Workplace by Facebook opens to sell enterprise social networking to the masses

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After20months in a closed beta under the working title Facebook at Work, (as we predicted it would the other week)today Facebook is finally bringingits enterprise-focused messaging and social networking service tomarket under a new name,Workplace.

Its not only armedwith a new brand: Workplace is launching with a new kind of pricing modelbased onFacebook-style monthly active user metrics; and some pretty big ambitions after picking up 1,000 organizations as customers while still in its free, pilot mode (up from 100 a year ago).

Workplace which is launching as a desktop and mobile app withNews Feed, Groups both for your own company and with others, Chat direct messaging, Live video, Reactions, translation features, and video and audio calling is now opening up to anyoneto use, and the operative word here is anyone.

To really gain critical mass for the product and help it stand out from others in the market, Facebookis courting not justcompanies white-collar, desk-dwellingknowledge workers whotypically buy and use enterprise messaging software.

It also wants to bring on themuch wider global wedge of employees who serve customers, maintain machines orotherwise roam aspart of their jobs people who may already be using Facebook in their non-working life, but who have rarely been co-opted into an organizations wider digital collaboration efforts in the past.

Wewant to build enterprise software theFacebook way

Workplace is opening for business longafter a number of competing services have made their mark and picked up significant traction popular rival software in the area of enterprise communication and messaging includes the likes of Slack, Yammer (now part ofMicrosoft), Chatter from Salesforce, Hipchat and Jive, among many others.

There are even a range of lesser-knownbusiness messaging apps built specifically for non-desk workers, including Zinc (originally called Cotap), Beekeeper and more.

Why the delay? We had to build thistotally separate from Facebook, and wehad to test and get all the possible certifications to be a SaaS vendor, Julien Codorniou, director of Workplace, explainedin an interview in London, where the development of the product was based. Those developments are still happening. Hetold me that as of last week Workplacejoined the US/EU Privacy Shield.

The other reason has to do with the kinds of companies and non-traditional SaaS buyers it was targeting. Wewanted to see how it would workin very conservative industries and governmentagencies, he said. We had to test the product in every possible geographyand industry, especially the most conservative ones. We feel we are ready for primetime now.

Workplacemay not be first to the market, but its hoping to woo people with afew twists.

One of thesecomes in the form of pricing. Enterprise software companies typically follow a few standard business models: they include charging per-seat, based on a certain number of users at your company; in larger tiers based on the same principle of user numbers; based on feature sets; and under a freemium model, where you get a small number of basics for a small group, with the understanding that you soon be ramping up to more features in the paid tiers.

Facebook has thrown mostof this out of the window and is opting instead to take a page from its own book of metrics.

Its going tooffer everyone the same features, andcharge for Workplaceby monthly active users defined in this case as opening up and using Workplace at least once in the month.Facebook will charge $3 per user per month for the first 1,000 users; $2 for the next 1,001-10,000; and $1 for any MAUsabove that.

(As a pricing point of comparison, Slack charges $8 and $15 per active user per month fortwo tiersof features, with the price going down if you pay annually. It has yet to launch its enterprise tier for extra-large organizations.)

The reason for the pricing by MAUs, and at these competitive prices, was made for a couple of reasons. For starters, it means that whatis being bought becomes more transparent to thecustomer.

But also:Facebook then holds itself moreaccountable for the service. You pay only for what you are actually using, and Facebook essentially only gets paidfor how engaging its managed to make theservice, much like ads that run on the platform.

We wanted to build enterprise software the Facebook way, said Codorniou.

Another interesting aspect of thepricing concerns the tiers of numbers Facebook is throwing around. The company would not give us a total number of MAUs forWorkplace as of today. But it isclear that the aim is to target very large companies and other organizationswith this product.

Some of the early customers that Facebook has signed up have included 36,000 employees atthe carrier Telenor, and 100,000 employees at the Royal Bank of Scotland, and today Facebooks announcing more such asDanone (100,000 employees), Starbucks (238,000 employees) and Booking.com(13,000).

It also has organizations like the Royal National Institute for the Blind,Oxfam, and the Government Technology Agency of Singapore.

While Facebookis charging for Workplace, making tons of money from it doesnt appear to be its actual goal not at first, at least. The goal, Codorniou said, is to gain some critical mass for the product.

Were going to grow Workplace like Instagram and Messenger, he said. Before you even think about monetization, wewant to spend the first years growing it. We are obsessed with growth.

Anotherway that Facebook might just succeed with at least getting people to try out Workplace, if not switch over to using it permanently, is based on the fact that works just like Facebook itself.

With the main consumer service now pushing past 1.7 billion monthly active users, its likely that a good portion of a companys employees will either already know the service, if not already use it.

This will mean people will be instantly familiar with how the product looks and works, which in the closed betahas translated into a very high amount of engagement with the product. Among the 1,000 companies and other organizations that have been using Workplace in its closed beta, there have been no fewer than 100,000 user groups already created.

Usage is more important than a Workday integration

As we have written about Facebook at Work in the past, muchof Workplace will essentially look just like the Facebook you already know and probably use today.

There isa News Feed. There are Groups that you can build within your own company and with colleagues at other organizations that you work with regularly. There is a Messenger equivalent that Facebook refers to as Chat.

There is Live video as well as group video and audio calling. You can comment on posts with multi-emotionalReactions and there are automatic translation features.

There are also some partnershipsfrom day one that speak to the aim of working with big enterprises that may already be using other services. They include the likes of Okta, OneLogin and Ping for log-ins and identity services, Box for storage, and integrators likeDeloitte and Sada Systems.

But generally speaking, there isnt a long list of integrations that will work with Workplace from the start, a la Slack, which lets you bring in work and data from hundreds of other apps with short-cut slash-commands.

Codorniou said that this was intentional.

We wanted to talk about an easy to use product and democratic pricing with customers, he said. When I talked to the CEOof Danone, whose 100,000 employees include many people without computers anddesks, usage and engagement weremore important than whether Workplace integrated with Workday or Quip.

(Interesting sidenote to this: for now, Cordorniou told methat Facebook requires all potential sales partners andintegrators to actually sign up for Workplace and use it before they are allowed to work on it. I dont see how you can sell it without using it first, he said.)

From what I understand, its likely that Slack-style integrations, along with other bells and whistles like bots and the multitude of other features that have invaded Messenger, are likely to come down the line very soon, with the firstof them making an appearance at Facebooks F8 conference this coming spring.

For now, the message to the market may bebig enough: Facebook has become a de facto platform for billions of consumers globally to communicate with each other in the digital world, and now it is aggressively movingto bethe same in the working world.

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