A key consideration of public facing social networks and online communities is the sign up and sign in experience. It’s essential the process is kept as simple as possible. Unnecessary complications will cause cognitive friction, which is a fancy way of saying less people will join your community. A recommended technique for offering a streamlined and user friendly experience is to use Social Login.

What is Social Login?

Also known as ‘Social sign-in’, Social Login is a version of single-sign-on (SSO). It’s a way new or existing members of your community can use their login and account details from other popular social networks to sign into your community. Popular providers include:

  • Google
  • LinkedIn
  • FaceBook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram

Why use Social Login?

Put it simply, social login will make signing up and signing into your community easier:

  • Password management. When an online community uses social login, a member is authenticated by a social network they already have an account with. This means they don’t have to create or remember a new password and/or username. This is perhaps the biggest advantage of the method. It’s worth noting that if the member is logged into the social network providing the service, e.g. Facebook, the barriers to entry are even more simple – all they need to do is click an ‘allow’ button.
  • Cross platform. You should expect your community members to be accessing your community from multiple devices. Remembering unique usernames and passwords from device to device is a challenge. This issue is mitigated by using social login.
  • Authenticate member accounts. Massive, established social networks like Linkedin and Facebook have the resources to tackle fake accounts. Social login lets you leverage these resources for your own platform. This doesn’t mean you can 100% guarantee you won’t have spam accounts, but it can certainly help.
  • Auto populate profile information. You can bring profile information of the member from the social login provider into your community. There’s lots of options, but these will vary from provider to provider. So for the sake of simplicity, it’s advisable to stick with standard profile information such as:
    • First name
    • Last name
    • Age
    • Gender
    • Profile picture
Good to know – Giving your member the option to edit any profile information you take from their social network is advisable.

Choosing social login providers for your community

You can offer your community members as many social login providers as you want. But this is a bad idea, leading to choice paralysis, a cluttered interface and ultimately a poor user experience. Best practice is to offer between one and three options.  

Choosing which service to use will depend on the nature of your online community. Facebook is often a good choice simply because of its massive adoption across the globe.

If your community has a professional focus, LinkedIn and Google make sense. Twitter and Instagram are better choices for hobbies and general interest services.

Can I drop password and email?

No! In almost every case, you should complement social login with traditional email and password signup and signin methods. This will ensure members who don’t have social network accounts and members unwilling to use their social network accounts, for whatever reason, can access your services. It can add a bit of complexity to your signup and login pages but this can be managed by elegant interface design.

social login sign up screen taken from the Resource Cafe

A sign up screen using social login functionality. The client wisely choose to limit the options to Facebook, Google and Twitter, reflecting accounts their members have.

Using Social Login with BuddyPress

We use WordPress combined with BuddyPress as a foundation for our client’s Custom Communities. One of the huge benefits of BuddyPress is the range of excellent plugins that can be used to add core functionality. For Social Login, we use the WordPress Social Login plugin. A well supported, well coded and constantly updated piece of software. It’s highly customisable. This ensures we can tailor functionality, scope and user experience, based on individual client requirements.

Can I upgrade my existing community?

Even if you have an active social networking community you can take advantage of social login functionality. Implementing the service for new members is simple enough. You can also give existing members the opportunity to ‘upgrade’ without losing any of the content and data they have generated.

Conclusion

I’d recommend employing social login for almost every public facing social networking community. It simply makes for a better user experience. Just be sure to marry your community to the right providers and don’t make the experience more complicated than it has to be!