The social media landscape is fragmented. People use Facebook to interact with friends and family, Twitter to follow influencers and share opinions, LinkedIn for their professional network, and Gmail, Yahoo! or Hotmail to communicate directly with contacts. Combined, these networks boast well over 1.5 billion accounts. 

Coupled with increasing reluctance from consumers to maintain distinct usernames and passwords on each frequently visited site, brands are rapidly seeking ways to leverage social network identities within their own properties. Through a secure process known as social login, these identities can be used to speed up registration on sites across the web. But which identities do people prefer both for sign-in and content sharing? And why is it important?

Each quarter, Janrain seeks to answer these questions by analysing social login and social sharing preferences for online users across all websites using Janrain Engage. These trends are significant because social login preferences are a leading indicator of consumer trust in their online identity providers. If I use my Google account as a portable identity to login and participate on sites across the web, that choice is a distinct sign of loyalty and brand affinity toward Google.

When it comes to social login, people want choice. While Facebook is the most popular option at 48%, a majority would rather use a different social identity, such as Google, Twitter or Yahoo!.

Fuelled by an expanding user base and the allure of broadcasting one’s online activities back to Facebook using social sharing and open graph technology, Facebook’s share of social logins has increased steadily during the past two years. But despite its growth, Google has maintained a foothold of nearly one-third of the market.

And while Twitter’s popularity as a portable identity provider has not flourished at quite the rate everyone expected three years ago, there remains a loyal and gradually increasing percentage of people who prefer to use Twitter to log in to other sites.

In addition, LinkedIn enjoys substantial popularity on sites that cater toward business professionals, and Janrain observed disparate preferences across geographic regions. For example, Hyves contends with Facebook as the most popular social network in the Netherlands. In Brazil and India, Orkut reigns as a popular identity provider. In China, Sina Weibo and Renren maintain popularity, and Mixi is a common social login choice in Japan.

As with prior analyses, Janrain has taken a sampling of sites in four industry verticals to measure trends in consumer login preferences. While the overall story arc is similar, there are disparate preferences within each vertical that merit attention.

Facebook leads other social networks and email providers across prominent industry verticals including media, retail, entertainment and gaming, and music-related sites. Its popularity is especially pronounced on music sites and entertainment and gaming sites. On e-commerce and retail websites, by contrast, a majority of shoppers prefer to register and/or checkout using an identity other than Facebook.

Google is performing well as the second most favored portable identity provider across each of these verticals, but its popularity is most evident on retail sites, which could perhaps be a reflection of the trust that people place in Google as a secure provider of their online identity.

Yahoo!’s share within media and retail sites has declined considerably during the past three years. Despite operating a portfolio of popular content and destination sites such as Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo! News and Yahoo! Sports, plus a popular web mail service in Yahoo! Mail, the network has experienced challenges keeping pace with Google during the past decade.

With the recent appointment of Marissa Mayer, an ex-Google executive, as CEO, perhaps Yahoo! can chart a course to inspire a transformation in loyalty and brand affinity from web users and reverse the social login trend Janrain has identified.

It’s also worth noting that Windows Live (Hotmail/MSN), historically a strong performer on entertainment and gaming sites, has experienced a notable decline in share of social logins during the past year.

On mobile applications, Facebook and Google lead in popularity, followed by Twitter and Yahoo!. Not surprisingly, these trends closely mimic desktop web preferences, except for a proportionally increased share of users preferring Twitter as their portable identity of choice on mobile apps.

More than ever, people are sharing comments, purchases, reviews and other content from the web to their social networks. As a result, social networks have become a recommendation engine for web users. Facebook and Twitter are far and away the most popular sharing destinations, but LinkedIn and Yahoo! maintain preference on niche sites that are catered to their audience (B2B sites for LinkedIn, as an example). During the past year, Twitter’s popularity as a sharing destination has increased at a more prominent rate than other social networks.

What do these findings mean for your business? As you work to add a social layer to your site to improve engagement and drive conversions, social login and sharing should be fully integrated. I hope these findings provide a useful benchmark as you optimise your on-site social media strategy.

For digital marketers, social login helps solve the challenge of how to collect more accurate data on your users without sacrificing registration conversion rates. Social login shortens the registration process to a single click and gives you instant access to rich demographic, psychographic and social graph data on your users.

This social profile data can be leveraged for content personalisation or product recommendations and more tailored segmentation and targeting. Social sharing enables your users broadcast content and activities from your site to their social networks, increasing brand advocacy and creating an effective source of qualified referral traffic to your site.

For developers and technologists it can be a big headache to implement the plumbing to each social network API on your own. These networks use different protocols under the hood, such as OpenID, OAuth, hybrids and proprietary technologies.

Coding social login on your own requires a significant investment of time, expertise and ongoing maintenance as the networks change their APIs, often without advanced notice. Your social login and sharing solution should allow you to easily connect to all the social networks by writing once to a single API. By cutting deployment times from weeks or months to days, you can focus on your core competency while trusting that the social and user management tools on your site just work.