Workplace by Facebook launches – collaboration vendors offer rebuttals weak and strong


I thought I was done with Facebook at Work for a while. But after the launch event, Facebook sent me updated information for “Workplace, by Facebook”, including pricing and customer counts. I also received a slew of emails from collaboration vendors with interesting/problematic critiques. Here’s the rundown.

skeptical-manYesterday, Facebook at Work launched with all the fanfare you would expect of such a huge leap in the progress of western civilization. My last piece, Should collaboration vendors be worried about Facebook at Work’s impending launch?, left some questions open, including pricing. Since then, I heard from Facebook PR with some answers.

The unexpected part was hearing from collaboration vendors of all sizes – ironically, all through the email inbox. Each had a critique of what Facebook at Work claimed to offer. Though the tone of these emails was confident – even at times, dismissive – the sheer amount of emails I received implied that these collaboration vendors are wary.

And why wouldn’t they be? Even if you’re not sure if an elephant can play a flute, it’s still an elephant. It has the heft to do some damage. However, most of the critiques were missed what the threat of Facebook at Work really is.

Update – Facebook at Work changes names, reveals pricing model

But first, the news. In the pre-launch, I touched on the importance of pricing. As my colleague Den Howlett wrote in 2015:

I’d like to see them charge because that then puts an onus on them to do the right thing for customers rather than what is right for Facebook and then try spin that to user goodness. It also means we have a proper market test for Facebook at Work.

Facebook has responded with pricing specifics:

We are announcing a competitive pricing model that is based on a monthly fee per active user (so companies only pay for what they use). The more active users an organization has, the less they pay per user.
$3 USD first 1,000 monthly active users
$2 USD 1,001 – 10,000 monthly active users
$1 USD 10,000+ monthly active users

Other Facebook-provided factoids included:

Customer count – “We are coming out of beta with more than 1,000 organizations using Workplace worldwide, on every continent except Antarctica, and more than 100,000 groups already in use.” Note – this is a bigger number than the 450 I quoted last time from their web site.

Regional breakdown – The top five countries using Workplace are India, Norway, US, UK and France: “Workplace is being used by organizations in every single continent except Antarctica.”

Competitive positioning on the mobile workforce – Workplace focuses on mobile workers not tied to desks: “Workplace fulfills a key gap in the market – for people who don’t work at offices or at desks. These are retail workers, ship crews, baristas – all of whom did not have access to traditional workplace tools, but because our product is mobile – are driving adoption.”

Other updates which Facebook deemed “exciting” include a name change from Facebook at Work to the cumbersome “Workplace, by Facebook.” Facebook also detailed a number of new features, the most interesting of which is “multi-company groups”:

These are shared groups that allow employees from multiple organizations to work together. All group members must be part of a Workplace community, and members from other companies won’t be able to see any information from your company outside of the multi-company groups they are in with you.

These “multi-company groups” partially address the glaring need for external collaborations, though in a much more rigid way than Slack (only formal company Workplace group can engage with each other, not individual subcontractors).

Collaboration vendors offer PR rebuttals

The collaboration vendors I heard from (via their PR firms) each had a different critique.

1. “Facebook will be joining an already crowded space”

I heard from Workfront CMO Joe Staples. Workfront’s critique is that Facebook is just one of many “conversation layer” productivity tools:

Facebook at Work will be joining an already crowded space of collaboration tools, including Convo, Salesforce Chatter, and Microsoft’s Yammer.

Staples argues that Facebook at Work does nothing to reduce worker distraction from emails and meetings:

Workfront’s 2016 State of Work report found that office workers cite emails and meetings as their biggest distractions and say more uninterrupted blocks of time would boost their productivity more than anything else. Therefore, an effective solution is unlikely to be a stand-alone application (like Facebook at Work, Yammer, etc.), regardless of its affiliation with a social network, as such platforms do not lend themselves to an uninterrupted workflow between tools and resources.

2. “Facebook at Work appears to be focused on internal communications and collaboration

I also heard from the PR firm representing Tomas Gorny, founder and CEO of Nextiva. Gorny contends that businesses are already overwhelmed by a glut of communication tools:

Business communications is in a state of crisis and it’s a critical time for companies to figure out how to make it amazing for both their customers and their users. Most companies use anywhere from 5 to 15 applications to manage internal and customer communications, creating a fragmented and disjointed way of working with information stuck in a myriad of silos.

Workplace by Facebook is also critiqued for its alleged internal focus:

Like Slack, Facebook at Work appears to be focused on internal communications and collaboration, which only addresses about five percent of a company’s communications challenges. Facebook at Work won’t solve the core problem of app sprawl and information siloes that have put business communications in a state of crisis.

