Internal Communications

The arrival of Facebook at Work

Facebook at Work promises to shake up employee engagement with a new platform based on the familiar social network

Email is dead. Facebook has killed it. Or at least, that’s the rumour.

Since Facebook at Work was launched in its beta mode at the beginning of this year, the social network’s workplace-specific platform has been tested by more than 450 companies across the globe, including the Royal Bank of Scotland and Norway’s DNB Bank.

It promises a more connected workplace, complete with familiar features such as the News Feed, groups, messages and events. Instead of receiving updates from friends, as with a personal Facebook account, Facebook at Work allows you to create and join groups with co-workers to be a part of relevant conversations.

But what makes Facebook at Work different from any other enterprise social media tool, such as Microsoft’s Yammer?

‘What Facebook is trying to do is own everyone’s entry point to the Internet,’ explains John Brown, head of engagement at Hotwire PR. ‘For rest and play, they already do this, but they struggle with owning that space while you are working. You can now easily switch between [personal and professional] accounts so it’s designed to maintain dwell time on the platform.’

According to Charles Fenoughty, digital director at internal communications agency Sequel Group, its familiarity will be the key to its success. ‘It’s Facebook so everybody knows how to use it,’ he says. ‘It has all the functionality and things that people are comfortable with but it’s more like Facebook was five years ago, with chronological posts from people you interact with and are interested in most. It can’t be manipulated and is not fitting any money-making agenda like commercial Facebook. It’s much fairer. If you have nothing but the traditional Intranet, then yes, it will revolutionise your internal communications, but you could probably get the same benefits from Yammer or Jive.’

Brown agrees that, ultimately, the buzz around Facebook at Work comes from its ubiquitous parent. ‘The vast majority of people know how to work it,’ he explains. ‘It’s pervasive. It’s a powerful way to integrate into an organisation quickly. People still have to learn Yammer. People aren’t necessarily going to have to learn this.’

It has all the functionality and things that people are comfortable with but it’s more like Facebook was five years ago, with chronological posts from people you interact with and are interested in most.

One company that has experienced Facebook’s familiarity work first-hand is Heineken UK. It has been trialling Facebook at Work since 4 July, and within four weeks saw 65 per cent of colleagues join the platform. It had tried Yammer, but according to head of internal communications Ann McDonagh, this didn’t have quite the same appeal.

‘[Yammer] was not extensively used,’ says McDonagh. ‘Facebook is hugely popular socially and to not have something like that internally was a gap. We had to look to the digital world.’

Communications agency Weber Shandwick was the first in the public relations industry to sign up for Facebook at Work and has found the experience illuminating, not only from its own perspective, but also for its ability to advise clients. ‘One thing that stands out is that people know how Facebook works,’ says Michelle Giuda, senior vice president of global corporate communications at Weber Shandwick.

‘It makes adoption really easy. There’s minimal education needed.’ Ease of adoption may be one reason to look to Facebook but there are functionality issues that, according to users, also make it worthwhile. Other enterprise social networks, such as Slack, are not as comprehensive. ‘Slack is for messaging,’ says Brown. ‘It’s a continuous stream of real-time messages. It’s fundamentally a messaging and file sharing tool, whereas Facebook at Work is a complete communications facility.’

Fenoughty adds: ‘It will make things faster and easier. It’s more natural and what people do all the time. What it does is give a voice to the person who can’t be bothered and it will give a voice to the person who is perhaps too scared to speak up.’

We launched it quickly with the view that if there were issues, we’d deal with them

Users do not need to have a Facebook account before signing up, that can be done with their work email address, but those who want to switch between their personal and professional accounts can do so easily. While this might raise concerns about people posting inappropriate content on their work profile, those who have tested the platform say it is easy to differentiate between the two modes of Facebook.

‘The threat they face is from big corporations used to seeing it as an out of work platform,’ says Brown. He adds that Facebook at Work has a grey facade, as opposed to its more traditional blue, using less vibrant colours to make it more serious. ‘It is very clear when you’re on work mode and when you’re on personal.’

Weber Shandwick has used its early foot in the door to draft Facebook at Work guidelines, in the same way it would any platform, but Heineken took a less prescriptive approach. ‘There was nervousness as you can imagine,’ explains McDonagh. ‘We launched it quickly with the view that if there were issues, we’d deal with them. We didn’t want to go in with do’s and don’ts and This will be monitored on a regular basis. There’s nothing we’ve had to go on and remove. It’s self-regulated and we have a backseat role in that. We need to treat our colleagues like adults and so far so good.’

That is not to say there aren’t some problems with the platform itself. For instance, Facebook has remained largely closeted about how much the service will cost when it is out of beta mode and at the moment, the Facebook at Work app is only available on iOS and Android phones, making difficulties for those companies such as Heineken, whose employees have Windows phones.

Another potential issue is that the platform is cloud-based, making it difficult for some companies to use if they are not allowed to store data outside the country in which they are based. ‘There are technical niggles to overcome,’ says Fenoughty. ‘Opening up Intranet outside of network infrastructure doesn’t always work and part of the beauty of Facebook is checking it on the train.’

