How to Choose a Social Network for Work

Facebook has launched new iOS and Android apps called “Facebook at Work,” as well as a mini Facebook inside the regular Facebook that lets businesses create exclusive social networks for employees.

When you download the app, it forces you through a series of screens on which Facebook tells you what the app is for. The first screen says: “Companies use Facebook at Work to give their employees a place to connect and collaborate.” The second screen says: “Facebook at Work includes group messages and tools that are perfect for discussing projects and getting to know co-workers.”

The third screen tells you that you can’t use Facebook at Work because your company isn’t one of the tiny number of companies selected for the limited trial. Then it dumps you off into a Facebook at Work FAQ.

The apps are public, but the beta is very private and exclusive: It’s for a limited number of companies with 100 or more employees.

Facebook at Work looks, feels and works more or less like the normal everyday Facebook. The color scheme is more white-on-white rather than blue-on-white, and there are other small differences. You can create separate log-ins for your employees to use Facebook at Work, or they can choose to connect their existing Facebook log-ins to activate their Work accounts.

Facebook at Work evolved from an internal social network that Facebook itself has used for about 10 years. So far, Facebook hasn’t announced plans for monetization: whether it will be ad-supported, subscription-based or monetized in some other way.

Joining a Crowded Field

When Facebook eventually makes its Facebook at Work product open to all businesses, it’s going to join a very crowded field. Everyone wants to be the Facebook for business—or the Twitter for business.

Meanwhile, LinkedIn is also evolving into the kind of social network that companies can use for internal communication. The company recently revealed that it plans to add a new way for employees to share contact information and documents.

LinkedIn currently specializes in connecting people with other professionals outside the companies they work in: business partners, prospective employers and employees. It’s built around protecting users from potential spammers, marketers, spambots and other unwanted connections.

The future version of LinkedIn will allow communication between people who work for the same company, even if they’re not connected on LinkedIn in the usual way. The company reportedly plans to start a pilot program for the new features in a few weeks.

Other business social networks include Slack, Yammer, Convo, Socialcast and a few dozen others.

Choosing the Right Social Network

At first glance, Facebook’s Work offering may seem like a no-brainer. After all, Facebook is clearly the leading brand in social networking, and most of your employees already know how to use it.

But take a second look. Facebook is risky. First, we can safely assume Facebook will monetize the service at some point in the future. If you jump on board now, your company will invest enormous resources and buy-in before the monetization scheme is announced.

What if they employ the same system as the consumer site? What if their model is to harvest personal and professional data? And what if they algorithmically filter results? What if only 15 percent of the messages sent are delivered—if Facebook decides which company communications are important and which ones aren’t.