September 10, 2013
Simply put, Social Login is increasingly relevant and will remain so because it actually makes sense. Imagine yourself as a user, and then ask yourself: why would I duplicate the effort and the time to register and create a username and password that I might use sparingly or once and never again? Furthermore, after committing to a registration, why would I want multiple copies of my basic information floating around? It makes much more sense for users to have a single profile or a discrete number of profiles for different uses and then manage them in a centralized way.
Standardizing Online Identity
The drive to standardize identity online began decades ago, but organizations (both open source movements and large networks like Yahoo or MSNBC) never pursued a very open framework and the idea of a social identity for its own sake hadn't yet been invented beyond user profiles for blogs or forums. Sure, people logged into news sites or blogs and never hesitated to utilize a single identity when accessing different parts of the same network, but the idea of a trust network, built on validated security protocols and comprised of trustworthy content providers and vendors extending across the Web simply hadn't been validated yet. In addition, the headaches of remembering passwords and usernames or signing up online yet again weren't enough to drive widespread adoption of the new technology. Rather, it was Facebook and the emergence of a solely social profile that gelled the trend and pushed the idea of a single sign-in with one identity into something more tangible, a Social Login with additional benefits to the user.
Came for the Content, Stayed for the Community
What's happening now is that once users discover that existing social profiles are useful in accessing information they would register for anyway, they also recognize the benefits of hassle-free contributions to comment threads. These comment threads are an easy way to share and self-publish their own views in the context of news feeds and gain access to a wider community of people (outside of their own network but associated with the website) who share their interests. In other words, a single identity based on a social profile allows for far more than just an easier way to access content, but promises more interactive experiences, more relevancy and personalization and of course, more collaboration and social sharing. Indeed, the real value to the websites themselves after implementing Social Login is that they become part of a wider interest-based network. For example, users of Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn can now network based on their affinity or interest in your website.
The Debate Rages On: Utility vs. Brand Integrity
Still, there is an ongoing debate among website administrators and developers as to the efficacy of Social Login. There is a rather famous use case often mentioned in the debate. In brief, the SaaS provider outlines the move to Social Login followed by the subsequent move away from it, which combined a complete re-working of the registration and login UI and error handling. The takeway of their experience is that the advantages of Social Login didn't outweigh the loss of the brand experience with their users. In short, a verifiable boost in registrations was sacrificed for an unverified loss in brand integrity. Janrain, a Social Login solutions provider, combats this narrative with their own infographic and research.
Of course, there are very real barriers to users actually using Social Login to access or register for a website: Is this website a company or organization I know well? Is the website well-designed, clearly branded and thus more likely to be run by professionals? Is it trustworthy enough to safeguard my personal info and not share it or even make a financial transaction on my behalf? In a few words, do I trust them? We should keep in mind two salient points in the face of these questions: 1) Social Login doesn't have to be mandatory and 2) Registration requires a level of trust to begin with and always will. One reason that the Social Login adoption among users has been so high is that they have already placed their trust in the social platform, so signing into your site with those credentials is actually an extension of trust to you.
In brief, I recommend a couple of best practices that should be priorities when planning and implementing Social Login:
- State up front what users will experience and what your organization will and will not do with their information. Develop a very clear communication plan around privacy for your users.
- More importantly, invest in a social identity provider that provides tools your users can use to monitor and control access in a centralized fashion. Users often fear the loss of control.
Part 3 of this series focuses on building and customizing social tools, integrating social data, and empowering your users so they have control. Who is feeding whom? When it comes to traffic you are either feeding the social platforms or being fed by them.
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