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Grow By Understanding Account Sharing

How to turn trial abuse into growth. People abuse trial accounts to get free accesses. With the right nudge these customers can help grow your business.

Jan Vaughan
Jan Vaughan
Staff Software Engineer
March 23, 2022
Grow By Understanding Account Sharing

Human generosity is amazing to witness, and we are taught to share from our early childhood. So it is no wonder that behind a single-user paid account you will often find a couple, a group of friends or even an office full of colleagues!

This is probably not what a business dependent upon selling that service wants to see. It is not all bad news though. Shared accounts hide people who know and use your product, and by tapping into them you can unlock new growth.

Read on to learn ways of identifying account sharing, common mistakes which can lose and alienate users, and how to convert these accounts into multiple happy paying customers.

Detecting Account Sharing​

Password sharing is a simple, common and effective way for multiple people to use one account. To identify when activity under the same username and password is coming from multiple people, consider some of the following signals.

Geographic Variation​

During typical use by a single person, their location should not change rapidly, nor by a significant distance. Most people do not move faster than the speed of sound. Pilots and astronauts doing so are probably occupied by things other than your product.

Users do not need to grant GPS access for their rough location to be available. A common approach is reverse geo mapping of their IP address. Be careful though, as someone’s rough location can move faster than the speed of sound without them personally doing so, especially if they need to sometimes connect through a VPN.

Number and Type of Devices​

The devices through which an account is accessed can also say a lot, but first they must be distinguished. Differentiators include make and model, screen size, storage capacity, etc. Some platforms also offer unique identifiers, but read the fine print because they are not entirely stable. They have also changed over the years as provisions for advertising anonymity improve. To identify distinct devices accurately, it is best to combine multiple signals.

Users can own multiple devices and legitimately share them, but by considering the association between devices and accounts, account sharing becomes clear. For instance, one tends to log into a mobile app on the phone they always do, not by borrowing a colleague’s. If a dead battery means one must, logging back out of the colleague’s phone should soon follow.

Simultaneous Activity​

If an account is being actively used in multiple ways at once, extensive evidence of this can be generated within the system. A single person is unlikely to be legitimately watching two films simultaneously, or interleaving the typing of characters across multiple documents.

A map of the world showing connections between various counties.

Account Sharing Detection Gone Wrong​

Consider the above indicators of potential account sharing for a moment. Which can you really trust? Just because someone is in New York on Friday, Paris on Saturday and back to Chicago by Monday does not mean they are account sharing. In fact, flag them incorrectly and you might have just lost a particularly influential customer.

Quality account sharing detection requires intelligent incorporation of multiple signals. What is done with the conclusions also has a key role to play. The tips given below not only help make the most of situations where account sharing is really happening, but can also limit any consequences of a mistake.

Turn Account Aharing into Growth, Without Causing Harm​

Once you are able to accurately detect shared accounts, you will want to do something with the information.

Having learned that what you thought was 1 person using your product is in fact many, traditional thinking might be to block the account. Congratulations, you have just turned one account and several potential users into zero accounts and zero users!

The people behind a shared account see value in your product, but it can be hard for them to justify paying for something they already have access to. Consider how you might nudge them in the right direction and improve your revenue.

Communicate Benefits of Having their Own Account​

Most products have features which work best when one account corresponds to one person. A common example is any form of recommendations. Few want the article they are looking for to be buried amongst the latest fad their flatmate is into. Another is any form of personal settings. These can end up either in a generic state or constantly being changed, instead of serving their purpose of improving an individual’s experience.

The benefits of one’s own account can be extra significant with productivity tools. How do you intend for teams to use your product, and what are account sharers missing out on?

Show the value they are getting​

Even for people who love your product, it can be hard to justify paying for something they already have access to. Especially for someone who has grown to rely on your product, indicating how much benefit they are receiving as compared with what it would cost for their own account makes the right thing to do obvious.

To get users over that hump from sharing to paying, consider sweetening the deal by offering a discount on the additional account. After all, if they know you have detected they are sharing an account, a good deal is a very compelling option versus tempting fate by continuing sharing.

Understand and address the reasons

Account sharing is rarely all about money, and products can be improved by understanding the other factors. Family members can find themselves stuck sharing accounts because they would otherwise lose settings and content. Getting their own account should be easy and beneficial, it certainly should not come with recreating years of history. Sharing, data portability and team or household focused features are ways to overcome this.

Products can even push people to share accounts. Inadequate collaboration features encourage users to share an account just so they can work productively or delegate responsibilities. There can even be hidden gems beneath the surface. If a notorious source of account sharing is in fact an underprivileged school who loves your product but lacks funding, understanding them and providing a discounted or free education offering would increase adoption and create lifelong advocates who bring your tools into the workplace — not to mention demonstrate the principles behind your company and brand.

Detection and Growth Made Easy​

Upollo safely detects account sharing via a range of advanced techniques, and can be integrated with 3 lines of code. Not only is this far simpler and less error prone than building your own custom detection, it means you can quickly understand account sharing as it relates to your specific product, and get to growing.

If you are interested in this space and would like to hear more, please sign up and follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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About the Author
Jan Vaughan
Jan Vaughan
Staff Software Engineer

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