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Social Login: A Data Capture Game Changer

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
29 November 2011

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about social login, with more and more research confirming the benefits of offering this option as an alternative to having people fill out forms or register on your site. A Blue Research study, for example, revealed that three out of every four Internet users leave a website rather than take the trouble to register a new account. For marketers interested in more effectively collecting data and building lists, here’s an overview of social login, why it’s poised to change digital marketing, and what new questions it presents to marketers.

What’s Social Login, and Why Is It Hot?
Whether a visitor to your website is coming directly from a social network or is just one of the millions of people who make social a part of their daily lives, offering the option of signing in with a social login (e.g. Facebook or Twitter) as an alternative to filling out a form has several benefits:

  • Increases opt-in rates by making the visitor’s sign-in process easier
  • Strengthens the social perception of your brand
  • Improves data collection by capturing a visitor’s profile and storing it in your database

Better still, research shows that customers and prospects actually prefer social login—the Blue Research study indicated that 66 percent would choose social login over filling out traditional forms. And as people continue getting used to the concept of signing in via apps and social login, the trend should continue to snowball naturally.

How Is Social Login a Game Changer?
In addition to improving the user experience and removing a barrier to list growth, offering social sign-in options has the potential to impact both the amount and the accuracy of data that companies collect:

  • Reduces form abandonment: Offering social login helps reduce the number of required fields, leading to increased opt-in rates. Companies who have implemented this option have seen conversions increase between 10 percent and 50 percent.

  • Increases amount of data:
    With social login, some social sites provide a lot of information, and some provide companies just a little (see chart at right). But the net result is that you’ll capture interesting data right out of the gate that might have taken you several form fields and a year’s worth of time to capture in the past.

    Consider: Despite their high ROI, many companies don’t deliver triggered birthday emails because they haven’t had a good mechanism for collecting customer birthdates. But with Facebook requiring a birthdate to become a member, for instance, this will be a piece of info that marketers will now have access to if someone signs up using their Facebook login, making it easier to implement birthday programs moving forward.

  • Increases accuracy of data: In the past, some people—particularly on the B2B side—would use made-up company names and info to get materials such as white papers and Webinars because they weren’t yet ready to talk to salespeople. One of the huge benefits of offering social login is that prospects’ social identity data is most likely going to be accurate. By offering social login, you remove a barrier for people who want your offer but don’t want to fill out a long form, while simultaneously reducing the inflow of inaccurate data.

Burning Questions
As marketers start to dig into the nuts and bolts of social login, there are a few questions to consider:

  • Which social networks should I offer? How do you decide whether to offer two, five or 10 social networks as login options—and which ones? As a starting point, you can use what you’ve learned from studying the social-sharing habits of your customers and work with your social media personnel to gain a better understanding of which social networks your company is most engaged in and which are the top strategic priorities. Then, go with your gut, starting with a larger group, then testing and whittling down from there. The good news is that once you start collecting data on which social networks people are signing in with, you can use that data to inform your future social media strategy.
  • How do I collect key data that I don’t get from a social network? Marketers who decide to offer social sign-in options will need to think about how to adjust to the different kinds of data they’ll receive depending on what social network visitors use to sign in from. With Twitter, for example, you won’t get a customer’s email address.

    One option would be to not offer a particular network for social login if it doesn’t capture critical data that you need for your program. Another would be to use progressive forms to collect the data later. Yet another would be to set up your form so that visitors who log in with Twitter, for instance, would be automatically routed to a second form asking for an email address, an approach that might work well depending on what you’re offering—see my associate Bryan Brown’s post on “Being Social—and Still Getting the Info You Need” for more on this.

  • What can I do with this new data—and what shouldn’t I do? With social login, marketers will have access to lots of information they may have wanted in the past, but lacked an obvious way to collect. For example, a jewelry retailer may have wished it could capture gender and zip code but been hesitant to ask for this information at opt-in because of fear of form abandonment. But through social login, the jeweler can gather this data and be able to deliver more relevant content based on gender and location.

    A chain of coffee shops, to use another retail example, might suddenly know if new subscribers are located near specific retail outlets. It could then use this data to promote its location-based marketing program, delivering an automated email encouraging recipients to check in via Foursquare or Facebook to certain local coffee shops and be entered into a sweepstakes.

    As marketers gain access to new data through social login, how they use this data could be the difference between providing a welcome dose of increased personalization and relevancy and creeping people out. If you’re delivering content based on data the recipient may not associate with having provided to you, for example, take a more subtle approach to avoid confusion—e.g. highlighting three stores in the area rather than just the one that’s 2.1 miles from the recipient’s house.

Regardless of how you use social login, offering this option provides a valuable opportunity for marketers to interact with customers and prospects on their terms. Don’t miss this chance to integrate social into your communication mix—and gather valuable data in the process.


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