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Will Facebook Groups Kill Enterprise Social Networking?

Mark Zuckerberg, interviewed on the subject of Facebook Groups, told GigOm‘s Liz Gannes “Yeah, well maybe this will replace Socialcast! [laughs] Not today, this isn’t designed to be an enterprise product.”

Socialcast’s Carrie Young asks “if Facebook Groups will kill enterprise microblogging?” and answers with a firm “no.” As Adam Greenfield says “This rarely kills That outright.” But should enterprise collaboration vendors be worried?

Functional Difficulties

Sameer Patel of The Sovos Group notes that one of the primary benefits of social networking is helping employees within an enterprise find each other based on skills and areas of expertise. “Conversely, Facebook’s identify profile today doesn’t offer this and HR wouldn’t want us sharing this competitive data openly anyway,” says Patel.

Patel also notes the lack of context specific functionality in Facebook Groups. “As I’ve written about before, collaborative functionality needs to show up at the source of the event or problem – inside CRM, BI, and ERP applications where process output needs to be either corrected or enriched by people coming together,” he says.

I see the lack of enterprise features such as LDAP integration and sub-groups/granular access control as a bigger inhibitor.

Separation of Work and Life

“Today many companies simply block FB.com and on top people don’t connect there with their peers as they want to keep your personal lives separate and secure,” says Blogtronix CEO Vassil Mladjov. This is a sentiment expressed by several of the people we asked about Facebook as an enterprise tool.

“Both individuals and corporations want to separate their personal lives from their work lives, even if they can’t,”Altimeter Group co-founder and analyst R “Ray” Wang. “I’d see LinkedIn in this category first because they have the trust of the corporate and professional communities.”

An Opportunity for Enterprise Vendors

“Every substantial change in the social web educates more users about working this way, and creates new opportunities for enterprise social software adoption,” says SocialText founder Ross Mayfield. “And in the process of adaptation — you find different design patterns must be applied to make social patterns work in enterprises.”

“Facebook Groups actually strengthens the case for Yammer,” says Yammer CEO David Sacks. ” He points out that if organizations don’t adopt their own enterprise social networking systems “Your employees may start using a public platform that you have no control over.” He encourages to organizations to formulate an internal social networking policy and set aside funds to purchase enterprise social networking software.

The Devil’s Advocate

Considering that it’s a employer’s market right now, organizations might not be so sympathetic to workers objections that they want to keep their Facebook profiles separate from work.

Alternately, employees could be given the option to create a new account for work. Considering that Facebook Groups is designed to help users compartmentalize parts of their lives online, a separate account might not even be necessary. Also, the chance to use Facebook at work might be quite attractive to a lot of employees.

Sacks says “Facebook Groups is neither designed nor intended to be an enterprise solution. Even if it were, enterprises don’t want their employees or intellectual property on Facebook.” All enterprise SaaS solutions involve putting intellectual property on someone else’s servers, but Facebook will need an enterprise friendly TOS before this behavior is actively condoned by corporate users.

However, we’ve been seeing a lot of free or freemium SaaS tools being adopted by individual teams or departments within larger organizations, so there’s certainly a possibility for Facebook to slip in there.

Mladjov concedes that small companies might use Facebook Groups to collaborate, and Mayfield says “I think this could effect microblogging-only solutions that offer hosted-only service without company admin for free.”

Then there’s that qualifier “yet” in Zuckerberg’s statement. Someday, with tighter, more integrated access controls and an enterprise friendly TOS, Facebook might give enterprise collaboration companies something to lose sleep over.

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