Earlier this year, Facebook took the wraps off Facebook at Work, an enterprise version of the social network that Facebook had designed for businesses that want to build social networks for their employees. After months of pilots, Facebook today is announcing its biggest customer yet: the Royal Bank of Scotland, which plans to have 30,000 workers on its FB@Work network by March of next year, and its entire workforce of 100,000 using the platform by the end of 2016.
The deal signals a new phase for Facebook at Work. It demonstrates Facebook’s ambitions to scale this B2B service just as it has its consumer product (which now has 1.5 billion monthly active users on desktop, 1.3 billion on mobile). And it demonstrates how enterprises are taking Facebook’s effort seriously.
Julien Codorniou, the London-based director of global platform partnerships at Facebook who leads Facebook At Work, says that there are now around 300 businesses using Facebook’s enterprise version.
They include some well-known names like drinks company Heineken, whose U.S. workforce is trialling the product; 4,000 employees from real estate firm Century 21 are also on the platform.
Facebook is not yet charging businesses to use it, but it plans to.
“We’re still in beta but we do plan to monetize, based around a freemium business model,” Codorniou said in an interview. “We are also building sales and marketing teams for Facebook at Work across the globe right now.”
Along with that will come an evolution in the service that will see it competing squarely with other enterprise communication platforms such as Yammer, Chatter at Salesforce, Hipchat, and the very fast-growing Slack.
It seems like more than just a coincidence that Codorniou notes that “every time someone sends an email to more than one person or a list, we see an opportunity for Facebook at Work.” Email overuse and misuse is exactly the thing that Slack CEO and co-founder Stewart Butterfield has said his product is tackling.
How FB@Work Works
Trying to spin a very consumer-friendly product as a secure and safe enterprise collaboration platform may sound odd, if not impossible.
But it’s a lucrative gamble for the social network. Enterprise services can be a high margin game, and collaboration software specifically is forecast to be worth over $8 billion in revenues by 2018.
For Facebook, which largely bases its business model around advertising, if it can get Facebook at Work to fly, it could prove to be a way to diversify and expand the company’s business model to entirely new areas.
Today, Facebook at Work is like a very basic, secure, very walled-garden version of Facebook — conceived originally and used initially by Facebook itself: users on a Work network can follow/friend each other to see general updates posted by them in their work life.
They can also join Groups within their Work account, pending approval. Those Groups, for example, can focus on marketing or a particular project that some people are working on. Users can also directly message each other, and make voice and video calls, as well as share screens with each other.
At RBS, while employees may have Groups that focus, for example, on customer care issues, everything that happens on RBS’s Facebook at Work network will be ring-fenced from the company’s customer-facing operations, as well as from an individual workers’ private Facebook profile (they are essentially be treated as two unlinked, separate accounts).
What you can’t do yet on Facebook at Work is link up other kinds of applications to expand functionality and make different services useable through their Facebook at Work service. It will be that kind of extra functionality — Office 365 support is one example cited by Codorniou — and the support around it that will be likely targets for how Facebook will eventually charge for Facebook at Work usage, rather than for the basic product itself.
RBS is among the companies that has been running an early trial of Facebook at Work, and the company says that its decision to get more involved grew directly out of that:
“The pilot we’ve been running demonstrated we were ready for more,” said Simon McNamara, Chief Administrative Officer at the Royal Bank of Scotland, who oversees the bank’s rollout of the service. “The adoption rate was a phenomenal 90%.”
As with other early adopters of the service, RBS’s use is predicated on the bigger idea of “the consumerization of IT” — people in the working world today use a lot of technology outside of the office, and they want their business software and hardware to be as easy (and fun) to use as what they use away from their desks.
“Almost everyone uses Facebook outside of work. That means I don’t have to train anyone. Some nuances are different but there are more similarities.”
At the same time, the company is trying to get people to communicate in a more engaged way, not just reading what other people are saying but responding to things, too.
McNamara said that the kind of information being shared by RBS teams in their Facebook at Work network might have in the past been posted in on the company’s internal website, or on email. He says he wanted to “dampen email usage” as a platform for sharing ideas with a group. “Email has become a broadcast mechanism where people are not reading much.”