London: Facebook is expanding its Facebook at Work product into hundreds of more companies, as it tries to challenge enterprise software makers and win subscription revenue from corporate customers.

Facebook at Work looks and feels like the world’s largest social network but keeps corporate data private, secure and separate from a user’s personal profile. Facebook announced a trial of the network in January, gradually expanding it to 100 partners including drinks company Heineken USA and social media platform Hootsuite. It is now preparing to launch the product more broadly into businesses, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies.

Facebook at Work will be the company’s first venture into generating subscription revenue. Facebook currently makes most of its money by selling advertising slots for marketers to target its users, but it will keep corporate clients’ data separate and not show ads to business users.

Instead, it will operate a ‘freemium’ model popular with the latest generations of enterprise software companies such as Slack, Dropbox and Evernote, offering a free basic service but charging for additional services such as integrating with third-party tools, analytics and measures to get employees more engaged.

Julien Cordorniou, director of global platform partnerships at Facebook, said customers wanted to encourage employees to work on Facebook because it was an easy tool to adopt and one that they used in their personal lives.

Collaboration

He added that Facebook was using its expertise in designing mobile apps to make the platform mobile first — enabling even workers without PCs or desk jobs to contribute to work on the site.

“I think they want to bring a new level of collaboration and productivity to the workplace and they want to do it with a new type of enterprise software,” he said. “One could say the definition of a good organisation is when news travels fast — I think it was Bill Gates who first said that — and that is what Facebook has been doing for 10 years.”

He said when information travelled across an organisation quickly, people could take decisions faster and with access to data they might not have previously had. Heineken USA, Hootsuite and Latin American online retailer Linio have all said they are increasing productivity by using Facebook’s groups and news feed features.

Facebook at Work could challenge other enterprise technologies including Slack, the workplace chat app last valued at $2.8 billion (Dh10.3 billion), Google Drive and Microsoft’s Office suite and corporate social network Yammer. Although it is currently targeted at boosting internal networking, it could also one day rival LinkedIn, the social network for professionals.

Facebook has set its sights on the whole employed population — which Cordorniou said is about three billion people — more than double the current userbase of 1.49 billion.

Reaching beyond the office

Builders on a UK construction site are using Facebook at Work to snap and post pictures of what they accomplish each day, sending it round the world to other branches of the company in Japan and Germany.

This is just one example of how Facebook at Work plans to reach employees who do not traditionally use computers in their jobs, by using their smartphones to improve communication across companies.

Julien Cordorniou, director of global platform partnerships, said Facebook had been inspired to create the product when it spotted groups of employees adopting the social network as a way to share information with colleagues.

The Silicon Valley company has long used its own site to manage its internal communications and had begun to see others adopt Facebook groups to chat with their teams, for example. In one large airline, every crew on every flight had its own Facebook group, he said.

“This is our response to the existing behaviour of thousands of businesses around the world,” Cordorniou said. “We had to build Facebook at Work to make it work for [chief information officers].”