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Workplace by Facebook: a reality check

facebook at work

Internal social tools are fantastic for business. They break down barriers, build connections,and make it easier for employees to collaborate across distances, functions and hierarchies.

As the name suggests, they make work more social, too. But, there’s been an excessive amount of one-sided conversation around Workplace by Facebook recently, generated by those who perhaps don’t understand the company communications landscape as well as they should.

So does Workplace by Facebook live up to the hype? Some words of caution:

Beware of “shiny new object” syndrome

Let’s not be too distracted by shiny new things. Instead, let’s focus on the basics of communication. Communications tools are the tools; not the strategy. Communication channels are the channels; not the message. How we apply them, and what we use them for, is what counts.

The key is to understand the pros and cons of each tool and channel, and when to use them. This means taking into account employee audience demographics, their likely mind-sets, and business objectives.

We also need to remember that important messages need to be repeated multiple times, using multiple channels and tools in order to incite understanding, attitude shift, and/or behavior change.

Just another internal social platform?

When we move beyond the “shiny new object” aura, Workplace by Facebook is just another social platform to consider. Don’t forget alternatives such as Jive, Slack, Microsoft Teams, IBM Jam, and the many other available options. These are all effective employee-to-employee collaboration and social tools, with their own strengths and weakness.

Workplace by Facebook’s biggest value seems to be that user uptake is greater than others because people are already familiar with the platform. After all, Facebook boasts nearly 1.8 billion active monthly users, making it the most widely used social network in the world.

But this represents its own set of issues…

The Facebook effect

Facebook has recently experienced significant problems with perception. Its reputation has been sullied by instances of members’ privacy being exploited and users perpetuating fake news reports. It appears that Workplace by Facebook’s security standards are adequate for enterprise SaaS platforms, but these general platform perception issues are causing users—especially older users—to lose faith. Consequently, this cohort may be reluctant to participate in the platform.

Using a platform owned by Facebook for company communications also forces employees to consider how they should balance their business and social styles. People communicate informally through their personal social networks, liberally using profanity, complaining about their work or people they know, and sharing their hearty opinions on social and political issues. This online style will need to be tempered to be acceptable in a professional environment.

Similarly, it’s fairly common to find yourself in a Facebook hole, losing 30 minutes (or worse) to interesting, but useless posts. This will happen in the workplace, too, creating noise and distraction.

In an effort to make messaging more targeted, Workplace by Facebook has specialized algorithms to allow highlights from different groups to be shown to employees. However, it’s not perfect and tends to focus on things that employees already like or know.

Workplace by Facebook also does not allow employees to choose who can follow them or see their posts. Employees may be concerned about what they post, so therefore opt to post nothing to avoid the risk of being judged or discriminated against.

100% coverage will never be possible

Remember MySpace? The rise and fall of this early social platform all came down to usage.

In the consumer space, only one site could win. There’s a reason why Facebook buys its competitors (i.e., Instagram). Who wants to participate in a social platform if your friends aren’t there?

As with all communication channels, one size does not fit all. Some people will use it to excess; others will never use it, especially if important colleagues are not there.

It’s not an email killer

Can email ever really be replaced by a social platform, when that platform doesn’t have 100% uptake and constant usage (like email currently has)? A platform that requires busy, already distracted employees to actively seek it out is at risk of falling into the “out of sight out of mind” trap. Perhaps Workplace by Facebook will ultimately resort to email notifications, but then that will add to the tsunami of internal email.

In summation, Workplace by Facebook does offer some employees a great way to exchange ideas, collaborate and build connections, similar to other enterprise social platforms already available. It could be a good fit for organizations that already have a social culture (i.e., start-ups and small companies). And it could be effective with mobile and casual workers in transient sectors such as retail and hospitality.

But for large enterprises with a remit to get every employee’s attention, Workplace by Facebook, I’m afraid, is not the cure all.

Sarah Perry is CEO of SnapComms, an award-winning company that develops employee communications software that bypasses e-mail to put important messages in front of employees on any device, anywhere. It has more than 1.3 million paid enterprise users in more than 50 countries.

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