Revolutionary Measures

Will Facebook at Work work?

Last week, Facebook launched Facebook At Work, its latest attempt to bring the social network into the enterprise business mainstream. Cue lots of commentators prophesying doom for the likes of LinkedIn as the social networking behemoth pushed into the world of work.

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On a closer look, LinkedIn shouldn’t be too worried, as Facebook At Work is more about collaboration and sharing inside an organisation, rather than looking for new jobs outside the office. In fact it is more of a rival for the likes of Yammer and Huddle.

The other point to note is that this isn’t the first time that Facebook has tried to embrace the enterprise. Back in January 2011, Mark Zuckerberg launched BranchOut, then touted as a rival for LinkedIn. This built a network on top of your Facebook contacts and aimed to find and match you with job opportunities. BranchOut seems to be still going, but is now billed as “letting people capture and share everyday moments in the workplace through photos, news and updates.” While it claims 30 million users, compare that to the 300m+ who have profiles on LinkedIn.

The other factor to bear in mind is the notorious difficulty of getting mainstream workers to adopt collaboration tools, no matter how compelling the user interface or functionality. I remember trying to introduce an intranet into a relatively small organisation and just giving up as no-one wanted to use it, despite the benefits it brought.

So why is Facebook trying again? I can see three benefits for the company – though at least one of them has nothing to do with work……….

1. Add more subscribers
Facebook claims over 24 million active daily users in the UK. This sounds impressive, but that is less than half the population. Obviously some of these holdouts are children, but I’d guess that a fair number are actually the very workers that Facebook At Work is aimed at. While you can keep your Work and personal Facebook accounts separate, I’m sure the company is hoping that a fair proportion of those using the platform in the office will be seduced into setting up a profile for out of hours use. So the social network will get an influx of new members, with the corresponding demographic data and potential revenues that this adds.

2. Easy to use interface
As I’ve said getting workers to use collaboration tools can be like pulling hen’s teeth. But for those already on Facebook I wager that the new At Work interface won’t be very different, encouraging its adoption. This, rather than functionality, will probably be the strongest selling point, when Facebook starts encouraging business use.

3. Spoiling for a fight
While LinkedIn has been successful in many areas, there’s still a huge opportunity in the market. LinkedIn members at present tend to be in professional roles, with a large part of the world of work un-networked. The company itself realises this and is adding a wider range of job ads for roles such as checkout operators and delivery drivers, often directly linked from employer’s websites. Coming from the personal social network space, Facebook believes it can also fill this gap, with the first step being to get within the enterprise and cosy up to HR people through bridgehead initiatives such as At Work.

The benefits for Facebook are clear, but with the network effect being less important for businesses, I’m not sure what the advantages are for the enterprise. Worries about the confidentiality of documents have already been raised, and it would take some strong policing to avoid people slacking off and reading their personal Facebook timelines rather than collaborating internally. Watch this space to see if Facebook can move into the enterprise at its second attempt.

January 21, 2015 Posted by | Creative, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MicroSocial?

There are a lot of people convinced that what the world needs is another social network. After all technically they’re pretty simple to set up and if half the world is on Facebook, there’s still plenty of opportunity to recruit members.

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

I’m being flippant, but in a week that saw Microsoft launch two forays into social networks, I think that’s time for a reality check in the area. To be fair to Microsoft, the mooted $1bn acquisition of social enterprise platform Yammer is a logical move. It means it can add collaboration and social network style features to Microsoft Office, helping tighten its grip on enterprise desktop software. Essentially it’s meeting the continuing corporate desire to help share information and enable collaboration that has been going on since the launch of Lotus Notes and intranets 20 years ago. So, social network yes, Facebook competitor no.

Microsoft’s other new social network So.cl is a lot more difficult to fathom. Described as ‘an experiment in open search’ it is designed to be a layer on existing social networks, with a particular focus on social search (something that Microsoft’s Bing search engine is also majoring on). All a bit confusing and really lacking a killer reason to sign up. I can only guess that successful bits of So.cl will be integrated into Windows Live and Bing – but that really relies on people using the service to test it and see if it works.

I’ve talked before about how any technology (including social networks) has to cross the chasm into the mainstream from early adopters if it is to be a lasting success. Another useful bit of business development thinking is that in mature markets there are essentially four positions to be in. You can be the market leader (Facebook), the follower (LinkedIn), the challenger (Google+) or successfully own a niche (such as Twitter). Outside these four it is difficult to build the scale you need to succeed as a decent sized social network – it really relies on getting people to sign up and use the service on an ongoing basis. As Apple has found with its Ping music social networking service, which is rumoured to be closing, brand name and access to a potential audience isn’t enough to get people to sign up.

So whether you are marketer or a social network startup take a good look at the business development textbooks before you launch and ask yourself does the world really need your social network?

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June 18, 2012 Posted by | Marketing, Social Media, Startup | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment