Facebook used to be the definition of the "disruptive startup", with its young, cocky founder Mark Zuckerberg strolling around in his blue hoodie and jeans. And while both the founder and the hoodie are still present, it is now an established company celebrating 10 years on the web.
It's easy to see how Facebook has changed the way we interact with our family and acquaintances, and it has even changed our definition of "friend", but its impact on the way we work is less often discussed.
It helped usher in the use and understanding of new tools such as enterprise social suites and collaboration software, with new firms springing up to provide these and meet the changing demands of the workforce over the past decade.
"The impact of Facebook on enterprise software has been dramatic," Gartner social software and collaboration vice president Mike Gotta told V3. He believes that it was in around 2006 that businesses started thinking about the concept of "Enterprise 2.0" to create communities within their businesses.
"There was general consensus that a more consumer-like user experience that promoted social networking, community-building, transparent information-sharing, and more visible communications could improve business collaboration," Gotta explained.
But it was around 2008 – when Facebook snared its 100 millionth user – when the enterprise software market started to take inspiration from the social behemoth's features and design.
"Customers would often talk of deploying a ‘Corporate Facebook' for their employees," said Gotta, adding the caveat that this was not the first attempt at mimicking consumer products for the enterprise market; it was actually the My Yahoo product that set the corporate software world alight years earlier. Nonetheless, Facebook was taking all sorts of forms throughout the market.
"Employees would create a profile, follow colleagues, build communities, share status updates, and create social content via blogs and wikis – a model similar to Facebook. The user interface for many of these products in the market also was influenced by Facebook for instance with the profile picture on the upper-left side of the page and a News Feed streaming down the middle."
"Jurassic enterprise software"
Jive, the US company which, among other things, produces enterprise social products, capitalised on this. Matt Tucker, the firm's co-founder and CTO, believes that the latest tranche of social networks changed the game for his firm. "It's fair to say that Facebook – as well as other social platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn – super-charged the market opportunity for us," he told V3.
"Without these other important innovations, I'm not sure that we'd have gotten to work with the world's leading companies and have many millions of end users. For that I'm super thankful."
UK-based Huddle also reaped the benefits of changes in user demand and now finds its social collaboration products in 80 percent of the Fortune 500 companies. Alastair Mitchell, the company's chief executive, told V3: "With the advent of Facebook a decade ago, we saw a real shift in users' expectations when it came to technology in the workplace.
"Facebook was easy and intuitive to use, connecting people with their friends, families, photos and videos. This really highlighted the shortfalls in complex, Jurassic enterprise software like SharePoint."
Buyers had to reel in their efforts when they realised that simply creating a corporate Facebook was not enough. Rollouts of tech products in the enterprise must have a solid business grounding, something that was missing from some of the early implementations of enterprise social tools. "Enterprise social networking initiatives need purpose, objectives and outcomes to be defined," said Gotta.
As a result, software makers are pushing towards tools specialised towards specific business operations such as sales and customer service, instead of company-wide "destination sites", according to Gotta. And while this concept is far from dead, businesses have to really understand why they want something before deciding that they need it.
Gotta concluded: "The lessoned learned has been that social for the sake of social is not good enough: you need a purpose, linked to a business outcome. The technology alone is not sufficient; again, a lesson we learn, and re-learn from time to time."
It is interesting to note that Facebook has never pushed any form of enterprise products. Its Groups tool is helpful for small teams, but other than that, it ignores this part of the market. This is in stark contrast with Google+, which is finding its way into organisations via Google Apps.
It will be fascinating to see how – as mobile and flexible working become increasingly common in the coming years – the way we think about enterprise social tools will change.
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