Social networking for business: Will Facebook At Work work?

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With half the country in full-on December swing it seems rather Grinch-ish to be focusing on what happens after Christmas. Nevertheless, January will be here before we know it, and as such it pays to be prepared.
One of the biggest talking points of recent weeks, social-media-speaking, is the imminent arrival of Facebook At Work, which, according to some commentators, could be with us as early as next month. Put simply, this is a brand new, stand-alone platform created by Camp Zuckerberg in a bid to outdo LinkedIn on the communities-for-enterprise front. That’s quite a task, when you consider LinkedIn hit the 300million members mark back in April this year, at which point the majority of users were ‘international’, i.e. not based within the U.S., making for something of a global online business community.
Of course Facebook has plenty of experience at doing the almost-unthinkable. How a social network for an elite university managed to become a go-to means of instant communication and opinion sharing for more than 1billion is beyond us. Notwithstanding the clever algorithms, tactile gradual expansion plan, massive level of inbound investment and huge glaring gap in the marketplace at the time it launched, what the Big Blue Book has achieved is remarkable when you consider we’re still in its first decade of existence.
But can the platform be adapted to become a bonafide business tool?
The industry press has been quick to point out several gaping holes in the plan, not least the fact people are already feeling their time is stretched by the number of networks they have accounts on. Further to that, there are enormous trust issues when it comes to establishing Facebook At Work. A huge number of major firms have already taken steps to block the original Facebook from in-house web browsers in a bid to reduce staff distractions. Then there are issues surrounding the distribution of information via social networks- will confidentiality be safeguarded sufficiently to satisfy would-be-users? The jury is still out on these points.
Clearly if those two items are not addressed Facebook At Work will be dead in the water when it’s dropped into the proverbial sea for that sink or swim baptism of fire. Nevertheless, by all accounts LinkedIn is not necessarily the platform it professes to be. As a means of reaching out to potential professional contacts the network is great- anyone with a profile will know just how regularly they come across someone that could well prove useful to know, or how often someone makes contact with them that may, in the future, serve a real purpose. But the question is, in a world reliant on conversions, how many of these actually make a difference in the long run?
Let’s look at a few facts.
Back in 2012, according to research by HubSpot, LinkedIn was 277% more effective at generating B2B and B2C leads than Facebook and Twitter, with 2.74% of visits resulting in a genuine lead. That was bad news for the other two networks, but realistically 2.74% is still a relatively low figure when you consider that circa 2013 2% of cold calls would result in an appointment, if this Slideshare from Buzzbuilder Lead Generation Software is to be believed…

Cold Calls
Reading even further between the lines, one year after those numbers were released, Optify, a digital marketing software provider, revealed wildly different results- with Twitter generating nine times more B2B leads than Facebook or LinkedIn, and 82% of social media leads coming from Twitter. Add to that figures from Constant Contact research, which suggest only 29% of small businesses surveyed feel LinkedIn is effective as a business tool, in contrast to Facebook’s 82% positive reaction, and the landscape begins to look a little different.
It’s always easy to make assumptions, but as fans and daily users of LinkedIn we can’t help but notice the level of irrelevancies it throws up, which is a big bone of contention for many. People make irrelevant connections in a bid to project an image of themselves, or their LinkedIn profile, as being intrinsically connected to everyone, everywhere. It’s only when you dig into those connections you realise there are plenty of pointless names and job titles buried in the overflowing contacts book.
Then there’s the ‘Endorsement’ function- who hasn’t been endorsed by someone they have never worked with, for a skill that doesn’t really feature in their regular business duties? Like Team Followback on Twitter, but for tasks, realistically those guilty of endorsing people they don’t actually know are worth endorsing do this in the hope they will be endorsed back, nullifying the point of endorsing in the first place.
We know what you’re thinking- if the word ‘endorse’, or any derivative, appears one more time you’ll endorse us for repetition, so enough said- let’s move on with a quick conclusion.
The overall point of this spiel is simple, then. Facebook At Work has several monolithic hurdles to get past if it is going to survive. But then LinkedIn isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in the eyes of some users, and now it has opened ‘Influencer Blogs’ so any Tom, Dick or Sarah can post content it’s partly a blogging platform with messaging functionality and a nice place to keep your CV. Not necessarily what everyone wants.
With these nuggets of information in mind it seems Zuckerberg et al may well find themselves a nice little gap in the market for Facebook At Work, providing they listen to the complaints of those unhappy with LinkedIn and consider how to service them when it comes to social networking for business. As the facts and stats referenced here go to show, opinion is divided on which networks work best for which tasks, and that’s because different industries behave in different ways, and as such really it’s about deciding for yourself based on your unique business needs.
Then again, that’s really just our opinion.