagement in enterprise social networking is easy. And mainstream media are regurgitating this assertion without investigating the data from the existing community management industry. 

We, as community professionals, know to separate the glitz and shine of this announcement from the reality: strategy, goals, business value, planning and active community management make an internal community valuable and vibrant — not the technology itself. Our challenge now is to figure out how we keep our message, our data and our knowledge about community building relevant while addressing the misleading information that the media is sharing.

I will discuss the Facebook at Work product itself in part two — how it’s addictive and easy, and how it stacks up to tools like Jive and Yammer. I’ll also ask how Facebook plans to address key questions about security, adoption and engagement, leadership and its currently non-existent relationship with the world of ESN community management.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Doug Hay