Enterprise Software

F8: Facebook doubles down on the enterprise with 4 key business services

While Facebook still often gets characterized for cat photos and fake news, the company is making big moves in the back office. At F8 2017, these four business tools quietly stole the show.

The biggest obstacle to Facebook's rise in the enterprise might be the fact that its brand is so popular with consumers—arguably the world's first product to have a billion customers.

But make no mistake, a big part of Facebook's current maturation into a Fortune 500 corporate giant is that it's also going to be a maker of tools and services for businesses.

At the F8 developer conference this week in San Jose, CA, Facebook spent a lot time talking about the features, products, APIs, and other tools that it's working on to help businesses transform and seize the opportunities of the digital age.

Of all the stuff Facebook talked about, here are the four that can have the biggest impact for most businesses right now.

1. Facebook Workplace

Facebook Workplace is your company's own mini Facebook with a superset of business tools (and a separate login from your personal Facebook account). It officially emerged out of beta in October 2016 and already has over 14,000 businesses from every continent using it. The mission of the service is to replace the intranet portals and enterprise software that your employees struggle to use or avoid altogether.

The built-in messaging and video calling and native integration with tools like Dropbox, Google Apps, and Microsoft Office put it to work for common tasks. The mobile-first nature of Facebook Workplace also means it's equally accessible to any employee anywhere they are working. This has been huge for companies like Starbucks where most employees don't have a company computer.

It also has its own Google Docs competitor and it can automatically translate between languages, which makes it a great collaboration tool for multinational companies.

SEE: Facebook Workplace could replace Slack, Jira, Hangouts, and a lot more

2. Messenger for Business

Last year at F8, Facebook tried to convince businesses that they should start using Messenger as a way to communicate with their customers—both for better human-to-human contact and to enable automation using bots. At F8 2017, Facebook shared success stories and best practices, and launched new features like Chat Extensions, Smart Replies, and Discovery. MasterCard talked about using Messenger to streamline transactions with customers. Western Union announced a money transfer bot to send money via Messenger in over 200 countries and 130 currencies.

Canadian telecom giant Rogers reported that it sees a 60% lift in customer satisfaction from interactions using Messenger. At F8, I also spoke with a developer team that creates for multiple platforms and they said the bot capabilities on Messenger are a lot farther along than the other big platforms they work with. As far as bots go, the Smart Replies feature impressed me the most. It can scrape your website for information about your company and then use that data to automatically answer questions about your business from customers (it works especially well if you already have a detailed Q&A). This is definitely aimed at small businesses that don't have customer service departments.

SEE: Video: How a startup is building Facebook Messenger bots to make online shopping a lot smarter

3. Automated Insights

At F8, Facebook announced that it's bringing together all of its data tools under one umbrella called Facebook Analytics—which, ironically, even has its own Twitter account. The company also announced a new tool called Automated Insights that will reach deep into data stores to provide omnichannel data about your customers' journeys and trends in your market—and which, even more ironically, doesn't require a Facebook login.

This is a highly ambitious play by Facebook, and the company says the feature will remain experimental at first. But then again, no company has the reach across so many customers and brands that Facebook does. The company says it will use Automated Insights to surface trends and behaviors you didn't even realize you should be looking for.

SEE: Facebook's Automated Insights wants to give you an AI-powered team of virtual data scientists

4. Login and Account Kit

Facebook also used F8 to talk about a slew of new features for Facebook Login and Account Kit, all of which are aimed at streamlining the customer experience and enabling businesses to have richer customer interactions. The company rolled out a new and improved Facebook Login that instead of saying "Login with Facebook" says "Continue as Jason" (for example), if you're already logged into Facebook in your browser. Since experimenting with it in tests, Pinterest has seen a 37% increase in Facebook logins.

Facebook also rolled out insights to help businesses understand customer journeys from Facebook Login and Account Kit and rolled that data into Facebook Analytics. It has integrated Facebook Login with Messenger more seamlessly as well so that customers can stay logged in as they jump through to rich services that have Facebook Login enabled (such as buying movie tickets directly in Messenger). And, Facebook also announced the new Delegated Account Recovery feature, which it touts as more integrated and secure than today's email or phone methods.

SEE: Facebook offers account recovery service that's more secure than email

Final word

It's tough to deny that Facebook's enterprise savvy is spreading in the company. At this year's F8, I was impressed to hear how well Facebook employees are beginning to understand the challenges and complexities of the enterprise. It was also encouraging to see that they've developed a strong appetite to disrupt some of these age-old problems and processes by building better mousetraps. The employees of the future may thank them for it.

Also see

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Image: Jason Hiner/TechRepublic

About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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