Facebook launched Workplace last October with the aim of bringing its immensely popular social network to the world of business. The service combines the look and feel of Facebook’s consumer app with features targeted toward enterprise users.
Its main advantage lies in its instant familiarity among end users. With 240 million Facebook users in the U.S. alone, chances are employees will already know their way around the application. From a business perspective this has a number of benefits. It means that there is less time spent training staff to use a new tool, and, in theory at least, increases the likelihood of strong uptake across an organization.
Of course, breaking into the fast-changing and increasingly crowded collaboration market brings its own difficulties. The social network has led the way in connecting families and friends, but convincing large organizations that it is ready to do the same job for staff is a much bigger challenge. And with Workplace, Facebook has come up against both established enterprise software firms such as Microsoft, Cisco and Google as well as a range of new chat platforms focused on team-based collaboration, such as Slack.
So how has Workplace fared in winning over corporate customers 12 months after its official launch?
According to 451 Research senior analyst Raúl Castañón-Martínez, despite some challenges in moving into the enterprise market, Workplace has achieved “remarkable growth” in the relatively short time it has been available.
The application is currently used by more than 14,000 organizations globally, according to Facebook, up from 1,000 at the end of its private beta. Royal Bank of Scotland was one of the big corporate users announced before the service’s full launch — back when Workplace was named Facebook at Work — with the multi-national bank rolling out the software for its 100,000-strong workforce in late 2015. Last week, Facebook announced Walmart as its latest customer win, a significant deal with a retail giant that employs 2.2 million staff globally.
And with interest in collaboration software booming, there is plenty more room for growth. “It might seem like Workplace was a bit late to launch, but the party is just getting started,” said Castañón-Martínez. “Slack has experienced phenomenal growth and has not been around for that long. If you look at the total addressable market, they’ve just begun scratching the surface. This means the market is still growing and is up for grabs.”
How does Workplace work?
Workplace has a similar look and feel to its consumer-focused equivalent — including the familiar central News Feed — making it easy for new users to pick up. Its instant messaging tool, Work Chat, allows colleagues to chat or set up 1:1 video calls. Groups can be created to focus on specific projects, while a multi-company feature enables staff to communicate with external teams. Live video streaming allows organizations to engage with a large number of employees at once.
And the differences between Facebook’s consumer application and the enterprise version go deeper than swapping the familiar blue interface for a businesslike gray. There are additional features targeted towards IT admins, including an analytics dashboard, single sign-on capabilities and two-factor authentication.
Workplace faces competition from a variety of companies, such as the enterprise social networks that Facebook to some degree inspired, including Jive, Microsoft’s Yammer and IBM Connections. Its functionality also overlaps that of team collaboration tools such as Slack, Microsoft Teams and Atlassian Stride, though there are differences in focus.
“Slack is more closely associated with traditional team collaboration, where people constantly work with each other, communicate often and need to coordinate their efforts. Social networks can certainly fill that role, but they have a stronger affinity to broader, less formal conversations,” said Gartner research director Larry Cannell. “Workplace’s focus on groups has tried to bring it closer to team collaboration, but their heritage as a social network still influences assumptions people make about them.”
Facebook offers two tiers for its product, Workplace Premium and a free Standard tier unveiled earlier this year. The free tier provides limited functionality and support but includes the full range of communication features, such as live video streaming, voice and video calls and group chat.
The premium tier adds various enterprise-level features and costs $3 per user for the first 1,000 active users, $2 per user for the next 9,000 active users and $1 per user thereafter. It is free for nonprofit organizations and staffers at educational institutes.
Castañón-Martínez said that Facebook has targeted large-scale “volume adoption” across enterprises with Workplace. “The same can be said of other competitors, but Facebook is particularly aggressive about this approach,” he said, adding that Facebook’s pricing reflects this. “It is similar to Atlassian’s — and to a certain extent, Slack’s, whose products have been successful with viral adoption and are known for low price/high volume pricing strategy.”
With the introduction of its free tier, Facebook has arguably courted smaller businesses as well. “For some small companies, Workplace could effectively become their social network, intranet and group messaging system,” said Cannell.
Gaining a foothold in the enterprise
Facebook’s name recognition has helped it attract some big-name customers to Workplace early on. However, it does not have the legacy of deep enterprise relationships that some rivals do, and building credibility with a corporate customer base is not straightforward.
“Workplace by Facebook has nailed usability but not enterprise trust,” said Craig Le Clair, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. Several companies that conducted pilot deployments of Workplace subsequently ended them “due to inflexible terms and conditions that indicate a lack of maturity in enterprise agreements,” he said.
“Others do not trust Facebook with internal proprietary communication,” Le Clair added. “Still others have not overcome Facebook’s association with fun rather than work.”
One way Facebook has improved Workplace’s appeal as a business application is with the addition of integrations with third-party software tools, available at the premium pricing tier. While these were thin on the ground at launch, in April of this year Facebook announced a series of integrations with the likes of Salesforce, Dropbox and Microsoft Office, making it easier to share information and collaborate within Workplace.
It also recently announced an integration with videoconferencing firm BlueJeans. “This brings Workplace closer to the unified communications and audio/video conferencing players,” said Castañón-Martínez. “It also makes it a close competitor for Stride, Atlassian’s new business communications product.”
That said, Workplace still lags Slack in the number and variety of integrations it supports. “Workplace could probably expand their value proposition with further integration to third-party applications, which is something Slack has been particularly good at,” Castañón-Martínez said.
While Facebook is attempting to become more enterprise-friendly, Castañón-Martínez said, its main strength remains in its position as the owner of the world’s largest social network, as well as social messaging apps such as Messenger and WhatsApp.
“The popularity [of these consumer apps] will not automatically translate into user adoption for Workplace, but it is undeniable that the company has acquired extensive experience in the messaging space,” he said. “It is precisely the ease of use and viral adoption of these apps that enterprise messaging applications have tried to emulate from the beginning.”