There’s only one thing more disheartening to an online retailer than knowing that a lot of customers are going to abandon their shopping carts before completing a purchase. And that’s the discovery that a whopping three out of four of them will actually turn around and leave the website rather than endure the hassle of registering a new account.
A new technology called “social login,” however, can alleviate both problems. Offered by multiple vendors (including Facebook) or custom built in-house, social login allows website visitors to log in using their Facebook, Twitter, or other social media identity and avoid registration and password hassles entirely.
This is no small matter. A friend of mine was in a Cost Plus World Market retail location recently and spotted a coffee table he liked. A salesman noted that if he signed up for their online World Explorer rewards program, he could get the table for 25 percent off. So he tried signing up via his iPhone while in the store, but found it too frustrating to awkwardly thumb-type all his personal data — let alone create a unique 10 digit reward program ID — on the iPhone’s tiny virtual keyboard. So he left the store without completing the purchase.
This is a sale that neither Cost Plus World Market nor my friend needed to lose. Had he been able to log in using his Facebook identity, he could have automatically joined the rewards program and gotten the table for 25 percent off while the retailer gained a loyal new customer. What’s more, he wouldn’t then have to remember one more website’s login name and password — he must have over a hundred by now — the next time he visited the store online.
Frustration with registration and login isn’t limited to mobile devices, of course. As the web has become more participatory and an integral component of our lives, the average web user has accumulated dozens of accounts at different websites — each with a distinct username and password to remember. Even more problematic, many people try to cope with this problem by recycling the same password across multiple sites, thereby jeopardizing their online security.
Social login alleviates this “password fatigue” problem and offers up benefits both for online users and online businesses and other websites. Users gain security and convenience when they can access their favorite websites with a single, secure portable identity, and websites eliminate registration “friction” and acquire more users as a result.
With the latest Forrester research reporting conversion rates of less than 3 percent in online retailing — that’s the total number of orders divided by the total number of website visits — reducing this sort of “friction” has clearly become an imperative.
But social login does more than enable online businesses to attract and engage many more customers than they otherwise would. It also enables these businesses to attract far more valuable customers than via traditional registration methods.
Research by Forrester, Nielsen and others indicates that social login can boost conversion rates by up to 50 percent. It also reveals that social login users spend more time on a website and purchase more than traditional users. Which means less shopping cart abandonment.
What’s more, social login gives retailers and marketers access to very rich demographic and psychographic data from their customers’ Facebook or LinkedIn accounts that they can’t get anywhere else, including the user’s location, interests, hobbies, purchasing habits, and cultural tastes — as well as those of everyone in his or her social network. This lets websites personalize content and product recommendations to each user and target their marketing more effectively.
But the biggest bang from social login comes from something called “social sharing.” This is more than just hitting Facebook’s “Like” button for a product you like. It allows users to share something they have seen or bought on a website with a wide range of friends across a multitude of social networks — and to add commentary about it in their own words as well.
This produces a large number of word-of-mouth referrals back to the website. Facebook says its “Like” button generates 300 percent more traffic for websites. Our own data show that each social sharing action generates an average of 13 new referral visitors to a website.
And therein lies the commercial appeal of social login: instead of just going to Facebook and setting up a fan page, web businesses can now bring the power of social networks to them.
Interscope Geffen AM Records, the division of Universal Music Group that hosts artists like Lady Gaga, for example, used social login so successfully to attract more visitors that they have stopped using traditional registration methods entirely. Citysearch, meanwhile, found that each user comment shared back to his or her social network was viewed by 40 other people and generated 28 clicks back to Citysearch. Retailers like Sears have also adopted social login because it lets them tailor promotions and sale offers to each customer’s unique interests.
The total number of web businesses using social login is unknown. Facebook reported last year that its social login tool had been deployed on 2 million websites. Our own platform, Janrain Engage, which allows users to log in not only with Facebook but with 21 additional social networks as well, is deployed on more than 350,000 websites.
There is no data, however, on the number of websites that have undertaken the non-trivial challenge of building their own interfaces to even one social network — let alone enough of them to mirror the fragmented social media preferences of users today, where even Facebook garners only 39 percent of all social media logins.
For most websites and online business, of course, there are much easier ways to enable social login and social sharing. My own company offers a solution that can be up and running on a website in a few days at most. Delivered as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution, and available as a set of APIs and customizable widget interfaces, a website can immediately accept login from 22 different providers, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, Salesforce and Yahoo. Sharing widgets can be dropped into the site at logical places, such as after posting a comment, writing a review or completing a purchase.
Indeed, a major advantage of this type of technology is that it is incredibly easy for a website developer to get social login up and running quickly on their site. On the presentation layer, a website must simply drop a few snippets of code on to a registration page. Under the hood, websites only need the ability to make a secure API call to a social login provider, and parse data that is received in a standard format. (For those of us who don’t speak geek, APIs are essentially a layer of infrastructure that websites have been using to communicate with other web-based software and services for the past decade.)
In addition, many business websites these days are built on top of popular content management systems such as WordPress or Drupal. The great news for these sites is that turnkey plugins are available and can be painlessly installed on a site in under an hour.
Users, of course, should always be given the choice to use social login or not. When they land on a website with social login enabled, they are presented with a permissions screen that explicitly asks for access to certain types of information about them. Some users may feel that sharing such information is not worth the benefit of easier login and a more personalized experience on your website, where product offers or content can be tailored to their interests. That’s their right, which is why we usually recommend that websites also offer traditional registration via the user’s own site-specific login name and password.
Most users, we have found, will opt to use social login because of the benefits and convenience. We’ve also seen users learn to manage their various social identities adroitly — sharing the data available on their Facebook account, for example, on entertainment sites, while signing in with their more restricted LinkedIn account data on more professional websites.
One thing is clear: for online businesses, leveraging social media is now the number one challenge. According to a November 1 report in the trade publication eMarketer, 82 percent of chief marketing officers worldwide now say that their top priority is investing in new social media and customer relationship management technologies, known as “social CRM.”
In a world in which people spend more time on social networks than any other online activity — and where the DNA of a trusted product has become “a person like you” rather than corporate advertising — social login can be a powerful marketing “force multiplier.”