Facebook At Work Could Turn into a Powerful PR Tool

You’ve likely heard of the debut earlier this month of Facebook At Work (FB@Work), a new player in the expanding field of enterprise social networks (ESNs). Essentially Facebook for brands, companies and organizations, the tool’s most important impact for PR pros could be that it will spark new ideas about enhancing internal communications and employee relations.

With FB@Work, employers can create separate log-ins for employees to use with their work accounts, or users can link these with other profiles to access everything in one place, according to TechCrunch.

“Anyone who is a CCO or head of employee engagement needs to look at FB@Work and determine if it fits within a broader engagement program,” said Christopher Hannegan, executive VP and director of the employee engagement offering at Edelman.

ESNs make it considerably easier for PR managers to distribute news and information to colleagues and ask them to share it on their personal social channels, he added.

PR also can tap into conversations generated by FB@Work as a gut check on overall communications and brand reputation.

What is more, using an ESN can provide a more accurate window into how the internal perception of the brand jibes with the external perception.

“If you think media coverage is inaccurate,” Hannegan said, “ESNs are a great way for PR managers to engage in an internal discussion about what employees think of the company and how they can help change the external narrative.”

Another potentially big PR benefit of ESNs? Relationship-building.

“For us on the PR side it’s critical to build relationships with industry analysts, influencers and the media,” said Sharon Crost, global manager of social business at Hitachi Data Systems (HDS). “And ESNs are a powerful ally in providing new and efficient ways to engage in the right conversations.”

Jeff Tomlin, cofounder and CMO of VendAsta Technologies Inc., said his company’s Ideas on Tap, a monthly event where employees and external guests give presentations on any topic, is a good example of the role PR can play in deploying an ESN.

“The purpose of the event is to raise our local profile and help in talent recruiting,” Tomlin said. “We solicit ideas, recruit presenters and get our employees organized to help promote the event on their social channels through our ESN communications.”

But buyer beware. There are issues PR managers should consider before advocating for FB@Work or other ESNs, according to Hannegan:

1. Privacy. A situation could develop where employees share too much information.

2. Adoption rates outside of North America. Other markets have stricter work-life boundaries than the U.S. and might not want to integrate the program, which not-so-tacitly emphasizes that employees are at work even when they’re home. This could lead to pushback here, too.

3. Potential for user error. Since it will be easy to toggle between work and personal Facebook pages, it’s inevitable that someone will post material on FB@Work that wasn’t meant for the entire company to see. Communicators need to mitigate that possibility.

In addition, as they would with any new venture, businesses should know their goals before committing to an ESN, including FB@Work.

“Companies can adopt any [ESN] platform, but to what end?” Hannegan said. “What should the platform accomplish and what’s the business case?”

Facebook has been running tests of the service with a “very small set” of external businesses throughout the world, Lars Rasmussen, the engineering director at Facebook who is leading the project, told Tech Crunch.

A SLIVER TO START?

HDS uses the Jive platform and Microsoft Lync as its ESNs. It’s too soon to tell whether HDS will adopt FB@Work, Crost said, adding that she first wants to see how FB@Work “use cases” pan out.

“I could see us starting with a sliver of FB@Work for incremental adoption,” she said. “With ESNs, you need to start with baby steps, use it correctly and look to see if there’s a bigger opportunity.”

While it’s too soon to gauge adoption rates, FB@Work likely will provide stiff competition for existing ESNs, such as Microsoft’s Yammer and Salesforce Chatter.

CONTACT:

Sharon Crost, sharon.crost@hds.com; Christopher Hannegan, Christopher.Hannegan@edelman.com; Jeff Tomlin, jtomlin@vendasta.com

This article originally appeared in the January 26, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.