One in four people on Earth use Facebook to connect with friends and family. But Mark Zuckerberg and company really want all those people to use the social network for office chatter, too.
This morning, at an event in London, the company formally released Facebook Workplace, a service designed specifically for business communication. It first unveiled the service–originally called Facebook for Work–eighteen months ago, testing it with many businesses. Now, Workplace is available to any organization that wants it. Facebook will charge a monthly fee to businesses who use the service–the first time it will generate revenue through fees instead of ads.
Facebook for Workplaces represents a much larger shift toward business apps that behave more like consumer apps. This includes everything from the messaging service Slack to similar tools from the likes of Box, Evernote, and Quip (now owned by Salesforce). Companies like Microsoft, which have long offered a very different kind of business software, are pushing in this same direction–because it’s clearly what workers want. “It’s a symbolic moment for enterprise software generally,” says Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, which is partnering with Facebook on the new service. “This represents a new era of enterprise software where software is much more consumer-oriented–where tools we use in our personal lives bleed into the workplace, and we can much more rapidly adopt them and use them to be more productive.”
With the rise of smartphones and online services that can be used almost anywhere, services like Google’s Gmail and Slack worked their way into businesses on employee phones and PCs, rather than through IT departments. Now, Google, Slack, and so many others are pushing similar tools through IT departments, too. Even Apple, which focused for so long on consumer services, is now offering this new breed of business software. Facebook is late to the game. But for Levie, it has still has certain advantages in this market. “Facebook has already trained close to 2 billion people in how to use their product,” he says.
Indeed, Facebook Workplace is similar to Facebook, though it’s shaded white instead of the company’s trademark blue, and benefits from security being a top priority, according to the company. Much like the Facebook we all know so well, Workplace offers Groups, Reactions, chat, search, trending posts, video, and live video–though each adds a Workplace twist. You can do group audio calling in chat, for instance, which should help teammates collaborate. You can also create and join multi-company groups if, say, you’re working on a project that involves your own company, plus a PR firm handling a product release. Your CEO, meanwhile, might address the entire company on Facebook Live. Facebook says over 1,000 companies already use Workplace and 100,000 groups have already been created from its pilot program.
Facebook charges $3 a head for a business’s first thousand monthly active users, $2 each for 1,001 to 10,000 users, and just $1 each for over 10,000 users. By comparison, Slack costs $6.67 or $12.50 per monthly user for its paid plans. But Zuckerberg and company aren’t necessarily trying to freeze out the competition. It’s partnering with Box and Microsoft in an effort to integrate with other business services. A third partner, the consulting shop Deloitte, will also help businesses set up and use the new service.
Facebook believes the service is ideal for people who don’t work at offices or at desks: retail workers, baristas, or ship crews, for instance. Such workers, Facebook says, don’t have access to traditional work tools, but still need a way of communicating with coworkers. And odds are, they’re already familiar with Facebook.