Can ‘Facebook for Work’ Topple LinkedIn?
I’d wager that, if you’re reading this at work, you’ve probably checked Facebook at least once or twice today. Even if you haven’t, Mark Zuckerberg wants to change that.
According to various news sources, the folks at Menlo Park are planning to make a power play against LinkedIn by launching a new service designed for office drones – but can it succeed?
‘Facebook for Work’
PC Mag reports that Facebook employees already use a modified version of the Facebook platform internally, and that the company wants to expand access to “Facebook for Work” to a wider audience – namely, you.
The as-yet unnamed product, which was first leaked by The Financial Times (paid subscription required), aims to usurp existing services such as LinkedIn, Google, and Microsoft’s Yammer by allowing people to collaborate on shared documents, chat with their coworkers, and “connect with professional contacts.” Sounds like the lovechild of Google Drive, LinkedIn and an instant messaging client.
At the time of this writing, no further details have emerged, including a potential release date, a working name for the product, or pretty much anything else. Regardless, the news has already got people talking, particularly when it comes to the likelihood of Facebook dominating the professional social networking space.
LinkedIn in the Streets, Facebook in the Sheets
One of the project’s biggest challenges is overcoming the stigma associated with professional social networking services. Let’s face it – as popular and effective as LinkedIn can be, it’s not exactly the sexiest service on the internet.
Another problem Facebook has to deal with is convincing large organizations that their documents – many of which contain sensitive, proprietary information – are safe from prying eyes. This is arguably Facebook’s biggest challenge, given Zuckerberg’s cavalier attitude toward user privacy in the past and Facebook’s previously labyrinthine approach to privacy policies.
The privacy and security of “Facebook at Work” aren’t just conceptual challenges. If businesses are going to entrust internal communications to Facebook, the platform has to offer a suitably robust technical solution for doing so. Sure, users already have the option of using the HTTPS protocol, but the potential vulnerabilities of Facebook Messenger will have to be dealt with before many companies will be willing to experiment with the new platform.
Facebook remains tight-lipped about how it plans to deal with these not-inconsequential problems, but with LinkedIn alone valued at an estimated $1.3 billion, there’s plenty of incentive to try.
‘Facebook for Work’ – A Separation of Church and State?
The other aspect of “Facebook for Work” that is intriguing is Facebook’s apparent desire to separate the personal and professional lives of its users.
Given how much emphasis has been placed on professional accomplishments in Facebook (particularly after the launch of Timeline in 2011) and how prominently educational and work-related information is displayed in users’ profiles, it could be seen as counterintuitive for Facebook to segment its user base in this fashion – unless you’re an advertiser, of course.
LinkedIn’s evolution from a simple social network into a publishing medium and advertising platform (here's more on LinkedIn Ads) have proven highly effective (and lucrative) for the service, a market that Facebook seems intent on targeting. It’s not unreasonable to think that, by offering a service aimed solely at professionals, Facebook could further increase its advertising revenues and apply different rules to how and when content is displayed to users.
It also opens up new potential revenue channels for Facebook. Third-party apps for businesses? Sponsored features? New advertising formats? If Facebook can successfully split the service into the personal and professional, the rules of the game could change radically – especially if Facebook leverages the considerable power of its Atlas advertising platform with Facebook for Work.
Pretender to the Crown?
It’s far too soon to say whether Facebook for Work has a chance of even competing with LinkedIn, Google, and the rest of the established players in the professional space. If the reports are true, however, it’s a powerful indicator of Facebook’s long-term plans to move beyond the personal and gain a foothold in the office.