Let’s be Open about things

There is a misconception that to get the most out of Facebook, you have to be on Facebook.

Not true.

Certainly you can create a fan page or a company page, and get your followers to ‘like’ you, but beyond the numbers what are you getting? Social connections don’t automatically mean that you understand your audience better.

In the past, we relied on producing great content to attract our users, and with the promise of more exclusive content, tried to convince them to fill in cumbersome login forms so that we could understand our target market better. It’s not a great tactic and overall it doesn’t produce great results.

There is a better way.

OpenID LogoOver the last few years there has been a move to try and simplify the experience of using the web, and in particular how we store and supply our information to different sites and services. At the head of this move is a technology known as OpenID, governed by the OpenID foundation, a group that consists of representatives from Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Yahoo and IBM.

The premise of OpenID is that web users can create one login and then use it anywhere on the web. In fact, most of us have an OpenID without even knowing it. Google and Yahoo accounts are both OpenIDs; although Facebook and Twitter aren’t. But even so, services such as Facebook Connect and Twitter’s implementation of XAuth provide a similar experience to end users.

Initially, there were more Chiefs than Indians, with all the big web companies wanting to sign up to the programme as OpenID providers and not enough sites accepting them as logins. In hindsight this is unsurprising, as control of information is the very essence of the big web players such as Google and Facebook. But over time this has changed. Now there are many sites where these IDs are accepted, from Fox News, Digg and FriendFeed to Kmart and Sears, and the good news is that it’s simple to get your site accepting them too.

So how does this benefit our users? When they arrive at our site they can choose to login with a pre-existing account, so there’s no need to enter a username, choose a password and go through the rigmarole of activating your account. They simply enter their email address and password and they’re done. There’s a great explanation of how this works at http://openidexplained.com/.

Login to Ficly

In return for making things simpler for users, we get back some additional profile data from them when they log in. The data you receive changes by provider and dependent on consent from the user, but can contain data such as their name, gender, birthday, email, time zone, address, postcode, country, web page, contacts and phone number. All this without filling in a registration form.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from adding an additional couple of questions to the login process in order to capture more client-specific data as and when necessary.

So what does this mean for marketers?

Utilising services such as OpenID and Facebook Connect we’re lowering the barriers to engagement for our targeted users. This, along with positive brand association with services they already trust with their data, will make them feel more comfortable about sharing their information with us, increasing registration rates and the amount of data captured. And the more data we capture, the more effectively we can target.

It’s in our interests to start being Open.