Facebook is secretly trialling a platform for businesses to use in the workplace called “Facebook at Work”, according to a leak reported by the Financial Times.
The service will allow staff to chat with colleagues, connect with professional contacts and share documents, and will directly take on Facebook’s competitors Microsoft, Google and Linkedin, according to the report.
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According to “people familiar with the matter”, Facebook at Work would look and operate in a similar way to the existing platform but users will be able to keep their personal profiles separate from their work accounts.
Facebook employees have reportedly been trialling the site in their daily work for the past year and the platform is now being tested with other companies as its launch approaches.
With Facebook now 10 years old, the new platform would be a dramatic new move for the social network, which currently sees 1.25 billion people log on each month.
Social media strategist Dionne Kasian-Lew told SmartCompany taking on competitors such as Google and Linkedin could be “a fork in the road” for the company.
“It’s an interesting moment in time for Facebook,” says Kasian-Lew. “From a business point of view it makes sense – there are 1.25 billion users on Facebook and people are already very familiar and comfortable with structure.”
Kasian-Lew believes staff will likely support Facebook in the workplace because they find it intuitive to use.
“Consumers will welcome it. People are using Facebook at work anyway, or if it’s blocked, they are accessing it on their smartphone. I think the ‘ignore it and it will go away attitude’ won’t get employers anywhere,” she says.
Kasian-Lew says in the coming years, staff will come into the workforce who have never lived without social media, making a further argument for such socially-integrated workplace innovations. She also says there is research to suggest social platforms in the workplace do improve productivity.
Yet Kasian-Lew believes it will be an uphill battle to convince employers of these benefits, with many executives still reticent of social media.
Public relations and social media specialist Catriona Pollard agrees.
“Most employers do not like their staff Facebooking at work. That is going to be an issue – changing their perspective,” Pollard told SmartCompany.
Pollard says the move is likely a strategy to generate additional revenue streams for Facebook.
“They are being forced to approach product innovation in creative ways and Facebook hasn’t been known for innovation. It’s an interesting growth step and shows they know their competitors.”
Both Pollard and Kasian-Lew say the biggest challenge Facebook will likely meet is convincing employers it has overcome it issues with privacy and confidentially.
“Document storage within the network will raise record keeping and corporate governance issues,” says Kasian-Lew. “This will force them [Facebook] to start thinking through privacy and governance issues, and start working with business more.”
Pollard agrees Facebook will have to work hard to overcome recent reports around confidentially and data mining.
“Facebook has had issues with privacy and data mining, although to be honest, most platforms are using data for their own purposes. But Facebook has openly done it and as a company, you would have concerns about using it [Facebook at Work],” she says “They’ve got some challenges ahead.”
Facebook declined to comment.