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The pros and cons of using social login providers 

If your website or app doesn’t let users log in with Google – or Apple or Microsoft or [insert fav social app here] – odds are someone has told you it should. 

Everyone’s doing it, they say. It’s a best practice. 

There’s probably also someone else who told you not to. Users don’t trust it, they say. Or, it’ll mess up your customer data. 

At Strivacity, our goal is to engineer unexpectedly simple login journeys. The reality is that using social login has pros and cons. Sometimes it makes things dramatically simpler for your customers to sign in. Other times it throws up speed bumps you may want to avoid.

If you’re on the fence, this post is for you. 

What is social login?

Social login is an authentication method that lets customers sign in to your website or app using their existing credentials from another site. Basically, it defers the authentication process to a third party, passing codes and tokens back and forth behind the scenes to confirm the user’s identity.

As in: Login with Facebook. Login with Reddit. Login with…you get the idea.

Social login is widely used in some markets like retail, news and infotainment. It’s also virtually never seen in highly regulated industries like finance, healthcare, gaming, education. Why? It all comes down to the pros and cons.

What are the benefits of using social login providers?

For your customers, social login creates a streamlined experience. If they’re already logged into Google (and who isn’t), their credentials sail through and there’s one less password for them to remember. 

That ease-of-use argument counts double on mobile devices since no one wants to type complex character strings on that tiny digital keyboard.

But while ease of use is one of the big ticket items in the “pros” column for using social login providers, there are lots of other benefits too. Others include:

  • Higher conversions: Lower friction at the “sign in” and “create account” buttons means fewer forgotten passwords, fewer clicks, and more conversions. 
  • FAANG-caliber identity verification: Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (FAANG) each probably spend more on customer identity than you do. By deputizing them to authenticate your users, you get the benefits of their investment without breaking your own budget.
  • Trust by association: Assuming your customers trust the security of their preferred social networks, social login can confer a level of trust on your brand by association with the social login provider.
  • Enriched customer data: When you set up a social login option, you can choose which data to request from the social login provider. Things such as profile photos, birthdays, and location (if you request it) can give your marketing team a more complete picture of your customer, which can help them personalize future campaigns.

How to select the right social login providers for your brand

If you’re leaning towards using a social login provider, one of the most important decisions you’ll need to make is: which ones? 

The answer depends on context. The most important question to ask is which sites your customers are already logged into when they visit your website or app. This tends to vary based on the type of website you have:

  • Consumer sites: If you’ve got a consumer site, chances are that your customers are signed into Google, Facebook, or Twitter. Protip though, Meta is phasing out Facebook social login in favor of Meta Horizon Profiles.

  • Business apps: On the other hand, if you’re a work-related app, something like Salesforce might make more sense. Or, if you’re a tool for software engineers, consider GitHub.

  • Retail sites: In addition to Google, Amazon is a no-brainer here – especially if you’re using them as a payment method. Other popular options include Facebook and PayPal.
  • Regional sites: While the largest social login providers are US-based companies, if you’ve got a global customer base you need to review the providers your customers trust. Depending on what countries you operate in you might also consider options such as WeChat, Taobabo, Sina Weibo, KakaoTalk, or Vkontakte.

Consider, too, your customers’ level of trust (or distrust) in those networks. For example, even though using Facebook to login doesn’t give Meta access to your customer’s account on your system, users may still be wary. A social login option that customers won’t actually choose isn’t worth the effort.

Pros and cons of using social login providers

What are the downsides?

If all those benefits are sounding pretty good, why wouldn't you use a social login provider? Well, some of those same benefits can cut both ways – especially if you’re running a site in a highly regulated industry like finance, healthcare, gaming, or education.

User trust and sentiment are prime examples.The reputational benefit of associating your brand with a social network or other third party could be just one data breach (or layoff and CISO resignation) away from becoming a liability.

Social login can also create issues when it comes to account linking. If a customer uses more than one of the social login options you provide, you can wind up with multiple accounts for the same individual and struggle to connect all that rich customer data on the back end. The custom code required to link those accounts steers many a brand away from social login.

And then there’s the challenge of data mapping. While all modern social login providers are built on the OpenID Connect standard for authentication, they often diverge to some extent (Apple diverges the most.) This can create challenges mapping the incoming profile data – name, photo, email, location, etc. – to fields in your own customer identity store. Building in this business logic and resyncing the data when the customer logs in can be a heavy lift, and many CIAM providers don’t offer these capabilities out of the box.

Most of the potential downsides of social login depend on how you choose to implement it. If your in-house dev team is writing it from scratch, every third-party option you add can mean hundreds more lines of code, which you’ll then have to maintain. If you’ve got a CIAM provider who codes their own APIs, you could face a sizeable enhancement project if you need to add or delete a social login option, let alone change your data mapping.

Pros and cons of using social login providers

What’s cool about how Strivacity handles social login?

By far the best way to implement social login is to have someone else do it for you. 

Your CIAM provider should be able to configure your user journey for any third-party in a way that makes your customers and your marketing team say “wow that was simple!” (aka without a major change request or filing an engineering ticket). 

Wanna see how Strivacity does it? Here’s an overview.

Wanna talk specifics for your brand? Our team is just a click away.