Facebook Eyes Enterprise Market

The social networking player seeks to gain favor among enterprise and third-party developers. But will an ad-supported model fly?

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Instead of worrying about employees spending company time on Facebook, some enterprises may soon have reason to encourage the idea.

At a conference on consumer services and applications in the enterprise here last week, a Facebook executive confirmed the social networking giant has big plans to make its service more accessible to corporate users.

"One area we've seen a lot of value for the social graph is in the enterprise because it's a completely different way to envision an HR system or CRM," said Chamath Palihapitiya, vice president of marketing and operations at Facebook. "A handful of large companies have expressed interest in seeing how it would work because organically at least 50 percent of their employees are already on Facebook."

Facebook's interest comes at a time when companies like Socialtext already offer "enterprise-ready" social networking tools that include corporate-friendly enhancements, such as extra security and audit features.

But even if Facebook is late to the enterprise party, Palihapitiya said the company remains well aware of the opportunity.

"We see it as one of the single long-term areas of value creation," he said during his presentation.

In an interview with InternetNews.com, Palihapitiya added that Facebook doesn't plan to be building enterprise applications. Instead, it wants to make sure developers can leverage its platform to bring Facebook in through the front door as a company-sanctioned application.

"We're interested in working with enterprises and making sure we understand their needs," Palihapitiya said. "We want to enable other developers to use our platform to develop for the enterprise." P>He also said the company is working with enterprises to develop some reference examples of Facebook services for the workplace.

Already, Salesforce.com has helped marry a bit of Facebook to the enterprise with the Faceforce application available through the SaaS giant's AppExchange, an online catalog of Salesforce-ready applications.

Faceforce pulls Facebook profile information into Salesforce CRM. For example, this allows a salesperson to see a prospect's birthday, favorite movies, books, sports team and contacts they might have who are already customers.

How much information is pulled in through Faceforce depends on how much the user includes in his or her public profile. Clara Shih, director of AppExchange product line management, developed the application.

Will ad-supported apps fly?

Palihapitiya specifically mentioned Faceforce as an example of forthcoming applications that leverage the social network platform. But he also said Facebook is exploring ways to extend its ad-supported model into the enterprise -- or at least, to give developers the option.

"We want to be agnostic, based on what we can enable," he said.

Those comments led to a spirited debate with other panelists dubious about whether ad-supported model will work. "Ads in the enterprise are extremely unfeasible," said David Thompson, CEO of Genius.com, a provider of online tools designed to help salespeople track prospects.

Thompson said the issue of ad-supported software for business had been debated for years at WebEx, the online conferencing company where he previously served as chief marketing officer.

"No one wants it, certainly not corporate IT," he said. "I say it's doomed."

This article was first published on InternetNews.com. To read the full article, click here.

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