Like it or not Facebook Is Coming to Work
Facebook at Work might be exactly what we need, but this type application will be best delivered by enterprise-oriented vendors and providers.
The enterprise is becoming more social. It's been a long ride that began with curiosity adoption of intranets, wikis, and blogs. The current generation of collaboration tools are becoming central to workflow.
Messaging-first collaborative applications such as Slack, Jive, and HipChat offer groups, persistent chat, shared content, newsfeeds, and search. These services are proving to be very effective for team communications. They all offer asynchronous communications, and some support video conferencing.
Workstream communications and collaboration (WCC) applications offer similar services for asynchronous communications (messaging and content) and also bridge the gap to include real-time voice and video. WCC apps become central to workflow because they include content, contacts, and communications in one place. Several UC vendors now offer WCC apps, which include Cisco Spark, Interactive Intelligence PureCloud, Mitel MiTeam, RingCentral Glip, and Fuze Spaces.
Sometimes the asynchronous features of these solutions are described as "Facebook for work," and that's about to get messy because Facebook is piloting "Facebook at Work." It's effectively a business edition of Facebook (uses separate IDs) that provides work-related persistent chat, groups, shared content, newsfeeds, and search.
Facebook at Work has significant potential. Facebook is a $300 billion-plus business with deep expertise in online social interaction. This new at-work implementation is essentially the same, familiar service that many employees already use and love. If Facebook is serious about entering business communications, then it certainly has the brand awareness, technical competencies, and financial wherewithal to dominate the sector.
But domination seems unlikely for two reasons. First, enterprises are unlikely to accept Facebook at Work due to concerns about privacy. Secondly, Facebook is unlikely to give its full commitment to the service.
Where's the Money?
The issue at hand is the business model. Successful companies understand their business models, and in the case of Facebook, that's advertising. Facebook has stated that its new work application will not include advertising; thus, how strategic can the work edition be at Facebook?
It's analogous to Google for Work and Google Apps, which feel more like a hobby than a strategic part of the Google business.
Google provides the world with some phenomenal software and services at no cost because the company monetizes information obtained through that software and services. First Google monetized search with simple advertising, and over the years it has broadened its service portfolio to obtain more information to serve more targeted and relevant ads. Email provides conversational and relationship data, Contacts reveals social reach, Maps provides information on locations of interest, and Android provides location, habits, and a bevy of other personal details.
Google created each of these services with the aim of collecting more information, which it then uses to generate revenue in the form of targeted advertising. The company monetized its free services to the tune of nearly $75 billion in 2015. This is a clear and profitable business model.
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Google Apps probably derives some advertising-related value despite its lack of direct ads in that Google monetizes obtained information indirectly. For example, if a school using Google Apps for Education permits general Web access, "Google collects data as it would for any other user -- keeping tabs on the device they're using or personal information they volunteer." Google and Facebook are professionals at harvesting information, which is why businesses need to be wary of partnering with them or any advertising company.
Power at Work
Now back to Facebook at Work. Facebook harvests considerably more information from its users for advertising purposes than Google. Facebook users frequently and voluntarily share all kinds of details, including photos, messages, locations, likes, and Internet usage details. In last month's Q4 2015 earnings call, Facebook executives shared how these details are useful in influencing decisions and driving behaviors.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg explained how Facebook provided Shop Direct, an online retailer in the U.K., with a 20 times return on ad spend. Facebook, along with its Instagram service, utilized detailed demographics and tracking to drive record sales for the online retailer. Last year Facebook monetized its free services to the tune of nearly $18 billion.
The concept of a Facebook-like application at work is powerful. However, it is hard to imagine Facebook at Work turning into anything more than a hobby for the company. Hobbies are fine, and I'm certain Facebook at Work will meet the needs of many organizations (as does Google for Work). It's an inexpensive hobby as the costs of delivery are low, and there are ways to supplement advertising services indirectly. But hobbyists won't be able to compete with companies that make business communications and collaboration their primary focus.
Facebook and other social sites really have set the standard, and the enterprise has a lot to learn from these advertising services. The fact that an advertising service is offered ad-free is unlikely to appease enterprises rightfully concerned about protecting the privacy and integrity of their conversations.
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.Follow Dave Michels on Twitter and Google+!
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