In 2010, the enterprise social media platform Yammer launched ‘version 2.0’ and hit the market hard, boasting three million global users and 80,000 companies (including 80% of the then Fortune 500 list). Described at the time as “Facebook for enterprise”, the platform borrowed heavily from Facebook’s feature set and interface, and very deliberately tried to emulate the user experience to leverage the familiarity users had from their non-work lives.

Yammer’s ability to keep content secured behind a company domain name gave it the edge for commercial use over the public facing offering from Facebook. Six years on, and with a number of other big players (such as Slack) providing business-focused social networks, collaboration tools and systems to the market, Facebook has finally launched its own product into the world. Enter Workplace by Facebook.

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What is Workplace by Facebook?

Workplace is closely positioned alongside services like Slack (the buzzy instant chat/collaboration app) and Yammer (Microsoft’s old Facebook clone), but also brings in elements of Google+ and Gmail. In Facebook’s own words “we’ve brought the best of Facebook to the Workplace” and this is probably the main selling point, using Workplace ISusing Facebook.

User accounts are distinct, content is secured away from public eyes, and the interface is subtly different (a whiter, cleaner look over the traditional blue), however the features are so familiar (profiles, newsfeeds, likes, comments, groups, direct messaging, Facebook Live, etc.) that anyone with a Facebook account will feel immediately at home using Workplace.

Facebook has also developed additional Workplace features like file sharing (delivered through a partnership with Box), single sign-on, and multi-company groups that enable users from two different Workplaces to set up collaborative spaces. Behind the scenes there are flexible administration controls and a business-specific version of Facebook Analytics to monitor usage and engagement.

In essence, Facebook has already trained two billion people globally to use its new product, which could make a huge difference to organisations looking to roll out a new platform with minimal training.

There are also benefits behaviourally. Facebook boasts some impressive active user statistics, with many people habitually logging in many times a day to keep up-to-date on their friends and interests. Facebook is keen to leverage this existing behaviour for Workplace in an attempt to tackle the established problem of how to get people to engage with new platforms.

Who’s using Workplace?

Facebook has been keen to point out that it has over 1,000 partner organisations already on-board as part of Workplace’s pre-release programme, including big names like the Royal Bank of Scotland, Starbucks, Danone and Booking.com.

A particular highlight is the announcement that the entire Singapore civil service will be moving onto the platform by March 2017. This is a considerable coup, as not only will this one deal see Facebook pocket approximately $1.7million of licence fees per year for the 143,000 users (in context that is 11% of the total paid users Slack has), but, as importantly, it’s taken the contract away from rivals like Microsoft who traditionally would have that sector covered with its Yammer/Teams/SharePoint combination offering. Expect more large scale announcements over the coming months.

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The cost of Workplace

Facebook has taken a slightly different approach to the pricing structure for Workplace. Traditionally these sorts of services take a tiered approach, usually offering a free option for basic functionality and then a premium upgrade for additional features (e.g. Slack charge $8 per active user, Yammer had a similar structure until Microsoft merged the service with its Office365 platform).

Workplace however has no free tier and instead has a sliding scale where pricing depends on the total number of users – ranging from $1-$3 per user per month. It’s an attractive offer for bigger businesses, and for Facebook it means every user is paying their way. This highly competitive pricing is a benefit of not needing to grow a user base or build your credentials in the digital space, as would a traditional tech start-up!

Access to Workplace

Possibly. Despite being a premium product, Facebook is taking a phased approach to the launch of Workplace, and is currently inviting organisations to apply for a corporate account. The decision-making process on those applications isn’t in the public domain, but my assumption is that Facebook is more likely to favour companies that can provide scale – despite the irony of its launch video focusing on a small, trendy textile company not a multi-national – and potentially other factors around use cases, types of industry, and probably whatever empowers its own PR purposes in this delicate launch phase.

That said, my expectation is that once its base user count is established, the service will become less ring-fenced, and anyone will eventually be able to add their billing instructions and get their own Workplace.

A ubiquitous social platform?

It’s hard to bet against Facebook when it comes to developing a ubiquitous social platform, and although Workplace is still very much in its infancy, the initial signs already point to it becoming a major player in the sector.

However, with many large organisations already tied to solutions such as Slack or Microsoft’s suite of tools, Facebook will need to build and maintain momentum to put Workplace fully in the frame and live up to the touted title of ‘Slack killer’.

Andrew Malone
November 2016.