February 10, 2017 4:04 PM, EST

Facebook for the Workplace: A Private Social Network for Your Trucking Business

This story appears in the February 6 print edition of iTECH, a supplement to Transport Topics.

Fans of Facebook — and there are more than 1.7 billion of them — now have a near-mirror image of the social network they can use for their businesses. Dubbed Workplace by Facebook, the new application offers all the familiar features that have made Facebook the world’s most popular digital meeting place. The primary difference: Workplace enables businesses to use the Facebook environment to create an entirely private social network for their employees and trusted trading partners.

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Pilot-tested a year before its release in late 2016, Workplace by Facebook is looking to muscle in on other players offering social networks for business, including Slack, Jive, Basecamp, Trello, Asana and Teams, a business social network in development at Microsoft.

Each of these social network environments enables a business to create a searchable, interactive, highly flexible community where management and staff can meet virtually to get projects done.

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“Any tools that assist in collaboration are beneficial,” said JeanMarie Decker, director of internal communications at truckload carrier NFI Industries. “As the supply chain increases in complexity and there are often end-to-end solutions, tools like these can better enable communication and teamwork across business lines and departments.”

NFI Industries, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, ranks No. 27 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.

Brian Helton, marketing and media relations manager at Mercer Transportation Co., agreed: “I can see how it could be a useful tool in providing one place for company info, announcements, workgroup think tanks, special interests, etc.”

Mercer Transportation, in Louisville, Kentucky, ranks No. 55 on the for-hire TT100.

“Sharing information on a social network facilitates collaboration and increases the velocity of information flow through the organization,” said David Roush, president of KSM Transport Advisors.

Moreover, the companies behind these work-oriented social networks stress that they sweat the details of security, promising that your trucking business secrets will be safe in their secured cloud.

Of course, not everyone is a fan of the social network-for-business premise.

“As a consultant, I much prefer direct collaboration — face-to-face meetings, group conference calls — over private social network collaboration,” said Joe White, owner of CostDown Consulting. “Within a private social network, it is difficult to express thoughts with passion and commitment, and often, participation is spread out over a period of time based on each individual’s availability.”

But for those willing to give the environment a look, Workplace’s primary advantage probably is that the social network already is a comfortable shoe for many business people. Millions of millennials grew up on Facebook, and many of their parents and grandparents also joined after they realized Facebook makes it a snap to keep up with family and friends.

David Anderson, vice president of business development at Black Horse Carriers, said Facebook has become his company’s second-best source of applicants. Black Horse Carriers, in Carol Stream, Ilinois, ranks No. 78 on the for-hire TT100.

Flatbed carrier Bennett International Group uses the public Facebook to share information and foster a sense of community throughout the organization, said Kris Rzepkowski, the company’s executive director of marketing.

Bennett International Group, in McDonough, Georgia, ranks No. 68 on the for-hire TT100.

“Our employees cheer for our drivers. Our drivers are proud to share their great moments and are unafraid to share their concerns,” Rzepkowski said. “We will be doing even more on ‘regular’ Facebook in 2017. We also see a lot more potential on LinkedIn for business development and industry community, and the platform is catching up to Facebook from an ease-of-use standpoint.”

Both Anderson and Rzepkowski expressed interest in a business version of Facebook. If you, too, are intrigued, key features you’ll find in the Workplace environment, which can be used on smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops, include:

• Groups: The same groups Facebook users now join to form special interest communities are also in Workplace by Facebook. In the Workplace version, management and staff can use groups to exchange ideas, photos, images, documents and other files to move a project forward.

“We have a private employee group on [public] Facebook already and plan to use Facebook more for attracting new users or nonfamiliar users to our company,” said Kim Lorimer, vice president of training and development at Evans Network of Cos. “We would consider a private social network; however, we tend to use e-mail and Skype more for internal communicating and our web portal to communicate to our agent partners and independent contractors.”

Evans Network of Cos., in Schuykill Haven, Pennsylvania, ranks No. 59 on the for-hire TT100.

• Multicompany Groups: Businesses interested in inviting trading partners to engage in a shared goal also can use Workplace to create multicompany groups while keeping the rest of the groups in their Workplace private.

• News Feed: The lifeblood of any Facebook user, the news feed also is the central communications stream in the Workplace version. Here, you’ll receive continual updates on how projects are coming along, breaking news that affects the company and, most importantly, confirmation on who’s getting that strawberry shortcake for Stan’s birthday.

• Workchat: Much like Facebook’s private messaging, workchat allows trucking employees to engage in one-to-one conversations with other people at work.

• Events: This feature on Facebook has proved invaluable for announcing an upcoming event to your friends. It also shows the world everyone who was invited to the event and everyone who has RSVP’d that they’re going. This tool is available in the Workplace version, too.

• Live: One of Facebook’s powerful new features, Live allows you to livestream video of any trucking company event — such as a CEO’s speech or the insights of a visiting consultant.

• Search: Pretty much everything in Workplace by Facebook is searchable.

• Notifications: You’ll get notifications from Workplace when someone replies to your post, creates an event, uploads a file or engages in most other forms of social network interactivity.

Not surprisingly, the inaugural version of Workplace by Facebook is relatively inexpensive. Monthly pricing is $3 per user for up to 1,000 active users, $2 per user for 1,001 to 10,000 users and $1 per user for 10,001 or more users.

Before you lunge to create your own Workplace community, you’ll want to look over its competitors. Each has slightly different ways of putting together a social network for business — slight differences that may be a big deal for you.

Those competitors include:

• Slack (starts at $6.67 per user per month):

Already well-established in the social network-for-business marketplace, Slack is similar to Workplace in that it offers a searchable communications environment where postings can include images, videos and messages. Slack also integrates with dozens of third-party apps, including Google Drive, Dropbox, GitHub, MailChimp and Uber.

• Asana ($8.33 per user per month):

Asana bills itself as a project management network first and foremost and features task deadlines, dashboards, message prioritization, private groups and more. Third-party apps that work with Asana include Google Drive, Slack, Hipchat and MailChimp.

• Jive (starts at $5 per user per month):

Billed as collaboration software, Jive features include a news stream, executive blogs, community sentiment analytics, discussions, document collaboration, search, events, community managers and an employee directory. It also integrates with a number of third-party apps, including Salesforce, Google, Dropbox, MS Sharepoint and Office 365.

• Microsoft Teams (free with most versions of Office 365):

Promised for delivery in 2017, Teams’ primary draw for Microsoft users most likely will be its tight integration with other Microsoft programs such as Word, Excel, Skype, SharePoint and OneNote. Teams also is promising a polling feature, which will enable users to seek feedback from a project team on a new idea, new direction or other query.

• Still other business social network environments to evaluate include Basecamp, Trello and Wrike.

Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. Voice: (646) 233-4089. E-mail: Web: