In case you haven’t heard, Facebook designed a version of its social media platform for the business world and dubbed it, aptly enough, Facebook at Work. Will it be a convenient way for small businesses to collaborate using a familiar interface and tools they already know? Or will Facebook at Work be, in columnist Oliver Burkeman's words, "a recipe for utter calamity that only benefits Facebook?"
It's too early to say, as the service—announced in mid-January—is currently in beta. But here's a look at the concept behind Facebook at Work, as well as its potential benefits and drawbacks.
The Facebook at Work Concept
"Facebook at Work lets you create a work account that is separate from your personal Facebook account," according to Facebook's description of the service. "With a Facebook at Work account, you can use Facebook tools to interact with co-workers. Things you share using your work account will only be visible to other people at your company."
Put another way, Facebook at Work is a social networking service for businesses. Using Facebook at Work, small (and large) businesses can share status updates, documents, group messaging, and other information.
The Potential Benefits of Facebook at Work
Here are five reasons why you might consider a Facebook at Work account for your small business.
- Facebook brings "unique attributes" to workplace collaboration, said Dion Hinchcliffe, chief strategy officer for Adjuvi and co-author of Social Business by Design, as quoted in a recent TechCrunch article called Facebook Where? The Enterprise Reacts To Facebook At Work. Those attributes include "the world's largest network of pre-registered users to better support external collaboration, as well as the most potent network effect in the social networking space."
- An easier way to communicate. Facebook says that Groups, a key feature of the service, could replace the endless back and forth of email with more immediate messaging. Users can subscribe only to the conversations in which they're interested, versus having to deal with seemingly endless email threads.
- Improved productivity. Facebook at Work uses the same interface as the globally popular Facebook social network. "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," noted Gartner research analyst Michael Gotta in a recent blog post.
- No ads. Unlike the consumer Facebook service, Facebook will most likely charge companies a subscription fee instead of selling ads to support the service. However, as of this writing, pricing details haven't been announced.
- The service has multiple "use case" scenarios. Gartner's Gotta outlined several ways businesses might use Facebook at Work, including wellness programs; internal communications, such as polls, surveys, and virtual town hall meetings; community outreach, including "voluntary employee groups that do social good locally;" and external activities with business partners and contractors.
The Potential Obstacles Facing Facebook at Work
And here are four reasons why you might not want a Facebook at Work account for your small business.
- Privacy and security concerns. Through the years, the consumer Facebook service has enjoyed a less-than-stellar reputation for making the privacy of its users a high priority. For more on this topic, check out Wikipedia's Criticism of Facebook article, which has an extensive section about user privacy.
"Facebook raises many data security and privacy concerns," noted Alastair Mitchell, chief executive at Facebook competitor Huddle, as quoted in the TechCrunch article. "The way in which the site stores, shares and handles consumer data has made headlines on a number of occasions, including its mood manipulation study and how customer data is used for targeted advertising."
Facebook has said that Facebook at Work will not gather data on business users, and that the actions of its users in the business service won't affect their consumer Facebook profiles.
Privacy is more of a concern than security for Mark Tuchscherer, president of Geeks Chicago, a Web development firm with 25 employees. Facebook has done a good job with account security, he notes. However, Tuchscherer is concerned that Facebook at Work could encourage unintentional oversharing among coworkers, which could become "a big distraction in the work place and not worth the hassle."
- Workplace etiquette concerns. In The Guardian column that we referenced earlier, Oliver Burkman makes no bones about the security, privacy, and workplace etiquette issues that Facebook at Work raises. In addition to calling the service "a recipe for utter calamity," Burkeman writes:
"Consider, as a mere appetizer, the implications for workplace etiquette of a social network where the other members are your co-workers. Must you friend everyone? Like or share every post from your boss, for fear of looking disloyal, or decline to do so, for fear of looking sycophantic? Tell everyone in the company about the birthday cake in the second-floor kitchen, or restrict who can see that announcement?"
- Productivity issues. Mark Tuchscherer says his company isn't planning to try Facebook at Work, at least not in the near future, due to a concern that "it will encourage people to waste time on social sites. We've already implemented so many Web tools people can use for projects and team collaboration that Facebook at Work will just be a distraction."
- Plenty of other options. To further Tuchscherer's point, Facebook at Work is late to the game of business social networking, which could make companies already using other tools reluctant to add or switch to Facebook's new offering. Just some of the business social networking/project collaboration services that offer free or paid plans include: Slack, Convo, and Trello. Evernote recently added a work chat feature to its free and paid services, that facilitates collaboration relating to shared notebooks.
It's unlikely that SEOcial, with its 12 employees, will switch to Facebook at Work "because Podio—our current project management and communication system—is so effective," says Orun Bhuiyan, co-founder and marketing technologist.
Will Facebook at Work Work for You?
Time will tell if Facebook at Work becomes a must-have tool for businesses, or if it follows the same path as Facebook Graph Search which, announced two years ago, only now seems to be gaining traction. Small businesses might want to take a wait-and-see approach, especially since the company hasn't released pricing details yet. In the meantime, Evernote and its work chat feature is worth checking out for sharing content and notes, and Trello is a solid tool for managing project collaboration.
James A. Martin is a social media and content marketing consultant who writes frequently for Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter and Pinterest.
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