Facebook Grows up and Goes to Work, but Will It Win Over Businesses?

T. Banting

Summary Bullets:

• As Facebook is nearing the limit of consumer advertising, the company is turning its focus on the business market as an alternative revenue stream.

• Facebook’s Workplace and WhatsApp Business are likely to become a disruptive force to the communications and collaboration, and contact center markets.

According to Facebook, the average person spends 50 minutes a day on its Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger platforms. There’s no question that the rise of platforms like Facebook has a transformative effect on the way we interact socially; however, it is nearing the limit of consumer advertising as a source of revenue, Facebook is turning its focus on the business market as an alternative revenue stream. In October 2016, Facebook introduced Workplace by Facebook, a mobile and web-based service offering the best of Facebook for the business world. Incorporating News Feeds, Groups, Events; audio, video and messaging plus live streaming; the company has mustered a prodigious toolset to offer prospective customers. The company has amassed a large number of household names as customers: Booking.com, Columbia Sportswear, Danone, and Starbucks are all using Workplace by Facebook to connect, share ideas, and collaborate. Furthermore, Facebook has revealed it is working on an enterprise messaging service (known as WhatsApp Business), and trialing with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Yoox Net-a-Porter Group. When brought to market, WhatsApp Business could be considered a prime channel for customer service, sales and marketing, and support given the apps 1 billion daily active users. Consequently, Facebook is likely to be an increasingly disruptive force to not only traditional communications and team collaboration vendors (Atlassian, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Slack, Unify and others), plus the contact center market.
However, despite having around 14,000 companies around the globe using Workplace, Facebook still has a few areas that it needs to improve before it can be considered a viable commercial tool – areas that Facebook’s competitors are well aware of given their business heritage and experience. In terms of long-term viability, Workplace is not Facebook’s primary revenue-generating service, its long-term commitment to the enterprise market remains to be seen- similar efforts have been made by Google; however, this has taken many years, some rebranding, and significant product development. Google also had to improve its customer service for business customers and now includes 24/7 support via phone, email or online chat. In comparison, Workplace Premium customers only have access to email support five days a week, 12 hours a day. Finally, Workplace does not currently support international data sovereignty and residency – data is stored across Facebook data centers in Europe and the US; consequently, this may have implications for those businesses whose regulatory compliance requires customer data to be kept within the country the customer resides. Saddled with all the consumer-related associations of frivolity, Workplace still requires significant marketing, product development and support resources to help convey its relevance, improve its revenue and steal market share from industry incumbents. A work in progress, but definitely a vendor to watch – closely!

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