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Social Media Credentials: The Future of Authenticating External SharePoint Users

It all started with a “poke”. It evolved to a “like”, developed to a “tweet”, and now we are “pinning.” With the addition of social media websites to our ever-expanding online world, companies wish to learn as much information about their users as possible. Luckily, that information is already out there. Companies just need to be able to access it. Harnessing information from reliable resources, such as social media sites, allows companies to focus on delivering their services at a cost that is minimal to them.

Social media websites provide a well-rounded picture of who a user is. These sites have a view into our likes and dislikes and to our interests because they track what we view on their sites. Third-parties exploit this information by granting users access to their site via their social media credentials. Personal information such as names, dates of birth, contact information, current locations, etc. are shared with third-party websites thereby providing the information companies want when allowing users to access their site. Furthermore, logging into third-party websites using social media credentials, such as Facebook or Twitter, is considered to be more secure since companies are able to disconnect from maintaining a database of sensitive information and minimize their vulnerability to security breaches since the credentials remain with the social media sites and not with the company. Companies simply access the information directly from the social media sites and grant access to their users based upon the information provided by those sites. From a company’s perspective, this solution provides the best of both worlds – login ease for their users coupled with the ability to collect required user information as they have done before.

From a client’s perspective, requiring a user to enter user-identifiable information into yet another online form in order to gain access to a website is a recurring frustration. Users of extranet sites have entered the same information hundreds of times before and groan each time the information needs to be re-entered into a new site. Moreover, each time a user enters their personally identifiable data into an online form, there is the increased risk the data can be jeopardized via a security breach and data theft. The growth of single-sign-on technology shows that users prefer to remember fewer login credentials and want to give up on the frustration of remembering which of their various login credentials match the site they are trying to access. This is not the type of positive experience companies want their users to have on their SharePoint sites. How does a company balance its data collection and authentication needs while maintaining a positive user experience for its users?

While Extradium has enhanced the SharePoint experience for our customers via a simplified, yet secure forms-based authentication experience, the next step of user authentication has evolved into SocialConnekt for SharePoint. SocialConnekt allows companies using SharePoint to authenticate users via their social network login credentials from sites including Yammer, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and more. It is no longer necessary to ask users to complete forms with information they have filled hundreds of times or to build databases full of login credentials vulnerable to security breaches. With SocialConnekt, companies can access a user’s social media credentials as well as additional information users provide to these sites in order to be authenticated by a company to use its SharePoint site. All the while, companies are maintaining control over their user authentication process, even though the authentication is provided by a third party.

SocialConnekt is available as a self-hosted service for companies which prefer to host their own infrastructure, but will also be available as a SaaS-based service. In both cases, and beyond the social media credential authentication, companies maintain control over all of its users, as well as access to pages, documents and other information available on the site. In order to maintain a company’s control and security over who accesses their SharePoint sites, SocialConnekt maintains a protocol allowing a company to grant a user access to a SharePoint site via SocialConnekt only if the user is manually approved by the administrator of the site. Site control always remains with the company.

Various social networks, such as Yammer or LinkedIn, expose specific user “claims” that simplify the authorization process on SharePoint sites. In essence, if users are part of a closed group on LinkedIn, SocialConnekt can extract group membership information and automatically grant them access to a SharePoint site associated with that group or network, including automatically granting those users specific permissions associated with that group. For instance, if you’re a member of the Contoso User Community group on LinkedIn, a SocialConnekt-enabled SharePoint site can be configured so that you will be part of the Members group in that site and thus have Contribute permissions. In this case, there is no need for an administrator to grant explicit access to the SharePoint site, as this is all handled by SocialConnekt.

Similarly, a company can set up its own Yammer network for their user communities, partners and customers and provide them access to their SharePoint site via SocialConnekt in order to collaborate with them on SharePoint documents. Because these users are invited to join the private Yammer network by the company owning the SharePoint site, no administrator is needed to approve the registration. Many professional social networks allow the creation of closed groups of users. SocialConnekt can leverage those to improve the authorization process. But that is a topic for a future blog post.

Expanding Your Social Networking Groups Into A Collaborative Community Of Peers

SocialConnekt’s authentication process is simply the first step. Companies are seeking to leverage social media for sales, marketing and improved customer relations, while users are clamoring for ways to interact not just with their friends but also to grow the conversation beyond personal networks to their peers around the world who are linked via common channels.

The challenge facing companies in 2013 is the ability to utilize social media into a true interactive collaboration and connection with its customers. Customers want a higher quality interactive experience rather than passively awaiting a post on their newsfeed or posting a question to a group and hope for a response. Companies and their external networks seek a connection in which there is true collaboration and sharing of documents with those beyond simply the corporate users.

This is where SocialConnekt for SharePoint can help you reach the next step. By using SocialConnekt, companies can create their own secure social network with their close partners and online user communities, such as LinkedIn and Yammer groups. SocialConnekt allows collaboration within an online community in which documents and files are shared via links sent by users from their SharePoint extranet site to anyone on their Yammer and LinkedIn networks. SocialConnekt seamlessly authenticates users on the Yammer external networks so companies can collaborate with them. Imagine working on a slide deck that you will be presenting before hundreds of people at the next SharePoint Conference. You can prepare for that presentation by having those in your Yammer group provide feedback and additions on your slide deck by sending them a link to the document via SocialConnekt. This type of social collaboration is the first of its kind with SharePoint.

One of the great aspects of SharePoint is that it is a secure collaboration environment where multiple users can share and simultaneously edit documents. This is not easily achieved on other platforms. By using SocialConnekt, companies are provided with advanced collaboration needs with their community beyond the internal employees. For example, a software company that has numerous key partners and outside vendors requiring input from various sources to create and edit documents could create a private network using Yammer with the various parties and, using SocialConnekt, could grant access to the company’s SharePoint site where documents can be shared and edited simultaneously by everyone. Similarly, it is impossible to post a file to a LinkedIn group. However, if a company, such as a healthcare provider, creates its own closed LinkedIn group, SocialConnekt allows access to SharePoint to the members of your group, all of which have already been pre-approved by the company in order to create a collaborative workspace. Medical practitioners from the national network can access and provide feedback on documents on their SharePoint site which was impossible until today. SocialConnekt brings together groups of users belonging to a single private network and creates a truly seamless and collaborative SharePoint experience.

It is important to understand the needs of your company and balance them with a positive user experience. SocialConnekt allows you not only to authenticate users via social media, but also provide you with an effective way to manage your site. In addition, you can introduce a method to expand your SharePoint site to your social network with whom you wanted to connect but could not…until now.

We predict that external facing SharePoint sites are the future of corporate communication. As such, social media authentication will be the simplest de facto solution to authenticate your external SharePoint users.

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