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Facebook has finally gone live with its just-for-business product, Workplace. For a few dollars or less per user, per month, companies can give employees access to a locked-down, private social network that feels like, well, Facebook. That’s right – everyone’s favorite social network that we use to distract ourselves from boring meetings and cluttered inboxes promises a legitimate remedy for workplace disengagement, compromised productivity, and email overload because our conversations will be about … work.

Some early adopters and analysts love the concept of Facebook’s Workplace: It helped launch a satellite and links up global aid workers in a powerful way. Naysayers argue that Workplace is just a time-wasting wolf in a productivity-sheep’s clothing.

And now, Microsoft Teams, the hopeful Slack-killer that plays nicely with Office 365 and Yammer, has been added to the list of collaboration-tool choices. These two new competing platforms boast similar features and functionality, at least on the surface. But I strongly believe companies should value “community” before productivity, and that employees should enjoy using technology solutions. And Workplace is the natural choice for companies that want to create deep engagement and employee satisfaction – not just a robotic workforce.

Here’s the deal. I used to peddle enterprise social software for a living. From the mid 2000s until its 2011 acquisition by VMware, I headed up Socialcast’s sales and client management team. We would tell potential customers that enterprise social networks reduce employee dependency on email, promote better collaboration, and let everyone share ideas. “It’s like Facebook for work,” we’d say, and the “aha!” moment was palpable. The reality is that Facebook is the paradigm that most people understand when it comes to “social.” On the other hand, Microsoft is the poster child for IT-driven productivity solutions.

The two options are the salt and pepper, the Balky and Larry, the apples and oranges of enterprise social networking products.

I learned a lot of lessons over eight years helping companies build their social networks. Most companies miss the mark because they choose a tool for its brand name, its price, or its integration with existing business systems. This is a setup for failure. An enterprise social network won’t kill email. It might not even make you more productive. It definitely won’t change your company culture overnight. Companies must decide the goals and intended outcomes they want an employee social network to achieve before they ever get to the discussion about tools. Without knowing where the tools fit into the enterprise ecosystem, comparing Facebook Workplace to Slack to Microsoft’s mix of Yammer and Teams is an exercise in futility. Here’s what smart organizations should consider before choosing a social networking platform.

  1. Don’t just throw the ball. Aim! You can’t just say you want “better collaboration” and expect employees to flock to a new social hub. Instead, choose 2-3 goals that align with your company’s mission and ask employees to focus their attention on furthering those through the social network. Make sure you also address the “what’s in it for me?” for end users, and share this in a humanizing way like Philips did with its social network launch video.
  2. Understand worker location habits and needs. Will you be linking up home-based call center reps, retail sales floor staff, engineers on a factory line, or globally disparate medical professionals serving communities? If so, a killer mobile experience should be prioritized. Are you targeting employees who sit at a computer much of the day? Do they need to collaborate with suppliers and partners? Then your selected platform should play nicely with document collaboration processes and existing systems of record.
  3. Are you willing to prioritize “happiness” as a core value? Many companies (including SAS Software, a consistent Fortune “Great Place to Work” that has an enterprise social network called The Hub) have realized that building a happy workplace is critical to business success. Happier employees lead to better customer interactions and better business outcomes. Companies need to evaluate their enterprise social network with the possibility of improving employee happiness as a goal. Is this important to your business? Then choose a tool that is easy and fun to use.

How does Workplace by Facebook stack up against Microsoft’s suite? There’s a simple answer. Workplace is distinctly unenterprise. It feels good to use. It delights its users. Back in 2007, Robert Scoble asked, “Any of you have ideas on how to make business software sexy?” Workplace by Facebook is finally bringing the sexy to every computer and mobile device where it’s deployed. It wasn’t built by engineers dealing with old legacy code. It was built to be perfectly social, deeply connective, and optimized for the end user experience – it’s not about what IT wants you to use, but rather what people will choose to use in their day-to-day work.

If you have properly outlined the goals of your enterprise social network, you’ll be able to decide which tool will enable the kind of relationships and interactions you hope to foster. If you want to prioritize knowledge documentation and project-based collaboration, Microsoft’s Yammer-plus-Teams might work. But if you want to humanize the workforce, give power to your employees, and align teams up and down the chain to create strong webs of idea and information-sharing, then Facebook’s Workplace is the right solution.

I can’t predict how your email traffic will go down or how your productivity will improve, but it’s pretty certain your employees will enjoy using their Workplace social network – and the brave companies will find this to be enough to give it a try.

Carrie Basham Young is founder and principal of Talk Social To Me and has a 10-year background in helping large and mid-size organizations prepare for, launch, and optimize their enterprise social networks. She was an original founding member of the team at Socialcast, leading sales, marketing, and customer community management programs. Follow her on Twitter: @carrieyoung.

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