Will Facebook Catch On as a Workplace Tool?

The service may be coming to work, but not everyone is ready to embrace it

By Aliah D. Wright Dec 3, 2014
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News that Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site, is developing a social network platform specifically for work use has sparked everyone's interest. According to the Financial Times, Facebook at Work: “will look very much like Facebook—with a newsfeed and groups—but will allow users to keep their personal profile with … holiday photos, political rants and silly videos separate from their work identity.”

Some HR experts, though, aren't sold on it yet. According to them, there are privacy and productivity questions to answer first.

Facebook joins Microsoft, Salesforce and Jive, companies that already provide enterprise social networking platforms.

According to research from investment firm Frost & Sullivan, “the total number of full-suite enterprise social platform subscribers was expected to go up from 208 million in 2013 to 535 million in 2018. Currently, there are about 2 billion workers worldwide who could benefit from enterprise social technologies across numerous industries, organizations, locations and job roles.”

“Enterprise social networking … combines the user-friendliness and relationship-oriented nature of consumer social media with more powerful features and enterprise-grade control,” said Frost & Sullivan Information and Communication Technologies Program Manager and Industry Principal Robert Arnold.

“Moreover, its ability to significantly improve business agility, responsiveness, innovation and customer service owing to increased employee access to information and expertise bolsters the market.”

Seventy-four percent of adults use social media, according to recent statistics from the Pew Research Internet Project. But using it at work is still taboo for workers at the 36 percent of companies worldwide that block employees from accessing social sites, found global law firm Proskauer.

That may change, however, if Facebook at Work is embraced when it is unveiled, reportedly in January 2015. Experts say its success will depend on whether or not it can convince executives and HRIT professionals that security and confidentiality will take precedent with the platform—something Facebook has come under fire for in recent years.

A Captive Audience?

“Moving from personal to professional for Facebook is a natural progression for [Facebook company leaders] as they are now answering to shareholders,” said Jessica Miller-Merrell, president and CEO of Xceptional HR and founder of Blogging4Jobs. “Facebook use on a personal level has reached, for the most part, critical mass. The company needs to expand its scope of services to satisfy Wall Street.”

However, “over the years Facebook has been under fire for privacy issues,” she said. In November Facebook announced a new tool, Privacy Basics, which go into effect in January, presumably ahead of Facebook at Work.

Privacy, Miller-Merrell said, “is my biggest concern, as well as how Facebook will use the data they obtain. Employers who purchase the product need to make sure who owns the data for enterprise-level customers and how it will be used by Facebook in their other suite of products.”

Snapchat Generation

Facebook, seen largely as the social networking site for the 25- to 55-year-old crowd, will face the additional challenge of convincing Generation Z users (those younger than millennials) to embrace Facebook. Many younger workers prefer Instagram, WhatsApp, Vine and Snapchat. Time reported earlier this year that more than 11 million young users have abandoned Facebook since 2011.

Another Wave, Another Google Plus?

Can Facebook at Work succeed, or is it too late to jump on the enterprise social networking bandwagon?

“It depends on a lot of factors,” said Jumpstart: HR CEO Joey Price. “Is it going to be cost beneficial for an organization to use?” He and other experts said a business application could change the minds of those employers who still believe Facebook is a drain on productivity.

“The water cooler, the walk to Starbucks, the Facebook break, the walk around the office. They have inherent value for an employee’s focus and well-being,” Price said, adding that lack of productivity is largely an employee management problem—not a social media problem.

But experts said Facebook at Work could also be another underperformer like Google’s Wave or Google Plus. Or it could be just one more platform to choose from: another Jive, another Yammer or another Chatter.

“Organizations have already tried to bring social networks into the workplace with various degrees of success,” said Jason Averbook, CEO of The Marcus Buckingham Company. “The interesting thing about Facebook at Work will be to determine if the world is ready to blend personal and business.”

“We hear all the time that the lines have blurred; this will be a huge test of that. If Facebook at Work is just used as a social tool, there are already others out there that integrate into business systems. If Facebook at Work can combine your life with that of your work, the potential is unlimited as long as the world is ready.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Reach her on Twitter @1SHRMScribe.

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