Towards the end of last year, reports resurfaced of Facebook's plans to enter the enterprise market with a version of its ubiquitous social network. Facebook at Work has been dubbed both a LinkedIn and Google Drive killer and is slated for release early this year.
Yet far from directly challenging LinkedIn it seems obvious to me that Facebook at Work simply confirms the case for LinkedIn stepping in and doing the same thing itself. It is actually in a much better position than anyone else to do this kind of thing, and could offer enterprises a far more useful product.
The typical enterprise social network
Anyone who has setup, managed or simply used a company intranet or enterprise social network will be aware of their inherent failings. Day one: the system launches, and everyone has to fill out yet another personal profile. Adding job skills is then fairly straight forward, but doubtless hundreds of man hours are lost every year as people pick and re-pick suitable profile photos.
The latest enterprise social networks like Yammer and Jive will then ask users to connect to and follow useful colleagues. Hideously complex algorithms will constantly flag up Geoff from accounts, which isn't a great deal of help for most. Users instead generally add those they can see from their desk. Genuinely useful contacts, such as those who can help on a current project and that promotion, are missed.
Then there comes the most popular use case of any social network – status updates and messaging. Users are given yet another activity feed, another private inbox to manage and quite often another destination to post up content or blog posts.
The whole process smacks of reinventing the wheel. Aren't we doing this stuff already? Facebook thinks so, hence Facebook at Work. But actually many people are already engaged in much more relevant, business-oriented activity on LinkedIn. Users of that site have a fairly business-focused user profile, oodles of useful connections and are plugged into an ecosystem of existing useful business content.
LinkedIn is in a unique position
So LinkedIn is already fulfilling a lot of the use cases of a good enterprise social network. People have a profile, have curated their skills and experience, and have added useful connections. What's more they have done all of this because they want to, not because of some expensive "change management" programme or "user adoption" initiative.
Of course an internal enterprise version of LinkedIn has several challenges to overcome. Nobody wants their boss to see that they are 'Currently open to new opportunities'. But this is no different to not wanting your Facebook holiday photos appearing in your Facebook at Work activity stream. Clearly there is some thinking to be done to separate LinkedIn and LinkedIn at Work, but these are the same issues Facebook will have grappled with.
LinkedIn at Work must leverage its users, its data and connections in a secure sensible way that makes sense for a smaller 'single organisation' network. This doesn't devalue the huge benefits to be had. Imagine rolling out LinkedIn at Work at your organisation. Not only does it come pre-built with many of the features and functions you need, but it also brings with it existing users and data. Imagine asking your boss to sign off on a new business system with "built-in adoption". Now that is some USP, certainly in the business world.
The consumerisation of IT
The "consumerisation of IT" has already taken a firm hold of many enterprise organisations. Business tools readily mimic their consumer cousins, and employees are more than happy to use their personal devices to check emails and finish off their day jobs. LinkedIn could take this trend much further. Rather than the enterprise just taking cues from the consumer, a consumer product could make the leap directly into the business world.
If Facebook thinks it can offer a dual network approach to consumers and enterprises, then LinkedIn certainly can. And the latter just feels a whole lot more interesting to me. So come on LinkedIn, it is time to shake up the incumbents and show that you can still innovate.
- Chris Wright is the founder of Fifty Five and Five, a content and copy agency that helps technology companies communicate better with their clients