Is Facebook Inc Taking Aim at LinkedIn?

If the rumors turn out to be true, the social media king may have a work-related service on the horizon.

Jun 29, 2014 at 11:30AM

There are no shortage of items on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg's plate. Sometime in the coming months, presumably, he has drones to manufacture and launch to begin beaming Internet connections to far-flung areas of the globe. Then there's incorporating the world's most popular mobile instant messaging app, WhatsApp, into all things Facebook. Video ads, monetizing Instagram, finding new and better uses for Facebook's new virtual reality headgear maker Oculus, and targeting small business owners are a few other "to-dos."

But that's why Zuckerberg's surrounded himself with quality people, to keep all those Facebook fires burning. And if the rumors are true, delegating at least some of Facebook's latest ventures has freed Zuckerberg and his tech team to explore yet another, potentially game-changing, alternative: FB@Work. Depending on what direction FB@Work opts to take, assuming it comes to fruition, it could land right in professional networking leader LinkedIn's (NYSE:LNKD) sandbox.

What's all this about FB@Work?
It should be noted that rumors involving what some are calling FB@Work have swirled, off and on, for a few years. But the scuttlebutt has picked up steam of late after an infamous, "anonymous" source, this one supposedly a Facebook insider, spilled the beans. Apparently, the initiative is being spear-headed in Facebook's London office, which has added some fuel to the speculation fire.

Why? Because the Facebook London team is led by Lars Rasmussen, a former Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) exec who just happened to spearhead Wave, a collaborative tool that was shelved about four years ago after being ignored by users. Wave was designed to be a real-time instant messenger and data-sharing solution. That sounds awfully similar to the rumors swirling around Facebook right now.

Whether Facebook decides to go all-in with an enterprise solution, or simply offer businesses a cleaner, scaled-down version of what is essentially the Facebook pages we've come to know, isn't clear. But the revenue-enhancing possibilities of either option -- advertising, selling the FB@Work solution as a separate entity, garnering and utilizing even more user data to name but a few -- certainly make a business solution worth pondering.

Would it make sense?
If you're a fan of LinkedIn, unfortunately it's been a dismal year. With its stock price down over 23% in 2014 -- compared to Facebook's 23% jump in the same period -- LinkedIn is being questioned like never before. With its string of improving year-over-year revenue growth from three distinct lines of business, LinkedIn has enjoyed a lot of positive investor sentiment. But fundamental concerns surrounding its business and declining income have some industry pundits less than enamored. Is LinkedIn vulnerable?

With about four times LinkedIn's 300 million plus members, Facebook's 1.28 billion monthly active users (MAUs) number is astounding. As it continues to grow its user base every quarter, that growth certainly isn't coming domestically. Why? Because seemingly every U.S. citizen who has access to the Internet, and likely even some who don't, are Facebook users. And with Zuckerberg's mission to bring the Internet to the world, Facebook could saturate the planet as it has the U.S.

Leveraging all those users to take on LinkedIn, even indirectly, would seem natural. And Facebook certainly doesn't shy away from taking on large-scale initiatives. Make no mistake, delving into LinkedIn's world of professional networking requires a major commitment. But the upsides of building a solution to share data and ideas across an organization would warrant the effort. And it's not such a stretch when you consider that companies have already adapted Facebook's Group functionality as a pseudo-platform for business, primarily using Facebook's Group feature and Messenger.

Final Foolish thoughts
Fools know trading on rumors is short-term thinking, and a recipe for long-term disaster. However, even if FB@Work doesn't come to fruition -- though there's tremendous potential should it decide to -- it reinforces the notion that Facebook has multiple ways to continue its phenomenal growth, some of which have not even been considered yet. All those opportunities should keep Facebook investors smiling, and keep LinkedIn fans watching their backs.

Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook, Google (C shares), and LinkedIn. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook, Google (C shares), and LinkedIn. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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