Pros and cons of using social logins on campus

People are logged in to social media all day—it takes only a click to sign in with social logins

Authentication and identification of active campus network users have always been at the core of the IT applications necessary to run a university.

If you can’t log in, you can’t get your email, register for your course, pay your bills, and so on. That’s why most institutions have strived to offer integrated and secure single sign-on (SSO) solutions to students, staff and faculty. The technology doesn’t get in the way and users don’t need to remember multiple passwords.

Unfortunately, things get complicated once students graduate and lose their school accounts. As they join the ranks of alums and potential donors, technology does get in the way. If they don’t register or update their contact information upon graduation, they may be treated like strangers, in need of new credentials.

While their alma maters may not recognize them anymore, students have no problem using their Facebook, Gmail, Twitter or even LinkedIn credentials to sign in to a range of other sites. Called “social logins,” this option is increasingly available on the web, and it’s one that schools should consider.

Frictionless authentication

Many people are logged in to their main social media accounts throughout the day. It takes only a click to sign in with social logins available on other websites—a low-key but universal version of the good old SSO.

Last October, Blue Research surveyed 600 U.S. social media consumers on behalf of social login solution provider Janrain. Eighty-eight percent said they had visited sites offering a social media account login, and 51 percent said they used the option. Those who chose not to said they didn’t trust websites to use their information appropriately—a moot point in the case of colleges and universities.

The Stanford Alumni Association began offering social logins in February 2013 to ease the user experience. “Forgotten usernames and passwords are the top online customer service issues for our alumni,” says Adam Miller, the alumni association’s director of digital and data services. The solution, from Gigya, not only provides an authentication process through Facebook and Twitter, but also lets alums import data, including photos, from their social profiles.

The convenience of this data import has made Stanford’s online alumni directory more visual by increasing the number of profile photos. Regular logins are still far more numerous, but social logins are increasing steadily.

Other large institutions, including The University of Arizona, Michigan State University, Brigham Young University (Utah) and George Mason University (Va.), use social logins powered by Gigya, says Victor White, director of marketing communications for the company, which processed 800 million social logins in 2013.

Slow growth

Still, social logins in academia are slow to catch on. iModules, a “consistent engagement management” provider, launched its social login solution in 2008. Only 30 percent of its 800 client institutions use it so far, but “awareness continues to build,” says Susan Scholes, VP of marketing. While iModules doesn’t pull any data from Twitter, Facebook or Google+, it allows users to share alumni website activity on their Facebook pages.

The Office of Alumni Relations at Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.) an iModules client, will launch social logins this fall.

“We have been waiting to launch an independent presence on Facebook before rolling out our social login options for our alumni website,” says Timothy Seidel, Carnegie Mellon’s associate director of alumni communications. The plan is to integrate data from LinkedIn so the alumni platform can have current information about alums.

Carleton College’s (Minn.) alumni website and Duke University’s online donation forms both use social login tools developed in-house. Web content management systems often used in higher education, like WordPress and Drupal, have social-login plugins as well.

The downside

Social media logins provide rich demographic data to alumni professionals, fundraisers or college marketers. However, such convenience always comes at a price. Today, this price is paid in user data. Users are also identified as constituents of your school by the chosen social platform—it’s a two-way street.

Will this price of convenience change tomorrow? Is the same bait-and-switch approach used for Facebook page updates in the future for social logins? Only time will tell, so make sure your school adopts a multi-platform strategy.

Karine Joly is the web editor behind, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations and technologies. She is also the founder of


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