Facebook has announced it will be offering small businesses a free version of its still-in-beta business-oriented social network platform, Workplace by Facebook. The beta-platform was already available to large enterprises. The small business version is labeled “standard” and will function much like the paid enterprise version when it eventually launches. The “standard” version will lack certain security controls and other IT department-friendly features, according to Business Insider.

What is Workplace by Facebook?

Facebook first announced its plans for such a product in 2014. It bundles several communication features into a suite that includes chat, Facebook Live and other collaborative tools. When first announced, the name was, “Work by Facebook.” At that time, we called it, “a great idea with the wrong brand name.” (Our reason: Facebook has spent the past 15 years building a product and brand that represents what people do to keep from working.)

With the launch of Workplace by Facebook, the company now stresses that it is entirely separate from the consumer version of Facebook.

Did Facebook get out-flanked by Slack?

Over the past few years, many companies have taken the communications, profile and collaborative features of Facebook and tried to apply them to a work setting. Microsoft purchased a company called Yammer.com to fill such a gap, for example.

But the undisputed success story in developing an alternative-to-email corporate communication suite is clearly Slack. And Slack is now a proven product and niche leader. It has also survived the whole “Crossing the Chasm” paradigm. Slack has won the battle for the top-end enterprise user before the competition even knew what was happening. Every company from Microsoft to Google to Facebook are going to have to invest a lot in unseating Slack.

Who can do it better than Slack?

Late to the game, Facebook now recognizes, as it did with advertising, that local, small businesses are the key to building its product: one business at a time. But they still face the problem of having a consumer brand that is constantly wrapped up in controversies related to privacy and the use of data related to its consumer-users. Small businesses that have employee teams are going to need lots of handholding to be convinced that Facebook should be their trusted partner in business communication. (I’m from Facebook and I’m here to help you.)

The bottom line

The evolution of communications software (that is not centered on email) is leading to products that can improve the productivity of a small business, no matter what their brand. Try them out to see what they’re all about. It’s easy to bet on Slack, but Facebook has a powerful brand among Millenial employees.

Tip: Like any collaborative platform, they only work if staffers use them. And people who love to organize projects in massive email threads may revolt. Training is necessary, even if the creator of the software is something as familiar as Facebook.

image: Workplace by Facebook