Employers who worry staff fritter away the working day on Facebook might have to rethink their view of the social site, which is launching a professional-networking forum.
Facebook at Work is the latest secret project in founder Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to extend the site’s audience beyond the 1.35 billion people who already use it.
Many employers block staff from using Facebook, limiting the time they spend on the site and restricting the Silicon Valley company’s ability to leverage advertising revenue. Earlier this year Mr Zuckerberg noted that the 40 minutes a typical Facebook user spends on the site each day is a small fraction of the total nine hours they engage with digital media, including television, mobile and computers.
The ambition to move into professional networking has the potential to increase the amount of time users spend on Facebook each day, but puts the company in direct competition with business-networking site LinkedIn.
Facebook at Work will allow users to keep professional contacts separate from the personal details they share with friends, such as home videos and holiday snaps.
But Pippa Glucklich, co-CEO of media agency Starcom MediaVest, said convincing users and employers that the site is appropriate for sharing business information will be a challenge for Facebook.
“Never underestimate Facebook. But they have had a lot of issues around privacy and security and those will come to the forefront,” she said. “The thing about LinkedIn is it does what it says on the tin. I think they have built up a bit of a niche for themselves as a virtual networking site."
But Rachelle Denton, of digital agency TH_NK, said: "Millions of people share highly personal details on Facebook every day. The height of this trust is displayed when users exchange personal information about their health, relationship status, even their bank details via Facebook. Even the casual user doesn't question sharing where they are and who they are with when they check in."
But it might be this very confidence which will concern employers when they imagine how staff might share sensitive business data.
Linked In, which was founded in 2003 and has grown to 300m users worldwide, has in recent years been expanding beyond basic networking to include specialist business blogs and other content. Facebook, which has grown far quicker in a similar period of time, is now looking to encroach into business and has been testing its Facebook at Work offering with companies ahead of launch.
The new direction will create further friction with Facebook's more traditional Internet rivals, Google and Microsoft, which are also looking to strengthen their engagement with the world of work. Facebook at Work, which will allow users to share documents with professional contacts and colleagues, is intended to compete with established products such as Microsoft Office and Google Drive.