Weber Shandwick has been working closely with Facebook on ironing out these niggles as part of their beta testing.

‘There have been learnings and challenges,’ admits Giuda. ‘We have been working directly with Facebook on giving them direct feedback and talking to other companies on the beta trial. For example, asking for real-time editing on documents, instead of having to constantly send updated versions. We’ve run a couple of polls with the poll facility on the platform on what’s working and what’s not. We’ve been doing a lot of listening.’

Weber Shandwick has also looked at metrics regarding top influencers and contributors on the platform. During the agency’s annual 15X15 Global Exchange initiative, where 15 colleagues visit 15 different offices around the world and share their experiences online, it saw engagement levels double, but Weber Shandwick is also clear that the involvement of senior leadership is vital to the platform’s success.

‘Senior engagement is really key,’ says Giuda. ‘It sends a message that it’s an important platform and it brings visibility to executives that you wouldn’t usually get. It also helps with hesitancy; you’re sharing posts that the entire company can see. Having senior leaders do that sends out the signal that we’re all participating. When colleagues see that the senior management is active on a platform, they are more inspired and encouraged to interact.’

The same is true for Heineken. ‘It’s a chicken and egg situation,’ says McDonagh. ‘The leadership have to see the value of having such channels for employees, but when employees see the leadership commenting and interacting on that platform, they are more likely to join. We want all of our colleagues to use it but it’s hugely powerful if the leadership comment and ‘like’ all the good work being posted. What it gives you is that immediacy – straight from the horse’s mouth, as opposed to just in a newsletter.’

When colleagues see that the senior management is active on a platform, they are more inspired and encouraged to interact

But there is still a place for a newsletter and the Intranet is far from dead. For one thing, Facebook at Work can’t replace the Intranet – it has no data store. But it is likely to be a democratising influence, and will, according to Fenoughty, bring great content posted on the Intranet to the fore. It will not be about just having a bigger budget anymore.

‘It’s a platform to get together and share content from other channels,’ says Fenoughty. ‘Just as normal Facebook surfaces articles from Reddit and Buzzfeed, Facebook at Work should surface content from the Intranet. Content that’s dull won’t stand out anymore. Content will have to stand on its own two feet.’

Whether it will shake up internal communications depends on the organisation and the work they put behind it, argues Giuda. ‘It comes down to not the platform but the engagement strategy that goes with it.’

Katie Buckett, founder of consultancy OneFifty agrees. ‘[Facebook at Work] does address some of the barriers to effective digital internal communications and it’s from Facebook so it will be a solid platform – but that’s only fifty per cent of the battle,’ she says.

‘Just taking what it does fulfil on, the familiar interface means ease of use across devices (no need to login to an Intranet), ability to manage user IDs and employees instantly being able to interact with it. However, what it doesn’t solve is the understanding from internal communications about what is really needed for effective internal communications – the substance of what will go on the channel.

‘Essentially this comes down to two key areas: Firstly, a robust understanding and use of data to know exactly what people want to see on internal platforms (and not just what you want them to see). Secondly an understanding of your employees’ behaviours to get under the skin of what’s going to make them engage with that content. That’s what will revolutionise internal communications. Wrapping it up in a familiar interface that’s easy to use is then a great vehicle for that.’

‘It’s just another enterprise social network,’ says Fenoughty. ‘It’s like VHS versus Betamax in the 1980s. One could be better than the other, but the one more readily available wins.’

So one thing is for sure – it is not actually going to replace anything. McDonagh is confident enough that some content will work only on Facebook at Work, such as the initial colleague competition to get people to sign up and give feedback on the platform, whilst other opportunities will be elsewhere on other channels.

‘Facebook is not the answer to all colleague engagement. It’s another tool in the employee engagement toolkit,’ she explains. ‘We have lots of channels, all with different tailored content; I’m comfortable with that. We have a TV channel, an internal magazine and newsletter emails. Whether they will all continue, we’ll see.’

Facebook is not the answer to all colleague engagement. It’s another tool in the employee engagement toolkit

And it’s not actually going to bump off the hardy email either, though those using Facebook at Work may be lucky enough to see slightly less of them, with the majority focused externally, as internal interaction moves to the enterprise social network.

‘It’s not going to be an email killer by any stretch of the imagination, but you’ll be checking it once every half hour as opposed to every five minutes,’ says Brown. ‘It’s going to make email a lot more efficient.’

‘It’s supplementing everything else, not replacing it,’ says Giuda. ‘There might be a shift away from email, but I don’t know if that’ll happen entirely. It depends on how people end up using it.’

So will it revolutionise internal communications? Probably not. But will it make an impact? Almost definitely. ‘It will have enough impact to have a groundswell of employees demanding it from their employers,’ says Brown.

Fenoughty agrees. ‘There’s a brilliant buzz. People want to be first. It’s new and fun and it makes the company seem really open, cool and transparent. It’s brilliant for some people as their first dip into enterprise social media. Anything that helps a company open up and embrace the voice of the misheard is great. Facebook is the name that makes them pay attention.’


This article first appeared in issue 108