Facebook, like just about every other social media platform, is looking for ways to expand, and according to the Financial Times, Mark Zuckerberg is gearing up to take on LinkedIn 1, Slack and similar professional services with Facebook At Work. The information available varies a bit, so some reports are saying that it is expected to be available in January of 2015 while others are reporting a vague launch date of “in a few months.” However, we do know that a number of companies, whose names have not been released, have been testing Facebook at Work for the last 6 to 12 months.
As with the launch date, the details are fairly sparse, but the new platform is supposed to enable employees to chat, share documents and collaborate in the workplace as well as network with professional contacts. All indications are that it will be free when it launches, but it’s unclear if it will stay free and be paid for with advertising or if it will become a premium service.
Why it could work
- Facebook has a huge and active user base already with over 864 million daily users. 2
- They’re taking a variety of successful services – networking, file sharing, etc. – and combining them.
- Since Facebook seems to be putting Facebook at Work through some pretty rigorous testing, it appears it’s going to be a serious venture and not just an excuse to spend more time sending people FarmVille requests.
Why it could bomb
- Facebook is blocked by a number of businesses because it is considered a giant black hole where productivity goes to die. It may be difficult to overcome this bias.
- Unless it’s a really great platform, since a lot of businesses have a bad taste in their mouth vis-à-vis poor advertising results, companies may not be eager to adopt Facebook at Work.
- Security issues are big for individuals, but they are huge for businesses. Since Facebook is known for data mining (just look at the options they offer for demographics and online behaviors for advertising targeting), organizations may be wary to use the platform, no matter what promises Facebook makes about privacy.
- Employers and employees already have a shaky truce regarding Facebook and social media accounts, and employees may not be incredibly excited about being “voluntold” to share the details of their private Facebook accounts if the company adopts Facebook at Work. Even though Facebook says the two will be separate, if profiles go public, companies may not be willing to bank on that.
Implications for advertising
I mentioned that it appears that Facebook at Work will at least initially be free. Personally, with all that Facebook has to surmount to get companies to adopt Facebook at Work, I have a hard time imagining it won’t be dead in the water if they try to make it a paid service. That means they’ll need to rely on ads to make the service profitable, and that’s probably going to create a new set of hurdles to overcome.
If it turns out that the platform will not be public but accessed through an employer, that may play a fairly significant role in the type of ads they show. In addition to ensuring that ads are appropriate for work viewing, they’ll also want to avoid displaying competitors’ advertising. This may mean having to specifically create rules or filters for each organization using the platform.
The largest obstacle is probably going to be figuring out a way to show ads that don’t kill user productivity. Facebook is already going to have to get companies to overcome their preconceptions about the social media site taking employees away from work, and that’s not going to be easy if users are spending their time clicking ads and shopping. 3
 Or, if they do really model Facebook at Work after LinkedIn, looking for another job.