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The Value of Social Logins for Digital Marketers

(Posted on May 1, 2014 at 11:24AM )
Before Vocus gave me the opportunity to contribute to their blog, I was a fan. Not just of the product, which is a robust, multifaceted social CRM tool, but also of the quality of their inbound marketing content.
Last week I downloaded “The Marketer’s Guide to Social Media 2014” and was once again incredibly impressed by the content and its insights. I recommend that you download it if you have opportunity to do so.

One of the marketing opportunities that Geoff Livingston identifies in the piece are social logins, the somewhat common and seemingly innocuous logins that many sites use to authenticate users. It occurred to me that I really haven’t read too many even-handed accounts of the pros and cons of social logins.

What I want to do in this post is give you an overview of social logins, dig into what information marketers can glean from the two most prevalent ones (Google+ and Facebook), talk about technical considerations for implementation and how social logins can enhance social CRM.

Want more about social media? Get your free Marketer’s Guide to Social Media 2014 now!

Login with almost anything, but mostly Facebook and Google
You see social logins nearly everywhere you go on the web. Spotify, Pandora, Triberr, MySpace (just to name a few sites I’ve perused this morning) – all use some social authentication mechanism to prompt users in. Even Mashable, Forbes, and the New York Times use social authentication to some degree. So what’s the benefit?

Information. The social networks become privy to additional data about their users, and in exchange they allow websites (user-authorized) access to social data of users… including email.

If this sounds like a great deal, it comes with some caveats:

  • You have to have content that can be tailored to the user (ecommerce, content, et cetera). If there’s no benefit to use a social login, odds are people won’t use them (you’ve probably encountered sites like these). This is why talking about technical implementation isn’t worthwhile in this piece, because a social login implementation is far more involved than simply implementing the buttons, the back-end of your site needs to be able to customize the user experience based upon these additional data.
  • There are practical considerations for social logins. For instance, Facebook and Google+ dominate the social login space. It’s not that they provide information that is any different than a site like Twitter or LinkedIn, but they have scale. Odds are good that nearly anyone can login with a Facebook ID, and the vast majority with a Google ID. Only 20 percent (if that) can login with Twitter. It’s not an insignificant consideration.
  • The data isn’t always reliable. In my humble opinion, the biggest “get” from a social login is an email address (both Facebook and Google have CAN-SPAM compliance reminders for marketers that collect email addresses). If you recall a while back, Facebook made @facebook email addresses the default email for user profiles. Facebook announced that they are ending the @facebook email, but I still have acquaintances on Facebook whose email is that worthless default email. Also consider that many users use pseudonyms and false identities on sites like Twitter. Marketers need to weigh whether the data that they’ll receive is worth the cost of implementation.
  • Because users approve each of the pieces of data that marketers request with their social login, more information could (does) result in lower opt-in.
Social logins are widespread and may offer a fairly robust social data set for marketers, although there are technical and practical considerations to an implementation. What specific data can marketers glean from using social plug-ins?
Data from Facebook’s and Google’s social plugins
I don’t mean to ignore other social logins (and I’m sure it’s quite easy to find the same information for these), but I want to focus in on the specific data that marketers can get from the Facebook and Google social plugins.

An initial request for Facebook gives marketers access to what Facebook calls “basic information,” which is:

  • id
  • name
  • first_name
  • last_name
  • link
  • username
  • gender
  • locale
  • age_range
You can additionally ask for the following information:

  • email
  • user_about_me
  • friends_about_me
  • user_activities
  • friends_activities
  • user_birthday
  • friends_birthday
  • user_checkins
  • friends_checkins
  • user_education_history
  • friends_education_history
  • user_events
  • friends_events
  • user_groups
  • friends_groups
  • user_hometown
  • friends_hometown
  • user_interests
  • friends_interests
  • user_likes
  • friends_likes
  • user_location
  • friends_location
  • user_notes
  • friends_notes
  • user_photos
  • friends_photos
  • user_questions
  • friends_questions
  • user_relationships
  • friends_relationships
  • user_relationship_details
  • friends_relationship_details
  • user_religion_politics
  • friends_religion_politics
  • user_status
  • friends_status
  • user_subscriptions
  • friends_subscriptions
  • user_videos
  • friends_videos
  • user_website
  • friends_website
  • user_work_history
  • friends_work_history
Holy cow, right? Google boasts a less robust, but also useful complement of data:

The initial scope for a Google + login gives a user’s name and photo URL, which are always public, and a birthday or gender if the user has made them public.

  • aboutMe
  • ageRange
  • birthday
  • braggingRights
  • circledByCount
  • cover
  • coverInfo
  • leftImageOffset
  • topImageOffset
  • coverPhoto
  • height
  • url
  • width
  • layout
  • currentLocation
  • displayName
  • domain
  • emails
  • type
  • value
  • etag
  • gender
  • id
  • image
  • url
  • isPlusUser
  • kind
  • language
  • name
  • familyName
  • formatted
  • givenName
  • honorificPrefix
  • honorificSuffix
  • middleName
  • nickname
  • objectType
  • occupation
  • organizations
  • department
  • description
  • endDate
  • location
  • name
  • primary
  • startDate
  • title
  • type
  • placesLived
  • primary
  • value
  • plusOneCount
  • relationshipStatus
  • skills
  • tagline
  • url
  • urls
  • label
  • type
  • value
  • verified
You can see how some of these data points could be especially meaningful (EMAIL!!!!), especially in concert with each other.

Technical difficultiesImplementation of social logins could potentially be challenging. Email service MailChimp reported over 100,000 authentication errors directly attributable to their social logins. Because implementation isn’t just the login but the personalization that the data informs, social logins aren’t easy to do.

A group of SaaS (software as a service) providers such as Gigya and Janrain have developed products that implement different social logins on a site and help to collect usable consumer data. For businesses and marketers that want to collect user data with social logins but don’t have the organic resources to implement this themselves, this type of software may be an option.

Enhancing social CRMI had never shot a rifle before I went into the Army. And for the good part of 1o years, I continued to be one of the worst shots anyone had ever seen (I did manage to concentrate my shots at my own target starting in year two, though). One of the most important skills that I never mastered was to triangulate my shots. The principle is pretty simple: you get a rifle that you’ve never shot before. You shoot at a target three times, and if your shots are close enough together you can see exactly how you need to adjust your sights to shoot where you’re aiming.

The marketing equivalent of triangulating a rifle’s shot group is segmentation. This is how social login data can be utilized with a social CRM tool like the Vocus Marketing Suite to enhance its marketing value. Demographic data are kind of like my shot groups: erratic and not especially helpful. Segmenting me based on gender and geographic location probably doesn’t tell you that much. But if you understood from Facebook that I like Joan Osborne, Indian food and Arrested Development, you may come to the conclusion that I have exquisite tastes (I’m kidding). My point is that additional data points provide you a better opportunity to reach and convert customers with your digital communication using deliberate segmentation.

Social logins are popular, useful and difficult to implement. At best they provide a rich complement of user data points that would be difficult to acquire otherwise, at their worst they provide useless or empty data points that may make segmentation less precise. That said, social logins have the potential to be an important tool for marketers to create customized user experiences.

Jim Dougherty is an expert on social media and technology who blogs at Leaders West. For more marketing advice from Jim, click here.