Why Facebook is giving Workplace away for free

Facebook is introducing a free version of Workplace, the company’s social network for business, in a bid to appeal to smaller and more cost-sensitive organizations that don’t necessarily need enterprise-class services. Workplace Standard, which will initially be offered as a beta, won’t include administrative controls, some security compliance measures, monitoring tools, single sign-on or integration with third-party services, according to Facebook.

The move, which comes almost six months after Facebook launched Workplace following a 20-month pilot program, brings the service in line with competitors who already offer a free version with limited features. The decision to split Workplace into premium and standard versions also suggests that Workplace has yet to achieve a level of interest and adoption that would be expected of Facebook, particularly among small to medium-sized businesses or those in emerging markets. Facebook has yet to provide any details about how many companies are using Workplace since it was formally released to the public.

“We’re really happy with how adoption’s gone, especially with Workplace Premium,” says Simon Cross, product manager at Workplace by Facebook. “There are just some companies and some situations in which people want to use a version of Workplace without necessarily having to pay for it, and they don’t necessarily need all the features that we’ve baked into Workplace Premium.”

Facebook splits Workplace into tiers

Cross describes the premium version as an “enterprise-class product” with features that let companies manage wide, mass-scale deployments that reach 10s of thousands of people. “Not every company in the world wants to do these large-scale deployments and not every company in the world can afford to pay for Workplace,” he says.

Facebook charges a range of monthly prices for Workplace Premium, between $1-$3 per active user depending on the size of each customer’s employee base. India is the country with the highest rate of adoption thus far and Workplace is especially popular with companies that are largely staffed by mobile-only workers such as baristas, factory workers and retail employees, according to Facebook.

“Our goal with Facebook is to connect everyone and our goal with Workplace is to connect everyone who works,” Cross says. “It’s really as simple as that.”

Facebook is also responding in part to a growing number of customer requests for a free version, according to Cross. “I think it’s pretty common in this industry that people often get started with a free version of the product and then sometimes they go on to pay for it to get additional features,” he says. “I actually don’t know if we’ll end up with more standard users than premium users, and to be honest we don’t really mind. Our goal is primarily to connect everyone.”

While the free tier of Workplace has limited features for IT and doesn’t include administrative email support, the premium and standard products are “identical” from a user’s perspective, according to Cross. “Some large businesses need additional tools to manage wide deployment of Workplace across their company and make sure they’re compliant with their obligations,” he says. “Many companies just want to communicate with each other and over a platform that they trust.” Facebook says it will begin testing the free version of Workplace today.

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