6 months with Facebook at Work: feedback

by bold-lichterman

Facebook at Work: stroke of genius or big joke? Like many, this is the question I asked myself when announcing Facebook’s product for the corporate world. It is therefore with interest and curiosity but also a touch of skepticism that I welcomed it into my daily life in mid-autumn 2015. After a few months, it is now time to give feedback.

Facebook and Facebook at Work: two separate and watertight environments

I receive an invitation e-mail, I register and I am offered either to create specific identifiers or to use those of my personal account. I go to the simplest and choose the 2nd option. Same identifiers but different platforms, the advantage being to be able to zap from one to the other in one click. On the other hand, the two zones are waterproof. Unable to re-share content from one to the other. The security fan in me thinks it’s a good thing, the mature user that I am has some regrets, the consultant who has accompanied many corporate social media deployments says to himself that it should be possible one way but not the other. But Facebook must above all reassure a market and internal customers who are not its usual professional clientele and I understand that they wanted to leave as little grip as possible to the criticisms of a logically finicky CIO on the subject.

Likewise, on the mobile side, these are two completely distinct applications for the user, again just to show that these are two distinct and closed worlds. Ditto for messenger which has its “professional” counterpart: Work Chat. Voice and video calls are of course at the rendezvous.

Facebook at Work: no need for training or onboarding

Apart from a few features we are in front of a confirmed copy of the tool that we all know, the darker interface making it possible to realize that we are on the business version. In terms of personalization, you can change your logo and… that’s it. Take it or leave it. Of course, no advertising on Facebook at Work, the tool intended to become paid when it is officially released.

On the handling side, and this is therefore the main strength of Facebook at Work, no training is necessary and nothing has been done to get users on board. Everyone is familiar with the tool and how it works, so everyone can use it without further ado. At most – in this specific case – we deemed it useful to share some general principles on the creation of groups in order to prevent the initial enthusiasm from translating into a proliferation of duplicate groups and too great a dispersion of energies. .

In a few days the tool is adopted. Sufficiently simple and known to generate spontaneous use, it seems capable of reassuring companies uncomfortable with the effort required to launch a corporate social network.

Facebook at Work leans more towards the group than towards the individual

No training does not mean that everything is settled. What matters are the use cases. What are those that Facebook at Work can generate spontaneously or in a more directed way?

First observation: if the activity on Facebook takes place mainly on profiles, here I see that it is the groups which naturally take the ascendancy. Maybe starting from an “empty” platform that pushes to seek out where people congregate and / or to engage in a space that has a specific purpose. This is also something that I had also noticed on more conventional corporate social networks in a fairly systematic way. Over time, some leaders may have a strong audience on their profile, but unlike the general public social network, the corporate social network operates more on a logic of objective or shared interest. Besides, there are no friends on Facebook at Work: we can follow people but the notion of friend request as we know it has disappeared from the company version.

Second observation, without much surprise either. The spontaneous use case is the setting in motion of information with the effect of strengthening interactions and links between users (especially those who do not work together on a daily basis). Like its general public counterpart, Facebook at Work is an ideal tool for circulating information, creating links, and even engagement.

Facebook at Work embodies the difference between the corporate social network and the social collaboration tool

There I find the eternal debate of corporate social networks: once we put information in motion, what do we do? This implies how I use it to organize myself and collaborate in my work. And as most often… it is a use which is far from being natural and spontaneous.

Can we organize ourselves? Somehow. You can decide to create groups related to projects, but the potential is limited. Apart from sharing information on the progress of things, it is not possible to structure the work, manage tasks, knowledge or even have fine management and governance of shared documents. They’re attached to a message, period. Neither Wiki, nor task manager, nor document management nor integration with any business tool…. As for the text editor… well there is no such thing – as in Facebook – therefore no formatting possibility. It is therefore difficult to use it for a message that is a little long and constructed if you want it to remain readable.

