A year ago I heard from another Silicon Valley household name company, just how Facebook used its own ‘internal Facebook’ as their corporate intranet/digital workplace.
It sounded attractive and they had clear policies in Facebook about which tool should be used for which task – appealing as an approach to governance.
The word in 2013 was that Facebook was planning to launch a version of this ‘Facebook at Work’ externally if only they could confidently ensure there was clear separation between the personal Facebook account for an employee – and the one they would be using in their employed role.
This week’s news that ‘Facebook for Work’ is happening suggests that this identity challenge has been resolved.
But if there is any time left for Facebook to reconsider, my advice is do so now because Facebook at Work will fail – and even worse fail publicly, thereby causing knock on damage to the host brand.
How can I be so certain? Here are my 5 reasons why Facebook at Work sounds perfect but will crash and burn (attracting – at best – only customers they really do not want).
1. Facebook is viewed by medium/large organizations as a personal (non business) experience
For years, companies have wanted Google quality enterprise search and they have gone on to make pretty solid use of Google Enterprise Search. But alongside that appetite for Google-like search, there has been an equally constant executive view that Facebook is ‘personal’ and not suited for a business environment.
By 2014 this view has now become set in concrete and no amount of Facebook protesting that ‘Facebook at Work will be different’ will convince Chief Information/Technology Officers, who ultimately make the buy/not buy decisions on these things.
This will be most true for the medium and larger enterprises (where the money for Facebook would need to be made) so while smaller companies may be happier to experiment, that will not pay the hundreds of millions this venture needs to generate to justify a new market sector for Facebook.
2. After Edward Snowden, there is no confidence in Facebook to protect corporate data
In 2011, Facebook at Work might have stood a fighting chance but the timing now could not be worse. The public has lost confidence that the personal data that they load to Facebook is protected and while, in our non-work lives, we might tolerate photos of our friends and family being accessed, that is an impossible risk threshold for corporates to shoulder.
If we use Facebook at Work, who is securing all knowledge, information and intellectual property of our company? If the answer is ‘trust the Facebook servers’ then that will be laughed out of the executive suites.
3. Employees and employers will hate the fact they might easily confuse their personal and business accounts
The issue Facebook experienced in separating a personal from a business account, is at the heart of the problem. Let’s assume the identity separation challenge has been solved from a service stance, the issue we then have is human habits and behavior.
At work (like it or not) office based staff are checking their personal Facebook accounts (either on company devices or via their own smart phones) and the ease of mistakenly posting to the wrong site will not only distress companies but will concern staff a great deal.
Imagine the career damaging potential of those nice pix of your night out with your mates uploaded to the Facebook at Work project group. Not only is that embarrassing but even when colleagues tell you about the mistake, your action shows, in time-stamped terms, what you were trying to do at 11.23 am on working day.
Companies will not want Facebook at Work but worse than that, employees will choose not to use it anyhow because it is potentially damaging to your career.
4. Large companies require hosting on their own servers as they distrust cloud services still
It is as yet unclear if Facebook at Work will be hosted on corporate or Facebook servers. But my hunch is it will be offered as a purely cloud-based service as that is in the Facebook DNA.
Companies are already anxious about using Microsoft SharePoint in the Microsoft Cloud and prefer ‘on premise’ for a sense of security. The MS cloud has a decent reputation for security due its legacy within enterprises but Facebook has no cloud reputation for companies and this will be yet another block to overcome.
5. There will need to be a compelling new experience from Facebook at Work – and that becomes self-defeating
For medium and large companies to switch, Facebook at Work has to offer a far more compelling service than is currently available from the likes of Microsoft, Jive, IBM or Google.
Let’s say Facebook were to provide that difference, it must mean that the user experience of the ‘work version’ is then very distinct from the personal one. The issue then is that users would complain about that difference from the Facebook that they know and like, with complaints ensuing about different navigation, functionality and feel.
But if Facebook keeps what they offer for work very similar to Facebook personal, then there is no powerful case to switch. For smaller organizations there may be more reasons to switch but even in that marketplace there are a strong number of smallerer vendors with good products in service.
And one BIG alarm bell – for Facebook
So here is the really bad news. If, as I predict this venture will fail, then that is not a neutral experience for Facebook.
Yes money will be lost but that can be well afforded by Facebook. The reputation of Facebook is weaker than it was two years ago. The humiliation if Facebook at Work is then rejected, will harm the host brand and take Facebook into uncertain waters.
In the past, gaffs have been able to be repaired pretty fast on the Facebook personal site but if hundreds of thousands of companies and millions of employees say no to Facebook at Work that will be a big ‘dislike’ against Facebook itself.