If you could set up a Facebook account for work and keep it separate from your private account, could it make you and your team more productive?

Facebook is hoping so. With the limited release of their 'Facebook at Work' product, currently being tested by select partners, the social network giant is close to entering the enterprise social networking (ESN) market.

Companies of all sizes have sought out more streamlined, user-friendly collaboration and information-sharing systems over the last several years. Enterprise social networks have proven a useful alternative to email and the company intranet; the corporate social concept has grown into a $2.3 billion industry.

As rapidly as the industry sprung up and exploded, enterprise social is not without its challenges. We know internal social networks have big potential benefits as far as easing collaboration and access to information. However, it can be difficult to get people to use the thing! I know that we use one at WordStream, but I couldn't tell you the first thing about what's in it, since I never touch it. The teams I work with still communicate and collaborate largely via email. I know, we're so 90s, right?

But we're not alone. And if your company isn't 100% into enterprise social yet, you're not alone, either.

Sunder Ramachandran, head of sales training at Pfizer, shared some of the challenges his brand experienced in enterprise social adoption in a LinkedIn blog post. Chief among them was simply raising awareness of the network and how employees were meant to use it. In addition, employees already felt email was an easy method of communication, so they didn't understand why it was necessary to communicate across another platform.

Even big brands with collaborative, social values and culture are struggling to get their teams into ESN.

What is Facebook at Work?

Facebook hopes that their mainstream appeal will help brands combat some of these common ESN adoption issues. The vast majority of Americans already know and love Facebook; roughly two-thirds of US adults use the site regularly.

Is it easier to get employees to use a new collaboration tool if it's based on a system they're already accustomed to using?

This could be Facebook's biggest advantage as they enter the ESN marketplace.

Facebook's corporate communications director, Elisabeth Diana (formerly of Publicis & Hal Riney and Google), discussed their new internal collaboration network with me late last week. They're currently performing a small test, with just a handful of companies having access to Facebook at Work, at present.

"We've been testing for quite some time for work collaboration--its part of our work culture and we've seen great productivity gains internally using Facebook groups, newsfeed and one-on-one communication," she said. "Given that we've seen productivity gains here using it, we want to enable others companies to benefit from our technology."

What Can We Expect from Facebook at Work?

Facebook is a great, big thing--somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.2 billion people already use the network to stay connected with family and friends. Diana told me that Facebook at Work was designed to give users a familiar experience, with the added benefit of separation of personal/professional content and privacy within business networks.

You can probably expect an experience and interface very similar to what you're already accustomed to in your personal Facebook account. When I asked Diana how this product differs from other enterprise collaboration tools already on the market, she explained their goal isn't about being different at all. "It's about being familiar with the experience that people know and love. We think we can extend that way that people connect with friends and family to the office workplace."

Facebook at Work Features

Facebook at Work isn't a real-time collaboration tool like Google Docs and Spreadsheets--you won't be able to work on documents simultaneously. However, employees will be able to share documents and post messages securely among their company network.

Employees with companies using Facebook at Work will find that their work account is only visible to others within the organization. However, they will still be able to access public content on regular Facebook.

Users will also be able to connect their work and personal accounts, enabling them to switch back and forth between the two. Employers will not have access to employee usernames or passwords.

Will You Try Facebook at Work?

Facebook declined to comment on any possible release dates for a wider launch, but I personally hope to see it available to companies by the end of this year.

As far as I'm concerned, the mainstream popularity of Facebook gives them a huge advantage over already-established ESN competitors.

What do you think: will you try Facebook at Work? If you're interested in learning more about it, you can contact the Facebook at Work team through this web form.