Is this a gap? I will say a priori no because that is not the purpose of the tool, it is neither its nature nor its philosophy. In any case today. But we’ll talk about it later in the article.

Facebook at Work perfectly embodies the duality of the market between the “flow” tools which put information in motion and create commitment and the so-called “social collaboration” tools which provide a more structuring dimension. Some are easy to access, others richer, more complex and their adoption more difficult. Some bring “soft” benefits, others more “hard” and tangible benefits. What should you prefer? My heart is naturally inclined towards the latter, but a company can also hold the following reasoning:

  • Collaboration tools are richer and often more complex to adopt

  • Their promise is higher but ultimately rarely delivered, at least on a large scale

  • Their complexity of adoption makes even simple uses “à la Facebook” difficult.

  • [Ce point sera souvent sous-jacent mais jamais avoué et assumé] : we want a self-supporting technology without having to change anything next to it, hoping that it will change things by itself.
  • So better a tool that promises little but keeps its promise effortlessly than a tool that promises a lot but requires more effort knowing that if we do it wrong we will have less than little.

In my opinion, this is the reflection of Facebook when they designed the product. Better a simple tool that perfectly addresses the fundamentals of Maslow’s pyramid of social, collaborative and networked enterprise (sharing information, creating links, engaging around sharing) than a tool with a lot of more complex which addresses the upper floors knowing that ultimately few companies have reached them and that over time they end up knowing that this promise is difficult to keep.

In short, to date Facebook at Work is a great tool for social communication but not a tool for social collaboration.

Can Facebook at Work afford the luxury of remaining an isolated island?

At the time of writing, the product is not yet marketed in its final version. In addition, it is obvious that it will have to evolve very quickly. The question is whether Facebook at Work can afford to remain an isolated island or must go towards more wealth and integration with the rest of the company’s IS to move up the Maslow pyramid of collaboration.

In my opinion the answer is undeniably yes. Information is circulating that Facebook would quickly offer APIs to go in this direction.

But I can imagine that the choice is not easy for Facebook. Facebook at Work now has a clear competitive advantage when it comes to its adoption on basic but essential use cases. By enriching himself, he would take the risk of losing this advantage without being able to fight against Microsoft, IBM, Jive or SAP who perfectly master this territory and to whom, moreover, a CIO will have less scruples. open access to its business tools and ECM. When we know the difficulty of adopting advanced use cases due to the organizational and managerial transformation they require, we can very well imagine that Facebook decides that the best solution is to stay in its place and excel on a simple value proposition rather than fighting to promise a rarely achieved Grail no matter what technology you choose.

Don’t choose a technology but be honest about your ambition

What conclusions can be drawn from all of this at this stage of product development.

As I wrote before: Facebook at Work is a great social communication tool, but not a social collaboration tool. Which reminds us that we should not choose a technology for what it is but because it best suits its ambition. As it is, Facebook at Work can crush the competition on some use cases and be far too limited for others. It is not the tool that must be judged but your need that must be evaluated with honesty and your ambition to position at the right level.

It will perfectly equip certain global or specific needs, will suit certain functions more than others but cannot be considered as a collaborative platform meeting the needs of a large company.

Can we therefore imagine that the correct answer is Facebook at Work + another platform? I have always been convinced (APIs and open standards helping) that a company could have a flagship and a multitude of vessels around it, as long as they exchange and are interoperable, but in this case a problem of functional recovery will arise. Finally, we come back to a question of governance and urbanization of collaborative IS.

In short, one thing is certain: Facebook at Work will be massively adopted and used wherever it will be deployed. It remains to be seen what to do and put ambition at the right level.

In any case, a case to follow …

bertrand-duperrinBertrand Duperrin is Digital Transformation Practice Leader in Emakina. He was previously Consulting Director at Nextmodernity, a firm in the field of business transformation and management through social business and the use of social technologies.

He regularly deals with social media news on his blog.

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