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The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Facebook will soon launch an enterprise-focused tool called “Facebook at Work.” According to the Journal, Facebook at Work will allow employees to message with colleagues, connect with professional contacts, collaborate, and possibly even share documents and data in an intranet-like fashion within an organization. And it all may be available as early as January of 2015.

Like most managers within the enterprise, you have probably recognized the potential value of an intranet collaboration tool of this type. Implemented and used correctly, such a tool can go a long way toward heightening communication, streamlining the development and testing of ideas, serving as a valuable base of industry and company knowledge, and flattening company hierarchies through increased transparency between departments and teams.

But is Facebook at Work the right choice for your unique business? And if not, how can you navigate the selection and integration of any enterprise social networking tool into your organization successfully?

Below are four things to carefully consider before you make that important choice:

1. You most likely agree that the words “Facebook” and “productivity” do not belong in the same sentence. You’ve also no doubt seen statistics like those discovered through a Kansas State University study, and published last year in the journal Computers in Human Behavior: your employees may spend as much as 60% to 80% of their time on the internet at work for personal reasons.

Many IT departments have already blocked the use of Facebook within their companies to cut out the distraction altogether. On the other hand, so many of your employees are already familiar with Facebook and its use, which should make transitioning to a Facebook at Work solution fairly fast and efficient.

Is bringing in a tool that carries a brand notorious for stifling productivity, but is highly familiar and immediately usable, right for your company? You will have to decide the potential drawbacks and advantages of that move, and be open to considering alternatives that offer the same benefits but aren’t associated quite as fully with your employees’ personal lives.

2. It is widely known that a great deal of Facebook’s growth is due to their aggregation and intelligent manipulation of the personal data of its users. It has also been widely reported that Facebook at Work will utilize an entirely different server platform, and will most certainly keep an employee’s personal information separate from any professional data they may be sharing, about both themselves in a professional capacity and the company at which they are employed.

By nature, a social collaboration tool encourages the sharing of information. But it only makes sense that you should be able to freely — and very specifically — choose what information about your employees and your business should be shared, and when and how it is appropriate for that sharing to occur.

3. Your employees already have policies, practices, and procedures in place that represent the way they work on a daily basis. You should want your social collaboration solution to match and enhance those practices, not change or convert them. There are many fine social collaboration solutions available that can be implemented, but if, in order for that implementation to fully occur, your employees have to essentially change the way they work, the move will be met with frustration — at the very least initially.

A good enterprise collaboration solution should take into consideration not only the way your employees already work, but how they as individuals and groups enjoy working. Only then will the implementation be embraced and extensively adopted in your unique workplace.

4. A number of social collaboration solutions may be right for your company today. But is it flexible and elegant enough to adapt to how your business might change and grow in the future? Make a point of evaluating any solution based on its ability to be customized according to the natural work rhythms and preferences of your entire organization as they exist today, and also able to adapt to the inevitable and unexpected twists and turns your company will experience as it flexes with a fast-moving marketplace and grows with success. The revisions and adaptations should be quick and easy to make, and not require extreme expertise for the slightest change.

The Bottom Line on Facebook at Work and Other Social Collaboration Tools

Once all of the hype dies down, you will have to decide whether Facebook at Work — or any other enterprise collaboration tool — is right for your company. By evaluating the solution based on its effect on productivity, its ability to operate securely, its potential for customization based on your unique company attributes, and its potential to grow and change as your company does the same, you’ll be able to leapfrog the pitfalls that enterprise social networking can bring, and enjoy the real advantages the concept can offer now, and in the future.

About the Author: Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder and president of Axero, developer of Communifire, a widely popular social business platform used for implementing social intranets, collaboration spaces, and social knowledge management. He is also the author of the popular eBook, 22 Surefire Ways to Boost Employee Engagement, a research-backed and data-driven look at 22 practices that will help you better engage your workforces, boost company productivity, and increase employee engagement.
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