In a few short weeks, offices across the world will find they can surf Facebook without looking over their shoulders or worrying about running into a firewall. On October 10 in London, the social networking titan will unveil " Facebook At Work," its inaugural attempt at the enterprise productivity market. Workplaces of any size can pay per user to turn a platform typically considered a time-waster into an engine for getting things done.

The Royal Bank of Scotland signed up to be the service's first major customer back in October of last year and came with stringent security requirements, which Facebook reportedly met. A good first test case, this validation run should be encouraging widespread adoption in many sectors, especially if the security needs don't run as high as they do for one of the largest banks in the world.

An obvious advantage to this play is that Facebook is the standard for social networking, with its user count pushing steadily upward to 2 billion, so At Work will be an extremely familiar experience for users and have next to no friction for adoption. Most people are likely to have a Facebook account already and will be quite familiar with the tools, which at a minimum include Groups and Messenger. Over time, At Work will add integrations and partnerships with SaaS providers, like Asana and Microsoft's Office 365.

This sort of collaboration tool is nothing particularly groundbreaking. Salesforce has Chatter. Microsoft has Yammer (for now - they're rolling it into Office 365). And it seems like everyone uses the collaborative chat app known as Slack (or its competitor HipChat). Clearly, Facebook faces some stiff competition in its move to the workplace, but Facebook's more than ten years' experience in understanding user behavior on the consumer side should offer valuable insights for building a dominating enterprise service.

With Facebook's global reach and near universal recognition, advertising their platforms will be a cinch, especially as news outlets publish pieces on the new product and Facebook offers those news piece in its Trending Topics section, a self-fulfilling cycle. While it faces some entrenched opponents in the productivity space, what sets At Work apart is its social-first approach. The new offering works essentially the same as Facebook's core service, but focused on and optimized for the workplace.

One hurdle for Facebook is privacy, a consistent nag for the social giant. Partitioning personal use data from the professional will be a tricky play that needs solid marketing, but satisfying the likes of RBS on security suggests Facebook has figured out some secret sauce for this quandary.

Slack had nearly 3 million daily active users as of April this year and Yammer had 8 million users as of 2013, a year after Microsoft acquired it. Neither started with an existing network of users familiar with the product, much less on the scale Facebook already has. Yammer failed to pull users away from email and Slack pulled its users into a chaotic atmosphere that has many wondering if the chat app actually harms productivity. At Work sits at the middle of these two approaches, blending the social approach of Yammer with the tools and chat capabilities of Slack, making it a strong environment for collaboration.

Facebook has been deliberately mum on deploying advertising on At Work as a means of monetization, which implies there could be tiers for subscriptions. However, this shouldn't worry too many users as these ads would be targeted at a narrow grouping of communications, so they'll likely be more helpful than distracting or irksome. Ads or no, At Work does offer Facebook a substantial revenue stream independent of its current advertising model, fostering diversification and defensibility.

As At Work launches, a key strategy for Facebook should be to make robust platform out of the new service. Once a sufficient amount of users onboard, third-party developers will be chomping at the bit to make apps and integrations for these new users. Adding in tools like Salesforce, Asana, and Github would serve At Work well, in addition to any other solutions developers can concoct. As it stands, Facebook doesn't offer a calendar or collaborative documents. Building integrations with such existing tools or building fresh would be a boon to the first movers.

Fortunately, Facebook has a history of opening its platform to external innovation. It's doubtless that readers need reminding of the success of Facebook games like Candy Crush and Plants Vs. Zombies. Just last year, Messenger opened its digital gates to outside developers to access their creativity and resources. In fact, Messenger is now sporting a clone of Snapchat's Stories feature called Messenger Day (only available in Poland thus far).

The workplace will always be a target for innovation, as business operators perpetually aim to cut costs and boost productivity. Facebook's social approach with At Work looks like the right middle ground not seen yet between Yammer and Slack and holds great potential to dominate the office productivity market with the right platform approach.

Published on: Oct 2, 2016
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