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Facebook Is Looking for Likes for Its New Work-Chat Service

15:10, Monday, 10 October, 2016
Facebook Is Looking for Likes for Its New Work-Chat Service

Facebook Inc. is used by a quarter of the world’s population to keep tabs on friends every month. Now, the 12-year-old social network is seeking similar dominance in the corporate world.

On Monday, Facebook is planning the commercial launch of Facebook at Work, a tool for companies that allows workers to chat and collaborate with each other. The company, which has been testing the tool for nearly two years, is expected to disclose new details, including plans to begin charging companies a monthly fee for every user.

Facebook faces dozens of rivals in the business-messaging market eager to displace email as a primary work communication tool, including Slack Technologies Inc., Microsoft Corp.’s Yammer, offered through Office 365, and Jive from Jive Software of Palo Alto, Calif.

Even though it is a newcomer, Facebook could be a serious threat to incumbents because so many workers already use its website and mobile app in their personal lives.

“Everyone knows Facebook, so adoption will be really fast,” said Christine Moorman, a professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

That was the case for telecommunications giant Telenor ASA, which rolled out Facebook’s software to its 35,000 employees world-wide in March. Telenor is among the companies that have been testing Facebook’s program.

Since January 2015, when Facebook at Work launched as a pilot project, hundreds of companies, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, have been testing the service, which is available on desktop and as a mobile app. Facebook has said that 60,000 companies applied to test the tool.

The enterprise service is modeled after Facebook’s internal corporate network. Like the ubiquitous social product, it opens to a news feed with posts ranked based on an algorithm that takes into account a user’s previous activity on the corporate account. Users can chat in groups or privately and post and watch live videos as well as share documents.

But Facebook at Work has enterprise-grade security and administration tools and a more sober gray color palette than the company’s signature blue, according to Facebook documents describing the product. There aren’t any ads.

Customers aren’t required to have a personal Facebook account to use Facebook at Work and employers can’t use the tool to see what employees do on their personal accounts. Companies get data on their employees’ activity, including how many messages and posts they send.

Still, some customers may worry that encouraging employees to use Facebook might make them less productive, Ms. Moorman said. “They’ll probably have to reassure their customers that there will be something that keeps people from just dealing with their personal stuff at work,” she added.

Companies have been slow to adopt social media tools for their employees because workers need to be trained to use new software. Enterprise social networks tend to be dominated by a small group of superusers, but about half the employees don’t use it at all, according to some consultants.

Facebook hasn’t charged for the service during the pilot phase, but now plans to levy a fee for every employee who uses Facebook at Work at least once a month. This is the first time Facebook has charged a fee for its services. The bulk of its revenue comes from showing ads in users’ news feeds.

Facebook declined to say how much it will charge. Slack offers a free version of its messaging service alongside two beefed-up packages that respectively cost $6.67 and $12.50 per monthly user.

Monday’s launch is scheduled to be announced by Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as well as other company officials. The Facebook at Work team is based in London.

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