identity, identity management, online privacy, digital marketingLast month, Google was able to expand its social log-in dramatically by simply integrating its log-in feature with identity management providers Gigya and Janrain.

The deal shone a spotlight on service providers who are usually invisible to end users. But Gigya and Janrain have their products deployed on hundreds of thousands of websites and interact with billions of users every month. They support log-ins through a couple dozen social platforms, including not just Google+, Facebook and Twitter but also Disqus, LinkedIn and others.

Companies lose customers when they require them to set up unique log-in accounts – many see it as a hassle and decide to shop elsewhere. Allowing users to log in with existing accounts improves vendors’ conversion rates and provides them with social data on users who log in.

But why turn to an identity management provider instead of simply sticking a social log-in widget, such as Facebook Connect, on the website? After all, the social log-in buttons require just a few lines of code.

Enterprises are looking to avoid the constant work that’s required to stay on top of the ever-changing APIs from the social service providers, Gigya and Janrain told SocialTimes.

“Understanding all those APIs and keeping up with it, that’s a job that most enterprises don’t want to keep up with,” Janrain CEO Larry Drebes said.

If a company fails to keep up, it may find itself with non-functioning log-in buttons on its site, which is a pretty bad outcome.

Website publishers must also ensure that they comply with the rules the social networks set for use of their APIs. The rules also vary by company and frequently change. Managing these changes is meat-and-potatoes work for identity management providers.

The companies also provide guidance on appropriate use of data from social networks.

“A user should never be surprised by a user experience that happens around their data. Even if the user approved it, that doesn’t mean you should just go ahead and make it public,” said Drebes.

Gigya also offers an optional SocialPrivacy Certification. Websites who opt in display a badge that assures the user that they won’t use his or her information for direct e-mailing campaigns or sell it to third parties. Gigya audits the companies to ensure they are complying.

“We sort of secret-shop them and evaluate their technology to make sure the data isn’t going where it’s not supposed to,” said CEO Patrick Salyer.

Companies turn to social log-in in large part because it allows them to learn more about their customers, as they gain access to Twitter bios and public Facebook profile information. The data is a boon for marketing, but it can be difficult to utilize because each network sends data in a slightly different format.

Identity management services clean up the messy unstructured data sent from social platforms and keep it up to date.

For instance, if a user whose public relationship status on Facebook is “single” signs in to a e-commerce site with Facebook Connect, the merchant knows he is single and can market to him accordingly. However, if the user then gets married, the company will likely assign him to a different marketing segment. But if the company can’t readily access the most recent data on its customers, it may wind up paying to show the married user advertising for products he’s unlikely to buy.

Large corporations might have social log-in set up on the websites dedicated to all of their different brands. An identify management service dumps all of the data that flows through these log-ins in the same place.

“If a big company builds lots of websites with different registrations, the data ends up siloed,” said Gigya’s Salyer.

With an identity management service, “you go from having 20 data silos to a single one. This is actually pretty important,” he said.