Social Media Optimization: Implementing Social Login

By Ric Shreves, Michelle Krasniak

Why not use social media to optimize your website? Social login, sometimes called social signin, is an increasingly popular approach to website user authentication. A site that provides social login gives its users a way to log in to the website through the use of an existing social media profile.

A social login system.

A social login system.

Social login delivers several benefits for website owners:

  • Decreased barrier to user registration: Users no longer have to remember separate usernames and passwords for all the sites they visit, thereby removing a disincentive for them to create new accounts on your site.

    A case study from Janrain has shown that social login increases registration rates by as much as 50 percent.

  • No need to manage support and security: All issues related to the username and password are no longer your problem; with social login, the username and password and all the related issues reside with the social media channel. If users forget their passwords or have other problems, they deal with the social media channel to sort it out.

  • Access to user demographic data: Social login can give the site owner access to a wide variety of information about the user. The information is automatically extracted from the social media profile used for the login. Although users’ information varies from system to system, some services produce an incredible amount of information — far more than you’d normally obtain through your own user registration process.

  • Access to the social media channel: If you use a social media ID for authentication, it’s easy to integrate additional features from that social media channel. If your site uses Facebook Login, for example, using Facebook Comments for your site’s commenting functionality is super easy.

  • Mobile friendliness: Social login makes it easier for users to log in on mobile devices. Traditional authentication on a mobile device typically takes more time and effort for users than social login does.

  • Multiple-site login: Social login is all about decreasing complexity for users, which translates into better conversion rates for site owners. This concept, known as Single Sign On (SSO), is increasingly seen as a step forward in website usability.

In response to the rise in the number of social login options, several companies have released all‐in‐one solutions that allow you to tap into power of multiple social login systems through one platform. Among the players are OneAll, Janrain, Gigya, and LoginRadius. The aggregated solutions are convenient, but often require some sort of subscription fee.

OneAll is the most affordable of the bunch and one of the easiest to use. OneAll offers a free basic plan as well as plug‐ins that simplify setup for users of common systems such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla!, and PhpBB.

Facebook Login

Facebook Login, previously known as Facebook Connect, is the free authentication option that websites and apps can use to enable their users to log in by using their Facebook credentials. Facebook Login is one of the most popular social login protocols. Given the wide adoption of Facebook by users, offering Facebook Login makes sense for many site owners.

Although it’s best to offer users their choice of logins, if you’re going to implement only one type of social login, it should be Facebook Login.

Setting up Facebook Login can be very simple. If you’re running a site powered by WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal, or another popular content management systems, you can install plug‐ins to implement Facebook Login. Even if you use a prebuilt plug‐in, you still need to do some of the work yourself. Using Facebook Login requires you to register on the Facebook Developers site and create a Facebook app.

Users in countries that block Facebook, such as China, can’t use Facebook Login.

If you can’t find a plug‐in that works with your site, or if you’re simply a do‐it‐yourselfer, you can implement Facebook Login manually by using the JavaScript Software Development Kit (SDK). Manual implementation is a bit of a chore, as it requires integration with your website’s existing authentication system. Still, if someone on your team has programming skills, the job isn’t terribly difficult, and the documentation is good.

Twitter login

The second most popular social login protocol, offered by Twitter, is Sign In with Twitter.

If you’re running a site powered by a content management system such as WordPress, Joomla!, or Drupal, you can install plug‐ins that implement Sign In with Twitter. If you prefer, you can implement Sign In with Twitter manually.

Sign In with Twitter plugins for the various common content management systems can be found on the extensions sites for each CMS.

Google+ login

If you use Gmail, Google+, Google Drive, Google Docs, or YouTube, you have a Google username and password that enables you to use Google+ Sign‐In. Given the large number of people who have Google credentials, it’s not surprising that many sites are allowing people to log in with their Google usernames and passwords, and, for the same reason, you might want to consider including the feature on your own website.

Google+ Sign‐In offers smooth integration with the functionality of the underlying Google+ social network. Plug‐ins for all the popular content management systems are available and can be downloaded from the various official CMS extensions websites. If you prefer the do‐it‐yourself approach, you have a wide variety of options for manual implementation of Google+ Sign‐In, including implementing it client side, server side, hybrid, or cross platform.

Other login alternatives

An increasing number of social networks are offering authentication options to their users. The platform you implement should reflect your user base. If you’re uncertain, stay with the big players, or implement a solution that brings multiple systems to your site. Social login options are available from the following networks:

  • LinkedIn

  • PayPal

  • Microsoft

  • Foursquare