There’s A Big Difference Between Using Facebook ‘At Work’ And ‘For Work’

Editor’s note: Gaurav Jain is a principal at Founder Collective. He was the founding product manager for Google+ Enterprise, Google’s social collaboration product for the workplace, as well as an early product manager for Android.

If you’re an employer, how do you solve a problem like Facebook?

Roughly 61 percent of office workers use social media during the day and Facebook takes up a huge share of that surfing. Its highest traffic actually occurs mid-week between 1 to 3 pm. All told, this 1.5 percent drop in productivity adds up to 12 billion hours wasted per year with a cost of $650 billion dollars to the employee’s companies.

Aside from Outlook and Powerpoint, Facebook is arguably the most widely used software in the enterprise, so it’s no surprise that the social giant recently launched FB@Work by reworking its news feed, messaging, and groups to function as a souped-up corporate intranet. The big question is even though Facebook is used at work, will it be used for work?

As the founding product manager for Google+’s enterprise edition I learned that getting a product to work really well in one context is hard. Making it work in two is nearly impossible. Facebook deserves the benefit of the doubt based on their dominance in social networking, but I remain skeptical.

It’s not that there’s not a huge opportunity, and getting it right is worth the effort. Who wouldn’t prefer to use something like Evernote over Salesforce? Is there an “enterprise-grade” knowledge management tool that’s easier to use than Pocket?

Facebook can leverage its powerful brand, unprecedented install base, and network effects to try and muscle its way into this market, but if history is any guide they’ll have to do a lot more than just repurpose their existing product.

Even a giant like Apple whose consumer-friendly iPhone vaporized BlackBerry’s enterprise advantage needed to change its approach and partner with IBM to increase its use in corporate America. Entrepreneurs trying to bring consumer ideas to the enterprise should be mindful of the unique challenges that exist in cubicles.

Why is making social apps work in an office so hard?

To start, the DNA of the consumer and enterprise development product teams couldn’t be more opposed. Facebook’s mantra, “move fast and break things” helped it connect a billion people across the globe in record time. Practically, this meant entire features would be overhauled, or eliminated, based on Mark Zuckerberg’s singular vision.

This approach doesn’t tend to work in a world defined by contracts and service level agreements. Enterprise software isn’t bad because the people who build it are inept. Rather, byzantine corporate policies lead engineers to implement kludgey solutions which result in lackluster software.

Also, many enterprise firms generate fat margins by tailoring their software to fit within the idiosyncratic workflows of megacorps. One-size-fits-all solutions aren’t popular with buyers who want tools tailored to their business, or sellers who make the bulk of their profits in customization services and maintenance agreements.

It’s hard to imagine Mark Zuckerberg changing his product roadmap to help make a sale to a massive insurance company with hyper-specific requirements, but that’s just another day at Oracle.

This kind of customization leads to bloat and is antithetical to today’s most popular social products. This kind of design by committee often results in valuable engineering resources being dragged into sales meetings. Engineers should “always be coding” not “always be closing.”

Keg stands and key performance indicators don’t mix

Beyond the corporate challenges there is tremendous friction between the needs of individual users and the corporate customers. Good social apps remove the friction from sharing. Most enterprise use cases revolve around the need to keep corporate secrets ensconced in silos.

Moreover, social apps succeed when they’re centered on the user’s personal expression and curated networks controlled by the user. Enterprise apps are hierarchical, modeled on the corporate org and are controlled strictly by administrators. Chances are, if you work in an office you probably have profiles on Facebook and Linkedin. Another for Instagram, HackerNews, Reddit and so on. These distinctions are important. Do most people really want to “friend” their IT guy?

Can You Code in COBOL?

The ability to write code in cutting-edge languages is a boon to consumer-facing startups. New tools are often faster and more enthusiastically supported. A slick tech stack is a key selling point when trying to recruit the best talent.

Unfortunately, enterprise systems, especially those that need to link to healthcare or payroll data, often require integration with legacy code. This results in an unsexy slog through a code base written during the Cold War. Integrate too deeply and you lose the ability to quickly build fun social features. Too little and the tool doesn’t become a real part of your workflow.

The continuation of Facebook’s Foursquare/Instagram/Snapchat-killer strategy?

The biggest question I have is if FB@Work represents a genuine vision for the next stage of the company’s growth or if it’s merely a continuation of Facebook’s long history of trying to “kill” products that challenge its social networking dominance. When Foursquare got hot, Facebook created Places.

After Instagram and WhatsApp started sapping Facebook’s social dominance, Zuckerberg paid billions to bring them into the folds of the corporate hoodie. Snapchat has resisted Facebook’s overtures so far, but Poke and Slingshot represent attempts to stay relevant among teens. An enterprise edition may well have been on Facebook’s roadmap for years, but it feels like Slack’s billion-dollar valuation yanked it out of the backlog.

Facebook’s greatest chance for success is to follow their recent product strategy of creating a disaggregated ecosystem of apps. According to Mark Zuckerberg, “On mobile, each app can only focus on doing one thing well” and so we’ve seen Instagram and WhatsApp remain separate entities with their own teams, code bases and feature sets. Messenger and Groups are even splitting into their own separate apps.

Software used in corporate environments desperately needs an infusion of Facebook’s philosophy, but perhaps not all of our profiles.