Enterprise social media gains traction with Facebook launch

Companies tout benefits of new employee communications tool
By John Dujay
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/13/2017

As a Canadian company with many locations “in the middle of nowhere,” Grieg Seafood BC decided Workplace by Facebook was an ideal solution for isolated workers.

The salmon farming company plans to launch the full platform (it is currently in a pilot-testing phase) for about 700 employees worldwide later this month to coincide with its 25th anniversary, according to Alina Constantin, HR manager in Vancouver.

“Our company has a lot of remote locations, especially here in Canada,” she said. “We have a lot of farms on the east coast and west coast of Vancouver Island, so it’s quite challenging to keep in touch, so we are hoping that the platform will make it easier for us to reach out to these locations.”

 In doing so, Grieg Seafood hopes to reduce unnecessary email and provide workers with real-time access to information, said Constantin.

“We have an internal portal, but not a lot of people were using it because not everyone had access to it. Now, with Workplace by Facebook, we are hoping everyone is going to be able to read the news, more like in real-time,” she said. “It’s not rocket science, it’s very easy, it’s very intuitive, and if you have used Facebook before, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Workplace also offers a translate feature, which helps Grieg Seafood manage its diverse workforce.

“It’s not the perfect translation, but at least you can understand what people are saying,” said Constantin.

Breaking down barriers

Workplace has been on the market for about a year and Facebook is banking on it transforming the way businesses communicate and collaborate.

“Workplace is familiar to anyone who uses Facebook,” said Simon Cross, product manager for Workplace by Facebook in London, U.K. “People just know how to use it straight away because nearly two billion people use Facebook.”

The enterprise social networking (ESN) tool was first launched as a standalone concept in 2014 and the official launch came in October 2016 with about 1,000 initial corporate users, according to Cross.

“Every organization is trying to break down barriers and silos, every organization is trying to make quicker, better decisions, and so these companies were saying to us ‘Could we have that? Could you build that for us?’”

Companies can use Workplace to connect people inside a company across buildings, functions and locations, he said.

“Typically, companies create groups for all the kinds of things they want to discuss, and teams inside those companies create groups, and very quickly Workplace becomes the command centre for an employee’s day.”

To date, about 30,000 organizations are using the tool, including Walmart, Heineken, Spotify, Lyft and Reliance Group, and about one million groups are active inside the platform, said Facebook.

Workplace costs US$3 per user for the first 1,000 active users, US$2 per user for the next 9,000 and US$1 per user thereafter.

Sun Life experience

Sun Life Financial began using the tool in August 2016, and about 11,000 employees are now signed up, according to Emily Schur, senior vice-president of global talent, who works out of the company’s Wellesley Hills, Mass., and Toronto offices.

“As a global company, we work across different boundaries — some are geographic, some are time zones, some are just physical offices — and so this technology just helps to bring employees together,” she said.

“Workplace essentially enables that platform for us to help continue conversations, or even begin conversations, among employees, and we see people building connections.”

As a cross-border executive who commutes between two locations in two different countries, Schur sees the advantage.

“I can’t be in two places at once, but I can stay connected as a user of Workplace to either team in both those locations and can continue those conversations.”

Sun Life is also making use of Workplace’s video capabilities to live-stream events and offer video playback for employees who are not available when it runs live.

And the adoption has been seamless, she said. “We thought there was a pretty good chance that when our employees came onto this Workplace, they would have had, in all likelihood, prior experience with Facebook.”

Sun Life has a claim rate of 80 per cent activated accounts, which means 80 per cent of workers immediately begin to use the tool, according to Schur.

Enterprise social media

Of course, Workplace is not the only product in the ESN marketplace. Other products such as Yammer (parent company Microsoft), Chatter (owned by Salesforce) and Jive have been employed by companies to boost communication and collaboration.

But Facebook’s stature means it will grow and learn how to achieve success in the market, according to Peter Carr, director and author of the Social Media for Business Performance Program at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

“They are big, they have lots of money and they have an established technology that people understand and know how to use. They’ve got the resources to gain market share.”

