by Mike Gotta

Last November’s speculation that Facebook was entering the enterprise social networking space was confirmed this week as the company revealed additional information about it’s Facebook at Work service. Several analysts and myself discussed how Facebook’s move into the enterprise market might play out. Our collective thoughts are shared below in a Q&A format. We’d appreciate your comments and reactions.

If you’re a Gartner client, feel free to setup an inquiry to discuss the implications Facebook at Work could possibly have for your organization.

Why would Facebook get into the enterprise space now? Is it too late?

Even though enterprise social networking has been around for several years, many organizations still struggle with adoption. We’ve learned that behavior change is difficult and deploying “social as a destination” site can create a silo disconnected from people’s everyday work activities. Over the past few years, the market has shifted emphasis of the destination site model to one where social capabilities are contextually integrated into productivity tools and business applications to provide a better sense of purpose. Strategists often believe that “social in the flow of work” alleviates behavior change challenges and helps with determining business value since the work activity typically has some type of metric.

However, this shift does not mean that there is no value in a destination site. Since employees likely use Facebook as a consumer, there is a familiarity that can be tapped into by offering an “at work” experience. A credible argument can be made that workers are more productive when they use tools that allow them to apply the same skills and literacies across digital work and life. Consumerization and BYOx trends reflect this viewpoint where organizations are becoming more receptive to managing a diversity of devices and applications. However, Facebook still needs to position its business offering in a purposeful manner.

What possible scenarios could Facebook emphasize?

We would expect Facebook to work closely with its early adopters and future partners to identify use case scenarios that illustrate practical business scenarios. If Facebook at Work is left for employees to figure out on their own as a generalized environment for ad-hoc information sharing, team collaboration, and community-building – then Facebook risks running into the same quagmire of adoption and business value issues that has burdened enterprise software vendors. Example use case scenarios include:

  • Employee onboarding
  • Alumni and retiree networks
  • Wellness programs
  • Corporate communications (such as town halls, polls, surveys)
  • Community outreach (voluntary employee groups that do social good locally)
  • Employee engagement
  • Communities specific to roles, work practices, and such
  • External activities with business partners and contractors – potentially customers down the road.

What possible role can partners play?

By getting into the enterprise business, Facebook is opening the door to additional partnerships and add-ons to its core capabilities in order to expand its overall ecosystem.  Additional solution scenarios are possible if Facebook at Work included an app store that focused on business activities. For instance, if employees could add project and document management apps then Facebook At Work can become more structured to support project management as well as the development of / response to RFP proposals.

Enterprise social networking (ESN) is a fragmented market where major vendors have been reluctant to embrace standards or move in directions that increases interoperability with competitors. The complexity of integrating with multiple large vendor players can disenfranchise smaller vendors in the market. Employees can easily find themselves with several profiles, follow models, and activity streams to track. Organizations can find themselves in a situation where they are justifiably using a few large-scale ESN deployments without a “hub” or common destination that supports cross-functional activities. If Facebook were to leave complicated business scenarios (such as those involving compliance, process management, records management) to others then it could potentially create a vibrant partner and developer ecosystem. Facebook also needs to make sure they partner effectively with the IT Organization. They need to make sure that Facebook at Work has the necessary administration and policy management capabilities to satisfy security, identity, privacy and overall management concerns.

Who is threatened then?

Vendors that lack diversity by being focused only on delivering ESN solutions could see some of their basic workloads shift to Facebook at Work. Facebook at Work could also move into mobile messaging as well. Finally, if Facebook at Work were successful, then consumer players such as LinkedIn potentially could see competition as Facebook will have the opportunity to create a large-scale collection of professional profiles.

Are there other concerns? 

Absolutely – if you look at the recent media stories regarding consumer social media players, including Facebook, involved in questionable research studies that allegedly manipulated people in some way – those issues come over into the enterprise. The anxiety employees have in their consumer experience regarding Facebook need to be addressed before an organization deploys Facebook at Work. All vendors, not just Facebook, need to address transparency and ethical aspects of their algorithms and monitoring techniques.
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Gartner, Inc