Facebook at Work can work, but only if Facebook actually uses its marketing muscle

I had dinner with a friend a few months ago. He is the head of a 500-person company, and he was telling me how he wished there was an off-the-shelf mobile app they can use as an internal directory for his company, given the company was at a size where not everyone knew everyone. So that he could walk into a meeting and his phone would tell him who everyone is, what they do and how he can reach them later.

I told him Yammer was probably that product. He had never heard of Yammer. A few weeks later I followed up to see whether he had installed Yammer and he said no, he was too busy to get around to it.

The Financial Times is now reporting that Facebook is testing a Facebook at Work product. Or, basically, another Yammer; a closed social network for companies. The reason why I think it can work is the reason my friend hasn’t heard of Yammer — everyone knows Facebook and is already on it.

Yammer is the incumbent Facebook at Work

There’s clearly a need and the biggest challenge seems to be one of marketing, not product. If Facebook leverages its marketing muscle, I can see many small businesses adopting it, especially when the price is free. That means targeting the founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, CTOs and CIOs that Facebook already knows are on its platform.

They see an ad in their feed for Facebook at Work and two clicks later create a company network, ready for employees to join. Something that frictionless can be effective.

Contrast the set-up process with Yammer. A person would need to have heard of Yammer, gone to the website, researched it, compared prices and offerings across competitors, decided Yammer is the choice, and then sign up, probably with a credit card.

Facebook at Work is so much easier.

Some analysts have expressed concern over how Facebook will gain trust and monetize, but these are relatively easy problems. First, Facebook is a more trustworthy brand to a small business owner than a tech company she has never heard of — like Yammer — and second, the obvious business model isn’t advertising but freemium.

However, if Facebook adopts a hands-off approach to Facebook at Work as it did with Poke vs. Snapchat, it will be destined to fail again. Facebook needs to understand that it’s not just about building a great product; it’s about marketing and distribution so people can discover it.

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