The thing that really differentiates Workplace is it’s a familiar environment to most people in the workplace, said Tony Byrne, founder of Real Story Group, a technology-analyst firm in Washington, D.C.

“At the end of the day, it’s an enterprise social network so it’s going to suffer from the same strengths and weaknesses (of) a lot of these so-called ESNs.”

Facebook may have a good initial uptick, but it’s still part of a nascent business, he said.

“It may be good for conversation and news — there’s a lot more to social collaboration; there’s people who want to work together on projects, there’s people who want to share knowledge, people who want to be able to archive knowledge and make it searchable, who want to have innovation spaces.”

Workplace includes “rudimentary management features” such as analytics and life-cycle management that “reduces your scope for administration,” said Byrne, but it still has a ways to go before it becomes indispensable.

“That’s where Facebook really comes up kind of weak: They don’t have a real community-management feature at a time when we are realizing that for this technology to be successful, you’ve got to have effective community management.”

As well, Workplace has “surprisingly thin” profile and network services, he said. “There’s no real organization-wide directory of people; there’s no way of finding people’s expertise. In a large enterprise, that’s a big-use case for this particular technology that ‘I can find people and realize what their expertise is and bring them into a project.’”

But the tool does excel at collaboration, communication and eliminating employee isolation, according to the experts.

“The value is in the interaction and engagement, and I think that’s what organizations hope that they will get,” said Carr. “It’ll make it easier for them to connect with each other, so we might see a decline in siloing, that people will work across functions.”

By allowing for more than just a single, person-to-person conversation, ESNs can widen the scope of company brainstorming.

“It’s about the fact that it’s two-way and multi-way as far as communications go,” said Carr. “Everybody can see the whole discussion, and participate in that discussion, potentially, around whatever they might be dealing with.”

But an organization cannot expect magic to happen when implementing ESN products.

“In some cases, there’s an expectation that simply by giving people access to these tools, that this will itself promote changed behaviour; it will get people collaborating with each other more, and that there will be a large impact on the organization,” said Carr. “If these tools are going to be adopted, there needs to be a plan and a structure for their use.”

“In the same way you wouldn’t simply create a meeting room or various meeting rooms across the organization and expect that was going to cause people to have more productive meetings more often — clearly that would be nonsense,” he said.

“It’s the same with these tools — simply placing them there for people to use is not necessarily going to result in them making a significant difference.”

For mass meetings, Workplace and other ESNs promise to revolutionize the way companies communicate, he said.

“In the past, where organizations were holding organizational town halls, having internal newsletters, and various forms of communication, I think they potentially see social media helping with that, enabling people to participate more effectively (through) organizational consultation and  sharing information about what’s happening.”

HR concerns

However, there are concerns around privacy.

“(With) Facebook having data about me in both a personal and professional setting, people were looking ahead and saying, ‘Is that a good thing?’” said Byrne. “Could Facebook start advertising to me in my personal life based on things that they know about me in my professional life?”

But Workplace has a separate login and is not connected to an individual’s public-facing Facebook account, so this shouldn’t be an issue, according to the company.

For HR professionals, they must apply accepted rules around social media — which have existed for years — for employees, said Carr.

“For HR, there are questions with privacy — what are the acceptable levels of behaviour for using the tools, how are people going to be trained to use them? Because that’s an area that is often neglected,” said Carr. “How should managers use them? What’s going to be acceptable in terms of monitoring employee behaviour? How might this come into employee performance management?”

Once ESNs are more ubiquitous, organizations will have to establish ways of interacting within the tool, he said.

“People know that everybody inside the organization — including their boss, and their boss’s boss and everyone else — can see what they are posting inside these tools; that’s going to potentially inhibit their participation with them,” said Carr.

“But creating an environment where people are comfortable to share is quite important if you are going to achieve the open collaboration that I think most organizations probably believe is going to benefit the organization,” he said.

“People will speak plainly from time to time, and this may create a degree of candidness that didn’t exist before (which) is something that people need to come to terms with.”

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