Will Facebook at Work appeal to brands?

The social giant is moving into LinkedIn territory with a professional network. But will it work, David Benady asks.

Facebook, the ever-expanding social network, is reported to be planning to move into the serious world of professional networking with a product called "Facebook at Work".

The immediate and obvious comparisons have been with the likes of LinkedIn and Microsoft. Facebook at Work is a work-based website separate to the main site that will allow users to "chat with colleagues, connect with professional contacts and collaborate over documents," as the Financial Times put it. It is reportedly being developed through the London office.

This is an important move for the company, since many employers ban the use of Facebook in the workplace, considering the site a distraction from work, insecure and with scant regard for privacy. So, clearly, the social network has to first overcome significant image problems.

Some are sceptical about Facebook’s chances in the workplace as this arena is already well-served. Many of LinkedIn’s 330 million users worldwide have painstakingly built up their networks of professional contacts and groups. In addition, there are plenty of tools that allow staff to communicate within their companies and share documents, such as Yammer from Microsoft and Google Drive, as well as offerings from cloud enterprise services such as Salesforce.

Furthermore, companies might think twice about giving Facebook access to sensitive corporate information such as launches and acquisitions. Regulated industries may also baulk at the security threats posed by a network so closely linked to the world’s biggest source of tittle-tattle.

The big question, though, is how Facebook plans to make money from a professional product. About 60 per cent of LinkedIn’s revenue comes from "Talent Solutions" or recruitment, while 20 per cent comes from advertising and 20 per cent from premium subscriptions.

For advertisers, the great attraction of a professional network is that it offers a tightly defined audience who are in a work-related frame of mind. They can be targeted with luxury and upmarket goods, and business services.

But would businesses want to get involved either as advertisers or as partners?

To have your say take part in our poll below...

 

YES Sam Bueno de Mesquita, social director, Newcast, ZenithOptimedia

"Facebook at Work should be a great collaboration app for brands. Unfortunately, it’s not going to get adopted, because the C-suite think Facebook equals time-wasting. Facebook’s own brand will make it a very hard sell."

 

MAYBE Richard Stanton, head of digital planning, MEC

"With Facebook’s heritage, there will come concerns. Starting by running its own business on its platform is an obvious but smart move and will help provide a strong business case study to take to chief technology officers."

 

MAYBE Chris Buckley, director of digital engagement, TMW

"The key here for Facebook, as ever, is scale. It has size, infrastructure and active users. While this is a small pilot, a separate site that focuses on business-to-business use could quickly gain pace."

 

MAYBE Liz Wilson, chief executive, Stack

"Facebook has been resolutely about sharing and personal connections. I’m not sure you can stand for both that and for business connections. Perhaps Facebook has a bigger plan but, for now, it’s really unclear how this fits its brand."