Three Limitations and Disadvantages of Using Social Sign-On

Written by Scott NesbittJuly 1, 2011
Risk

So you’ve been looking at adding social sign-on to your website. You’ve become acquainted with the social sign-on landscape, you’re familiar with the advantages of using social sign-on, and you’re ready to delve a little deeper into the subject.

But before you take a closer look at the technology and before you start sketching out an implementation of social sign-on, you need to consider the limitations and disadvantages of social sign-on.

Let’s take a look at three of those limitations and disadvantages.

You can be at the mercy of someone else

And that someone else could be the social site or service that’s enabling social sign-on. That could be Twitter. It could be Google. It could be Yahoo! or Facebook. There is one weak link: the connection between your social sign-on provider and the social site or service.

One of the key key technologies that makes social sign-on work is an application programming interface (API for short). Using an API, two very different and seemingly incompatible systems can talk to each other. But if the API server to which your social sign-on provider connects is unavailable, you’re dead in the water. Your users and customers (obviously) won’t be able to get into your site.

While server uptime has become less and less of a concern in recent years, things do happen. And they often happen when you least expect it or when you really, absolutely need a vital service.

You could be alienating customers

Or potential customers. How? Many sites that implement social sign-on require you to have a Facebook or Twitter account. While Facebook and Twitter have huge user bases (which are still growing), not everyone uses either or both of them. By using only one or two sign-on options, you could be turning customers and potential customers away.

Here’s an example: in early 2011, advice site eHow implemented a social sign-on system that uses Facebook. Exclusively. There are no other sign-on options. That caused a considerable backlash from users.

There could be additional costs

Obviously, there are costs involved with implementing social sign-on. Some social sign-on vendors charge extra when you reach a certain threshold of users -- for example, you might have to pay $500 extra a month if you go over 1,000 unique users. For established companies and brands, that additional expense is probably worth it. Smaller companies or brands that are only just carving out their names might not see a return on that investment for quite a while. Or ever. More users don’t always translate into more sales. You need to balance that expense against a realistic view of how your sales will grow, and decide from there.

Social sign-on isn’t a magic bullet that will suddenly make your website more social and, by extension, more attractive to today’s socially-aware and enabled customers. In fact, it might not be the right solution for you. By weighing the advantages to social sign-on with its limitations and disadvantages, you can get a better idea of whether or not social sign-on is the proper fit for you.

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