It's time to see what Facebook at Work can really accomplish and what kind of impact it'll have on the enterprise social network (ESN) market.

The social network king is set to launch its new enterprise collaboration platform next month. It will charge enterprises based on the number of employees who use the service monthly, a Facebook spokesperson told CMSWire.

Facebook Has Big Ambitions

Who will benefit from the new ESN player? "Everyone!," CMSWire was enthusiastically told.

Everyone is a lot of people. Menlo Park, Calif.-based Facebook has earned the right to be bold, though: In June, the social network attracted an average of 1.13 billion daily active users.

Should Slack be worried some of its 3 million daily active users will be enticed by Facebook? Should Atlassian's HipChat fear the loss of some of its more than 50,000 organizational clients? 

More broadly, should every other collaboration platform prepare to bow to the Facebook ESN king?

Not quite, said David Coleman, founder and managing director of Collaborative Strategies, Inc., a San Mateo, Calif.-based consulting firm that works with collaboration vendors and software users.

facebook at work screenshots

The LinkedIn Factor

Coleman sees another foe for Facebook as it dives into the enterprise collaboration space.

Facebook isn't known for business. And now LinkedIn, which is better known for business, will soon be part of Microsoft. "I would think that's the main competition (for Facebook)," Coleman told CMSWire. "My guess is that another large company will acquire Slack, as HipChat is already part of Atlassian."

Indeed, Microsoft's $26.2 billion pending acquisition of LinkedIn may have sparked Facebook to get the "At Work" ball rolling. One analyst told us at the time the acquisition was announced that Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn is a direct response to the imminent arrival of Facebook at Work.

“With Facebook at Work on the horizon,” Richard Edwards, principal analyst at London-based IT research firm Ovum Research, said, “$26 billion is the kind of ‘all-in’ bet that Microsoft needs to win as it takes on the behemoth of the consumer social networking world. The acquisition will provide Microsoft with an opportunity to leverage what it learned through the Yammer acquisition."

Others think Microsoft-LinkedIn is more about collecting rich data sets and challenging Salesforce in the customer relationship management (CRM) race.

ESN Market: 'Anyone's Game'

The space in which Facebook at Work wants to play has "no dominant player," other than maybe Office 365 with 70-plus million enterprise users, according to Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst for the Future of Work at Monta Vista, Calif.-based Constellation Research.

"The market is still anyone’s game," said Lepofsky, a CMSWire Reader Advisory Board member. 

And, as Lepofsky pointed out, all enterprise social networks have in one way or another attempted to emulate Facebook in some way. "For years vendors have been trying to build 'Facebook for work,'" Lepofsky said. "Well, now Facebook has done it."

Reactions From Slack, HipChat

Heading into Facebook at Work's arrival next month, Slack and HipChat are holding their own. So are IBM Connections and Yammer, though Yammer is being repositioned from a standalone product to a component of Office 365.

Learning Opportunities

Nonetheless, many eyes these days seem to be on San Francisco-based Slack, which at last check was valued around $3.8 billion, up from $2.8 billion in less than a year. Since its launch two years ago, it has raised a total of $540 million.

HipChat is a product run by San Francisco- and Sydney-based Atlassian, which has been profitable at least the last three years, according to financial documents

Facebook's Innovation Path

"Facebook has a much longer horizon than any of the existing enterprise vendors today," said Carrie Basham Young, an enterprise 2.0 practitioner and principal and owner of the consultancy Talk Social to Me.

"I think they'll take the development of features and integrations slowly as they learn what the market demands. Facebook isn't under pressure to get acquired, or go IPO. They are immune to some of the pressures that more startup-like companies have."

So what does that mean for their ESN innovation schedule? Facebook will focus on core platform development slowly as it watches what happens in the market, Basham Young said. They'll keep pricing relatively low because they want market share, she said, and eventually allow third-party developers to handle the niche integrations that companies will want.

Basham Young cited Facebook’s mission: "Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected." 

'Allowing people to be connected to their colleagues is just an extension of allowing people to connect with their friends and family," said Basham Young, who authored a Facebook at Work progress report piece for CMSWire earlier this month. "Facebook has greater ambitions than tackling collaboration in the enterprise. I think this means that they'll take several years to get Facebook at Work 'right' as they learn how to help us network with colleagues at work."

Facebook ESN for Free?

Can't enterprises that want to leverage Facebook as an ESN create their own group on Facebook for free? It's private, after all, if you want.

Basham Young said enterprises will be willing to pay for Facebook at Work because it offers single sign-on and directory integration for account control. 

"Many companies will demand that, big and small," she told CMSWire. 

"It also has features, like promoted posts and default groups, that give community managers control over the user experience. This is in stark contrast to public Facebook, where users in a group are mixing work posts with personal posts as well as advertisements. Not having advertisements inside Facebook at Work is another reason why companies will pay."

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