Facebook has struggled so far to monetise its business-focused version of itself, Workplace by Facebook, but a change of direction in security, leadership and pricing may see it successfully challenge its rivals in 2019.

Workplace by Facebook debuted late in 2016, marking the social media giant’s first foray into business collaboration, it was created with the same look and feel as its consumer equivalent, but with tailored features focused on team collaboration and integration.

Facebook’s advertising revenues through 2018 were strong, but its consumer subscriber base was reported to be levelling off, particularly in the US.

For Facebook, Workplace opened the door to developing an identity beyond consumer-centric social networking, ideal in light of numerous recent user data privacy controversies.

However, despite attracting some big-name business clients, Workplace appeared to have achieved minimal success and has remained something of an outlier in the business collaboration marketplace relative to its competitors: Cisco and Microsoft. This is possibly due both to its position as the “big brother” to Facebook’s consumer product, considered a trivial waste of time by many, and by the steady stream of bad press about Facebook’s consumer security and privacy woes.

Some recent announcements have garnered new attention for Workplace, momentum that might help turn around its prospects in the business market in 2019, but is Workplace ready?

A major coup

Facebook’s Workplace customer list boasts well-known brands such as Campbell’s, Walmart, Starbucks, Virgin Atlantic and Heineken, and the company claimed, in late 2017, a customer base of more than 30,000 business organisations.

Its entrenched competitors may boast of larger numbers: Microsoft Teams claims around 329,000 client organisations and Slack highlights 70,000 paid teams, but these figures do not necessarily reflect the number of employees using these services in their day-to-day business activities.

In early January, Workplace claimed a strategic win when global food conglomerate Nestlé announced it was in the midst of a companywide deployment of Workplace, which it said was to help the company react more quickly to customer demand.

In a single move, Nestlé, signed up about 210,000 global employees, representing a major coup for social media behemoth. Facebook also announced it was experiencing improved internal engagement from its Workplace implementation.

This sort of announcement gives substantial credibility to a product, particularly for a company such as Facebook trying to move beyond its consumer roots to become a serious business services contender.

Security concerns

Workplace was designed as a business-class offering that enabled team collaboration and came with business-ready security features, but its intended audience may find it hard to see the overarching Facebook brand as anything but an albatross. Facebook has come under fire following its consumer privacy controversies, potentially colouring Workplace’s market perception.

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The social media group has made a point of publicising its Workplace security practices and compliance certifications on its website as a way to address these concerns.

In December 2018, the company announced that Workplace was certified to the ISO/IEC 27018:2014 standard, a global benchmark that protects personally identifiable information in public cloud computing environments. The company has received ISO 27001 accreditation for the confidentiality information the organisation controls, and its processes are compliant with EU data protection and privacy agreements under the General Data Protection Regulation.

These assurances offer support for the Workplace brand, but the knowledge that a security incident for Workplace could spell disaster provides further incentive for Facebook to ensure that its security and privacy practices meet the highest possible standards.

Leadership

Facebook is a familiar brand and interface, and Workplace includes a variety of business features, but Workplace is thin relative to its leading competitors in areas such as standard integrations with popular business applications for productivity and sales and marketing.

APIs are supported for application integration, but Facebook offers little directly in implementation support beyond a knowledge base and technical support via email; customers with large, complex needs must look to integration partners for broader design and implementation support.

Facebook recently expanded leadership at Workplace, appointing Karandeep Anand as the new director of Workplace in December 2018. Anand’s background as the director of Facebook infrastructure and Facebook product management for marketplace & payments, plus 15 years of product management at Microsoft, appears to signal plans to invest in Workplace’s capabilities in the coming year to address service gaps.

Market visibility

Facebook has gained a toehold in some large corporations, but the company needs to employ new tactics to increase Workplace’s visibility to help it build on its base of paying customers. To this end, it is unclear what approach Facebook will take.

With the service available for free, or a nominal monthly per active user fee for the premium offering (which includes application integration and IT monitoring tools, among other things), Facebook must find ways to make Workplace a viable long-term revenue stream for the company.

Facebook has the financial resources and the brand recognition to raise Workplace’s market visibility and increase momentum, but the company must show its commitment to the enterprise market by investing in areas that are important to this segment, from application integration to implementation and adoption services and flexible technical support. Failing that, Workplace will remain a minor player in the business communications market.

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