After a small bit of fanfare and conjecture, Facebook rolled out a limited beta for its 'Facebook At Work' service. And while not much has leaked out of the limited testing, people have wondered just what Facebook is offering with this new app, and whether or not it will change the face of inter-work communication the way it has social networking. But, from what they've revealed so far, I'm not sure it will make much of a splash. Still, any major push by a service as ubiquitous and influential as Facebook is worth looking at. So what should small business owners know about Facebook At Work?
1. The business controls what information is displayed
Facebook is putting most of the controls in the hands of the business owner or, barring them, human resources. Name, job title, and contact info are all provided by the employer, and then associated with a user account. The users can then personalize their profile with pictures and other bits of information. It'll be a closed network, exclusive to the business, and whomever the business invites in. The main takeaway from this, though, is that it seems like the business will have a lot of control over the enterprise network, and will probably have to work a bit harder, or just force people to use the service. This app is clearly aimed at business owners, rather than ground-level users.
2. Users can login using their usual username and password
Despite the fact that, so far, Facebook is pushing top-level adoption, they are obviously trying to make it as easy as possible for employees to use the service. After all, if the staff complains about it enough, the business won't adopt it. I have a good feeling that Facebook wants it to feel like its normal service; somewhere you can post your thoughts and interact with people, albeit a limited network of them. Business owners, then, shouldn't expect it to feel any different than Facebook normally does. In fact, that might be the biggest benefit to adopting Facebook at Work if you aren't already using another service -- it'll feel familiar to your staff, without offering all the normal distractions of normal Facebook.
3. There will be Desktop, Android, and iOS versions
Interestingly, they are releasing stand-alone app versions of Facebook At Work. That makes it a bit harder to switch between the two versions of the site, and firmly plants Facebook At Work in a different sphere than the normal service. People could now also potentially have three different Facebook apps on their phone -- Messenger, At Work, and the usual Facebook app. This branching focus is slightly unusual, but does show that the site is investing resources, and treating each offering like its own, unique service loosely connected to the wider brand.
4. Facebook isn't using the platform to sell ads... yet.
The service is free and ad-less at the moment. But they'll eventually have to make money somehow. Business owners considering adopting the service, then, need to consider that it may, at some point, cost either money, or information. Some companies are rightly wary of giving away the kind of information Facebook would be interested in selling. So if you do decide to adopt the service, read the terms carefully. Otherwise, you could be violating your own policies.
5. Users will be able to collaborate
As with all enterprise networking solutions, the key to this service is collaboration. Facebook is using a familiar interface to make inter-office collaboration easy. People will be able to share photos, videos, and other files. Further, the business will be able to access anything shared on its network, potentially allowing managers to track progress, see how their staff collaborates, and promote inter-departmental communication.
So should small business owners consider using Facebook at Work when they get a chance? I'm not so sure -- I don't think I'm going to adopt it. Their limited beta targeted businesses with over 100 employees, and for good reason. When you run a small business, fostering office collaboration isn't that hard because everyone works right next to everyone else. In addition to this, I don't see it offering anything new -- if Facebook is going to make this a standalone service/app, what makes it any different than say Yammer, or Slack? My biggest problem is that it looks like they are trying to set themselves apart simply by being Facebook. And, right now, that isn't enough to take over a market that already has plenty of good services.