If I Built Facebook At Work: Part One – Who are you?

The recent reports from the Financial Times about a Facebook At Work offering got my product development juices flowing. For the past eight years, I’ve been building social software for the enterprise at Sitrion (www.sitrion.com), so I have a couple of thoughts on the subject :)

Alan Lepofsky wrote a nice summary of several key considerations here. I thought the topic was interesting enough that it would take more than one blog post, so I’m breaking this into three parts.  
Whenever I think about creating a new product, I always try to ask three questions:

  1. Who is the user (and possibly also who is the buyer)?
  2. How do they get value from the product?
  3. Why don’t they use something else?

If you can’t answer those questions, you don’t have a real product. Since we don’t know what Facebook At Work really does yet, this series of posts is my opinion on how I would tackle those three questions.

Before I dive into talking about the user, I need to cover a few business assumptions. First, I assume Facebook won’t charge companies for this. Both the data they can gather and the advertising opportunities are more valuable than what they are realistically going to capture in usage fees. Also, selling to companies involves building some kind of enterprise sales force, training them, negotiating contracts (for bigger customers), etc. 

This does not, however, mean that someone in the company is not involved in the “buying” process.  While Facebook could expect to get a reasonable level of viral adoption just by making something available and marketing to existing users, Facebook At Work as I envision it will have its greatest success if the company gets benefits from it and actually encourages usage.

So this means we have two kinds of users or stakeholders – the end user and the company champion.  The end user is a current Facebook user. Eventually, Facebook At Work may become a channel to bring new users to the general Facebook service, but to start we should assume users are current Facebook users. 

For these end users, there are two kinds of things that Facebook can offer. They can offer new tools that are better than the tools available from the company (e.g. perhaps file sharing with external parties or collaboration around a document). And they can offer ways to leverage the consumer Facebook service to help the user at work. This creates a long list of possible features, and we’ll dive more into that as we get into the second blog post.

For the company champion, Facebook can offer capabilities that make it easier for the champion to accomplish her mission. In some cases, these will be the collaboration features that could make life easier for the employees. In other cases, these will be features that solve specific business problems.  For example, we found that communication use cases can be met in a really compelling way by giving the corporate communications staff the ability to push messages to targeted audiences at specific times through the social stream. The interesting angle for Facebook here is that this use case (and other common social use cases like expertise discovery, getting answers to questions, innovation, etc.) can be uniquely enhanced because they control the consumer Facebook service. So the next blog post is all about these stories.

The bottom line here is that Facebook has a unique opportunity to deliver a service to companies. As the first step in doing this, I think they really want to think about both the end users and the influencers or champions in the company that will cause the service to get use. In my next post, I’ll tell you what I think the service should do if I built Facebook At Work.


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Brian Kellner, Chief Technology Officer

Brian Kellner is responsible for Sitrion's product strategy and development. Brian has held product or development management positions for over a dozen years. Most recently he was Vice President of Enterprise Products for Webroot Software. Brian holds a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.S. in Management from Colorado Tech.

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