How 50K Sites Are Using Facebook’s Social Plug-ins

Facebook disclosed via a blog post on Wednesday that 50,000 sites have installed its new social plug-ins, such as the “Like” and “Recommend” buttons. The types of companies already employing the plug-ins vary, while their use of profile data is also nuanced.

Sites that have implemented the plug-ins – mostly the Like button – range from large publishers WashingtonPost.com and NYTimes.com, to the name-brand Levi’s, to gaming portal IGN.com, to small bloggers and retail upstarts. Some big players are already seeing positive results.

ABCNews.com has reportedly seen a 250 percent jump in Facebook referral traffic since launching the plug-ins last week. Jonathan Dube, VP of ABCNews.com, told PoytnerOnline.com, “We’ve opted to place the Facebook recommendations higher than the most popular recommendations, and the reason we’ve done so is because we believe that recommendations from people who are friends of yours are probably more likely to be stories that you’re interested in than a general ‘Most Popular’ list.”

IGN.com, which has around 29 million monthly unique visitors, said it’s experienced a 20 percent lift in referrals so far. The San Francisco-based video games site has seen the product, “Halo Reach,” accrue almost 2,000 “Likes.”

“We launched a Like button for all games on our sites,” said a spokesperson. “With what we’ve seen so far, these social features have the potential to drive engagement among users. The more Likes games get, the more people will know about them. It’s a great way to spread the word to other gamers and engage gamers with content.”

Meanwhile, how early adapters are addressing the issue of data access can be broken into three main levels.

Instant Personalization: Facebook’s select partners Pandora, Yelp, and Microsoft’s Docs.com have been serving first-time and repeat visitors personalized experiences based on their profile data – if they arrive logged into the social site. As one example, a visitor’s Facebook friends who are also registered Yelp users will appear when that person goes to Yelp.com – even if the friends are offline. The friends’ profile pictures from their account at the restaurant reviews site appear underneath copy that’s meant to drive site registration: “Hey, 7 of your friends have joined Yelp.”

Social plug-ins + “Login with Facebook”: Some of the data that can be accessed via Instant Personalization is also available to non-partners using the plug-ins and “Login with Facebook.” This includes always public Facebook profile elements like name, profile photo, gender, and current city – along with other set-to-public information. Facebook has its privacy default controls set to opt-in. Therefore, “set to public” is predicated on a user not opting out of the privacy control settings “Everyone,” “Only Friends,” and “Friends of Friends,” in favor of giving no public access through the “Customize” module. If settings aren’t changed via the Customize module, personal information, such as Likes/interests, birthday, and education/work, can be accessed by a site for that individual, as well as his or her friends’ information that’s set to one of the three public settings seen above.

Companies such as Levi’s are employing social plug-ins in conjunction with “Login with Facebook,” which is similar to the two-year-old Facebook Connect in terms of how it bridges the gap between sites and Facebook. “Login with Facebook” appears to be lucrative because it can facilitate data from the Like button when that data is set to public.

So when users visit Levi.com while logged into Facebook and enter the jeans company’s “Friends Store,” they will see their Facebook friends’ upcoming birthdays – along with their names and profile pictures – unless those individuals have customized the birthday setting in their privacy controls. Any site – no matter how big or small the company behind it – can leverage this data access for their marketing purposes.

“It’s just a few lines of code,” said Melanie Lucich, spokesperson for the Palo Alto-based social site. “It’s what Facebook Connect was. It’s logging into another site with your Facebook credentials.”

Social plug-ins only: Most of the 50,000 sites fall into this category, Lucich said. Sites like WashingtonPost.com – as well as bloggers and other small sites – have incorporated the plug-ins to increase traffic, but aren’t using “Login with Facebook,” she said. In short, visitors to those sites – who arrive while logged onto Facebook – can click “Like” buttons to express themselves. Their “Likes” appear on the third-party site and in their activity feeds at Facebook.com, while they also can view what friends are “Liking” or “Recommending.”

“So when I go to WashingtonPost.com, I’ll see the articles my friends are sharing and also the most popular articles on the site based on what other people are ‘Liking,'” Lucich explained. “And The Washington Post doesn’t get any of that data. They just get aggregate anonymous data because they don’t have a ‘Login with Facebook’ button….They don’t see our user IDs, but they can see a bunch of people ‘Liked’ an article.”

You can follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.