This column has been updated from Sept. 30 with details about the official launch of Facebook's Workplace service, along with its pricing.
Facebook's (FB) - Get Reportforay into the enterprise collaboration and social networking space, which launched on Monday, is unlikely to have a big direct impact on the top line of a company expected by analysts to post 2017 sales of $36.7 billion. But the effort could yield some valuable indirect benefits.
And if Facebook executes well, its corporate product could become a headache for smaller companies in this space such as Atlassian (TEAM) - Get Report, Jive Software (JIVE) and Slack, as well as for Microsoft's (MSFT) - Get ReportYammer and Salesforce.com's (CRM) - Get ReportChatter. LinkedIn (LNKD) , set to be acquired by Microsoft, largely isn't in the crosshairs, since Facebook's offering is focused on helping workers in the same company communicate and collaborate.
At a London event on Monday, Mark Zuckerberg's company launched Workplace, which had been known as Facebook at Work while under beta testing for the last two years. At first glance, the product looks much like regular Facebook. But it's meant to provide a company's employees with a platform for sharing and commenting on work updates, scheduling events, creating workgroups, and communicating with co-workers via chat, video or calls.
Workplace is available via mobile apps and a dedicated site. About a thousand firms have been trying it out in beta mode, including Royal Bank of Scotland(RBS) - Get Report and Scandinavian carrier Telenor. Users can either create a login that's completely separate from their regular Facebook login, or combine the two to quickly toggle between their work and personal accounts.
In either case, the work account is separate from the personal account, so users don't need to worry about their co-workers seeing an embarrassing picture or a political rant. Still, the interfaces for both platforms are very similar, with an algorithm-driven news feed taking center stage.
Not surprisingly, Facebook is pricing Workplace is aggressively. The company is charging just $3 per user per month for the first 1,000 monthly active users (MAUs), $2 for the next 9,000 and $1 for any additional MAUs. TechCrunch observes Slack respectively charges $8 and $15 per active user month for its two main service tiers.
Competition is stiff -- products such as Slack, Yammer and Atlassian's HipChat have reeled in plenty of blue-chip clients. They've also struck integration deals for many third-party business apps and cloud services, and support a number of add-ons and plugins. Workplace does integrate with some popular third-party services, such as cloud storage/file-sharing platform Box (BOX) - Get Report, but not as many as leading rival offerings do.
But the company is betting the familiarity of its traditional interface, and the big investments it has made over the years in optimizing it, will set its offering apart. Facebook's pricing also doesn't hurt, and the company has suggested its artificial intelligence investments could eventually be used for features such as gauging employee sentiment.
As tech analyst Jan Dawson observes, Facebook Workplace could have the effect of boosting Facebook user engagement in an environment (the office) where it's relatively low. And by making it easy to switch between work and personal accounts, the solution could help Facebook re-engage those users who have cut back on their Facebook activity.
Just as many of Alphabet's (GOOGL) - Get Report Google's services aren't heavily monetized but have the benefits of strengthening the company's brand and keeping users hooked on the Google ecosystem, Facebook might be less interested in the relatively modest sums of revenue it could get for licensing Facebook at Work than in making Facebook a larger part of the daily lives of millions of office workers, many of whom have the kind of demographics advertisers covet.
If the company has proven anything in recent years, it's that it knows how to monetize users hooked on its platform.