Integration with existing enterprise tools will be needed:

For Facebook to make the jump from being a playful social network where almost anything goes to becoming an instrumental business communications and productivity tool, it will require seamless integration with other tools enterprise users rely on everyday, and it needs to be more than just a new inbox.

Nextiva feels it is much better positioned via a unified platform for external and internal communications:

Nextiva is the only company that is unifying business communications and internal communications in one modern platform we call NextOS… NextOS integrates with third party tools like Slack and Skype, and we’ll look to integrate Facebook at Work as well.

Finally, I heard from Jive Software. My colleague Derek du Preez had already covered that off in an in-depth piece last March, Jive leadership not worried about Facebook at Work or Slack. But in fairness to the other two PR emails, I should stick with Jive’s email for apples-to-apples, which quoted CEO Elisa Steele:

Facebook is a conversation app. Jive is an enterprise collaboration hub that solves the complex fragmentation problems that companies face today. It is not yet another separate communications stream, but a solution that integrates disparate internal systems to unify and align a company. This powerful hub approach creates an intelligent work graph that allows people, content and information to be uniquely visible and searchable across groups, departments and organizations.

The wrap – evaluating the PR rebuttals and what they missed

I thought Nextiva had the most effective PR stance:

  • The proliferation of collaboration apps is an enterprise problem
  • Integrating a vendors’ separate social layer into existing workflows is an unwieldy project
  • Workplace seems to be focused on internal collaboration, whereas a great deal of essential communications are external

By positioning itself as a “hub” that can integrate a range of tools, from Slack to Workplace by Facebook, Nextiva allows for the possibility that Workplace could be useful but still part of its own platform. (In fairness to Jive, they emphasize a collaboration “hub” as central to how their customers use their solution, but in their email, they didn’t address how, or if, Workplace by Facebook could co-exist.)

Workfront’s argument that Workplace by Facebook doesn’t solve the emails-and-meetings worker distraction problems has flaws. Workfront should have addressed Facebook’s claims that customers using Workplace reduced email and meeting times. There’s a disconnect here. I suspect it has to do with the danger of replacing one inbox for another. Workfront’s focus on “uninterrupted workflows” sounds compelling. That’s a different value prop than Facebook, which has built an empire based on interrupting people.

Jive’s emailed critique would be stronger if it recognized Workplace by Facebook is intended for group collaborations, not just socializing. Jive would be better off taking the platform view Nextiva advocated – own the collaboration platform, own the customer relationship. Integrate Workplace or Slack or whatever messaging/projects system companies want to sandbox.

Jive went into more detail in their conversation with Derek. Steele made the point that Workplace by Facebook has no vertical capabilities like Jive has, for example, in health care. That’s a strong point not made in the shorter email. I’m sure all three of these vendors would offer clarifying details during an interview. However, each PR piece was intended to be published as a quote, so it’s fair game to evaluate them standalone.

These vendors are all spot-on in their critiques of why the enterprise doesn’t need a standalone conversational layer or another inbox. They could have gone after Facebook harder on integration challenges, and Facebook’s inexperience in the enterprise game. Giving Facebook a hard time for already being blocked by a number of corporate firewalls for would have been another way to press the issue. Facebook has a long haul to earn enterprise trust on collaboration given those firewall perceptions.

I’ve seen vendors, including Jive, criticize Facebook for lacking the chops for enterprise-grade security. But Facebook will figure out how to get the technical security part right. It’s the integration with other collaboration tools into a coherent workflow that Facebook will struggle with. And don’t get me started on customer service again. Is customer experience in the Facebook DNA?

In their emails, none of these vendors acknowledged that Workplace by Facebook is going after the mobile user. Clearly, Facebook has the mobile chops to do it. Workplace also has the “UX factor” and benefits of familiarity to ease adoption. Workplace has the potential to be a bit like Slack, getting viral uptick and forcing the adoption issue.

I don’t know if Workplace by Facebook will become a big collaboration player. It would be foolish to put too much stock in a product that just pulled together a price list and isn’t even generally available yet. But collaboration vendors would be wise to take a break from talking tough, and up their UX and mobile games with urgency. And they need a platform story that includes Workplace by Facebook.

Better to humor the possibility that Workplace will be in the mix and pull their data into your platform. When they’re not crushing rivals, Facebook’s pretty good at the platform game themselves.

End note: I reached out to Facebook PR about how they might overcome the “ blocked by firewalls” perception. As expected, I got the “this is a whole new product” response, but they also sent a useful FAQ link that gives some idea on Facebook’s enterprise stance towards security and other topics.

Updated 9pm US PT, October 12 with a few small clarifications and links to the vendors cited.

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