Over recent years, social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ have become a part of most web users’ lives. The same can be said for social bookmarking sites such as Pintrest, Digg, StumbleUpon and Delicious. This means that social share buttons and widgets have become a very common feature on many websites. Many website owners feel a strong need to follow the trend, often without fully understanding the benefits and also the drawbacks of adding social sharing buttons to their sites.
Although some social share buttons have already fallen out of fashion to some degree, others, namely Facebook and Twitter, seem like they’re here to stay. Apple have even gone as far as to integrate Twitter into its iPhone operating system.
The benefits of social share buttons include offering the user a quick way to broadcast their discoveries to their social networks friends. In return, websites and brands gain exposure. But is it as simple as that and are there any drawbacks?
We asked our expert digital team for their views on the issue:
“In the fifteen years I have been designing and developing web trends have come and gone – but obviously none have been bigger than the social revolution. Early adopters of social sharing, with the right audience and more importantly content have benefited from increased traffic and exposure. Sharing for the sake of it however, without a clear understanding or strategy can actually be counterproductive.
Each client has different requirements, and in my opinion, it really comes down to whether you are sharing valuable, engaging content to a receptive audience, or trying to force your brand into a market where it doesn’t belong.” – Sam
“It’s different for each client. We have a number of B2B websites where users aren’t going to share the content, in which case we wouldn’t include the icons. However, for B2C projects, such as e-commerce sites, we may find that users are highly active in sharing. This is encouraged by including the links. Each project is unique in that sense, and this is the approach we have always taken with social media. In a lot of cases the inclusion of social share buttons can be a sign of a ‘me too’ culture, whereas at Parker Design we thoroughly think through how a website works for the user, and in turn, how this works towards the objectives of our clients’ business.” – Martin
“Social sharing is a great idea for many websites and brands but as with any design and business decision, the implementation should be carefully considered and should form part of an greater social media strategy.
My main concerns with social share buttons are the impact on website performance and also necessity.
In terms of performance, widgets such as the official Facebook share widget or third-party widgets such as ShareThis and AddThis usually add additional scripts to your webpage that can impact upon page load.
As for necessity, do users of social networks really use these buttons? Many users of social media prefer to copy and paste the url so they can craft their own message (although I accept this is more difficult on a mobile). Also, a plethora of social icons may start to look a bit needy and cluttered if added to a page as an afterthought.
My advice would be to keep it simple: start with ‘Share on Facebook’ and ‘Tweet This’ buttons/links. These can be easily added to webpage templates and require no further scripts or dependencies. Website owners get the chance to style these links to fit in with their site’s design, whilst users have the chance to craft their own message before sharing with their social network.
Avoid the ‘number of tweets/likes’ counters if it’s likely that there may only be a handful Likes in the early days.
Ideally Analytics would be used to track the usage of the buttons so website owners can later make an informed decision as to whether to continue using them or not.
Coming soon: blog post on How to create social share links.” – Neil