Tuesday, November 18, 2014

$FB - 'Facebook at Work' could target Google and LinkedIn

It's not enough for Facebook Inc. to cash in on workers wasting time on the social network at work, it wants a piece of LinkedIn and Google Docs action, too. 

The biggest social network on the planet has over 1.3 billion members, but it hasn't yet cracked the workplace like $LNKD - LinkedIn, $GOOG - Google Inc. and $MSFT - Microsoft Corp.. It's currently experimenting with "Facebook at Work" collaboration tool, which allows employees to share documents and data, and could be available as soon as January at companies that sign up for the service, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a person briefed on the matter. It may or may not include a cloud-sharing system. (A spokeswoman for $FB - Facebook declined to comment.) 

A report in the Financial Times said the professional version of the site will have a newsfeed and groups, but will be separate from a user's personal profile, which could have elements like family videos, vacation photos or political articles, that they'd rather not share with their workmates. 

"Facebook is running out of humans," says Adam Levin, co-founder of online-security company Identity Theft 911. Some IT departments have actually taken steps to block Facebook in the work environment as people are spending too much time on it while at work, he says. Workers spend between 60% and 80% of their time at work "cyberloafing" or surfing the Internet for personal reasons, a Kansas State University study published last year in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found. 

But despite efforts to curb its use at the office, Facebook is already a constant presence in the workplace, says Tim Sackett, president of HRU Technical Resources, an information technology and engineering staffing firm in Lansing, Mich. "Facebook is really the only other social media platform that's a threat to LinkedIn's empire," he says. "It has more data and more users. It has electricians, plumbers, truck drivers, teachers, accountants, restaurant managers and entry level college students of every major." With only 322 million users, LinkedIn is still a minnow compared to Facebook's Leviathan. 

Facebook is also a fun social network where people have learned about their own personal brand and how to present themselves online for job hunters who investigate their digital footprint, and could usurp LinkedIn much in the same way a more intuitive iPhone replaced the BlackBerry for both work and play, Sackett says. "That is the one giant drawback of LinkedIn," he adds. "People only go to LinkedIn when they're looking for a job. They go to Facebook every day, all day. Facebook at Work has the real potential to eat LinkedIn's lunch." 

That said, Facebook has had a challenging time trying to break away from its origins, says John Bonini, content marketing manager of Impact Branding & Design in Wallingford, Conn. Facebook Graph, a search took that took aim at Google Search; Pages, a news magazine app; and Slingshot, a Snapchat-like instant messaging app, all failed to catch on in a big way, he says. "LinkedIn has positioned itself as a publishing platform," he adds. "I have published articles on LinkedIn and earned thousands of views from them." 

Facebook's privacy policy changes and data aggregation may also make companies nervous. "I'd be concerned about sharing anything I don't want to become public with Facebook," says technology consultant Jeff Kagan. But others say convenience and familiarity could trump that. "The number of workers who use Facebook will anticipate a transition to Facebook at Work easy and seamless," says Steve Langerud, a workplace consultant based in Grinnell, Iowa. "I would not be concerned about using this tool." 

By Quentin Fottrell