Social Networks for Business Tip #6: Let Your Members Be Themselves

I have found ten common themes that apply irrespective of what your enterprise does, your market is or what technology platform you are using. This is my sixth tip in this series. There will be 10 total posts; each with a particular theme. The tips are intended to be read in the order presented, as they will build upon each other…


We Already Have Far Too Many Accounts to Manage

A comment I hear almost monthly is:

“How do you find the time to maintain all these social networking accounts? I barely have time to keep my LinkedIn entry up to date.”

This is a very telling comment. It is a reminder that social networks are NOT the center of people’s lives. (For most people, technology is NOT the center of their lives; instead it is something they are required to use.) People already have more accounts than the ever wanted:


Don’t Ask Your Members to Join Y-A-N (Yet Another Network)

It is hard enough to even remember all the usernames and passwords for these—let alone keep profile information and contact lists up to date in each. (If this were not true, why would so many sites have functionality to remind you your username and password?)

ourstooThat is why I am always chagrined then I see someone setup a community (or provides a community toolset) that asks users to register for yet another network (YAN for short). What these communities are doing is asking people to make their lives just a little bit harder and more complicated.

The Altimeter Group recently published their latest Groundswell Report that quantifies this. While 82% of people actively go online, only 51% actually join the communities they visit. At a rough cut, this means only 5 in 8 people who go online actually register in online communities.

Instead Let Them Re-Use Their Existing Accounts

Real-world Example (Sanitized to Protect the Innocent)

Over the summer I was attending on of the larger Social Media conferences (one big enough for Tim O’Reilly to be a Keynote Speaker). I was sitting next to a manager of an online Business-to-Business community (built from one of the major Enterprise Social Media providers). She indicated to me that she was getting lots of visitors but was not getting many registrants (in fact she had far more Twitter followers of the community than actual members of the community ). I pointed out that to “Follow” her community on Twitter, people only had to click the “Follow” button on Twitter (whereas to join her community, they had to create a username and password). I recommended that she let her Twitter followers re-use their Twitter IDs to join her community. She indicated she would, “Ask [her vendor] if they could do that…”

I recommend that any consumer-facing community do this. Instead of asking people to register, let them re-use one of their existing accounts from any of the major consumer network providers. If you allow your members to use IDs from AIM*, AOL*, Facebook Connect, Google*, LinkedIn, Microsoft Live ID, Twitter and Yahoo!* you will let over 1 billion people register for your network without creating yet another login. (Simply enabling Open ID gives you access to users of all the asterisked services.)

This Lets You Access A Big Picture

This approach does far more than simply eliminating the registration barrier (as well as forcing your members to remember yet another username and password). It also let you see the bigger picture by tying the activities members perform in your community to those they do in the wider Web 2.0 world. Here are two scenarios:

Tying Your Community to Facebook

You create a Fan Page on Facebook that directs users to your community. When visitors click through, you allow them to use Facebook Connect to log in. This not only makes it easier to let participate in your community: you can now tie together data you collect from Facebook with activity from within your community to get a bigger picture of your customer.

Tying Your Community to Twitter

You Tweet info on your community over Twitter (with a URL to your community). When people click on the URL, you let them join your community with their Twitter username. This makes it easier for them to join (and can even let them broadcast their activity over Twitter). It also lets you tie together their feed on Twitter with activity from within your community to get a bigger picture of your customer.

An Example of This in Action

Here is an example, albeit a demonstration community example. It is a crowdsourcing community to connect people who are experts on home improvement with people who need services.


Users do not have to sign in unless they want to contribute content (e.g., ask for a home improvement project, offer a solution or rate or comment on an existing solution). When they do, they are presented the option of using one of five consumer networks to identify themselves (AOL/AIM, Facebook Connect, Google, Microsoft Live ID or Yahoo!)


Once they sign in, they are signed into the larger consumer community as well (making sharing via social media optimization easier). You can try it out here <demo no longer available>