By Rebecca Hougham, The Comms Co

Even though 78% of SMEs now find new business through social media many companies still ban employees from accessing Facebook during office hours. Not surprising considering 68% of workers spend time surfing the web for personal reasons each day. But the social network giant is hoping to win over the corporate world with Facebook at Work (FAW); a version designed for use within companies. Facebook may be the biggest social network on the planet, with over 1.3 billion members, but it hasn’t yet conquered the workplace.

So what exactly will FAW look like? Well, it’s very similar in appearance to the main social network site, while promising to be a separate experience; one that keeps corporate data far from personal profiles and gives employees the ability to connect using familiar Facebook tools. Features include a separate ‘news feed’ and employees will be able to share ideas with their colleagues through the recognisable posts, groups, events and messages.

This could encourage all sorts of collaboration. For example, when an employee writes a post it could spread virally throughout the company as it will be shown in numerous news feeds. And, staff are encouraged to ‘follow’, rather than ‘make ‘friends’ with their colleagues; so you could follow a board member or an overseas colleague without it having to be a reciprocal relationship based on previous meetings.

Zuckerberg says that they are going to invest in it aggressively, “Connecting everyone, understanding the world and building the next generation of platform.” LinkedIn is already looking at it as a competitor but it’s also Facebook’s move to compete with existing workplace communication and collaboration tools from other tech giants such as Google Docs to offerings from smaller start-ups such as Slack. It may even eventually find competition amongst the HRMS providers if it decides to expand the offering to start including features we’d normally see in today’s HCM systems.

Facebook already has a massive foot in the door with its sheer number and variety of users – everyone from truck drivers to teachers, politicians to porn stars and accountants to academics. Tim Sackett, president of HRU Technical Resources, commented “People only go to LinkedIn when they’re looking for a job. They go to Facebook every day, all day. Facebook at Work has the real potential to eat LinkedIn’s lunch.” While I don’t agree that LinkedIn is only used for job hunting – I personally use it to glean thought leadership in my industry and for clients I use it for everything from lead generation to profile raising - Sackett has a point.

One thing to remember is that trust and security are fundamental to a good workforce experience - Facebook may have its work cut out here because of previous breeches of public trust. Remember their secret psychological tests from 2012? Do people actually trust Facebook anymore? I’m not sure if I do, and I think this is something Facebook will really have to work on if it wants to see actual uptake on this new initiative. Facebook’s constant privacy policy changes and data aggregation on its main social networking site may still make companies nervous. Also, what about Generation Z and Millennials? n[url=http://mashable.com/2014/08/20/generation-z-marketing/]There’s research[/nurl] showing Facebook’s users are getting older and younger people are leaving it in favour for more up and coming social media tools, like Instagram. So the platform must work at appealing to all generations within a business.

But if FAW does see uptake will it be too distracting for workers… or will it eventually become an integral part of a positive workforce experience? I think it has the potential to take off and in a positive way. An increasingly global, mobile, social and contingent workforce needs ways to connect, communicate and collaborate. Maybe FAW will actually save time and improve productivity as people will have one place to talk and share – rather than a mix of email, Skype, Intranet etc - one that there are probably all very used to using.