May
26
2014

Do we really need social share buttons?

I’ve been thinking about social media sharing buttons recently. This kind of functionality is on the to-do list for the new Drupal CMS. I’m currently wondering whether they’re worth bothering with at all.

A colleague managing corporate news and events content for the University was telling me that when the whole cookies-privacy thing came along a couple of years ago or so, they decided the simplest thing to do was to get rid of the social sharing buttons they’d been using. The third party widget they used was planting privacy-invasive cookies and rather than implement a new cookie-free solution my office had created, they decided to do without.

Why? Basically because next to no one was sharing pages covering University news and events.

But if we were to decide not to provide such functionality in the new CMS there probably would be an outcry across some quarters of our web publishing community.

So I began thinking back to things on the topic I’ve read in the past.

Gov.uk’s experience

The one freshest in memory was a blog post from Gov.uk earlier this year in which they outlined an experiment they undertook around social sharing buttons. The results are interesting in that the things that got shared most aren’t perhaps what you might expect. But the key thing is that next to no one was sharing.

GOV.UK social sharing buttons: the first 10 weeks (February 2014)

Bigger (if relatively unscientfic!) data

And (interaction designer and author) Luke Wrobleski recently asked a very similar question:

“What percentage of page views click on the Twitter or Facebook share buttons on Web pages?” –  Luke Wrobleski

He got a load of responses from his readership. Not particularly scientific, by his own admission, but the average was 0.25% across the 18M+ page views people referenced. The people who provided data represented a range of organisations, and the numbers are similar to both what Gov.uk released and what my colleague mentioned to me anecdotally.

Luke Wrobleski’s blog post on social share data he received from his readers

Word of wisdom from Paul Boag

I also recalled a great article from Paul Boag a couple of years back – a real call to action, to think hard about social media and to start doing it properly. Or to put it in Paul’s words – to make your website and social media play nice together. Social media isn’t there to just drive traffic to your website – if, indeed, it actually achieves that at all.

“A few sharing icons and your latest tweets is not enough to integrate social media with your website.” – Paul Boag

It’s time for your site to play nicely with social media – Paul Boag’s blog post

And he also gave a presentation along very similar lines:

Social Media is a user experience issue – audio and slides by Paul Boag

One further nail in the coffin…

I originally wrote this piece and published it on my personal blog, which is about user experience and content management in Higher Education:

Read my original post on usability-ed (only a few minor edits made to translate it for here) – “Social media integration in websites”

A colleague at another university commented on this (thanks Rik at City University!), and added one more really interesting article that further backs up the reading I’ve shared here:

Sweep the Sleaze – article by Oliver Reichenstein for ia.net

One particularly interesting quote from this article. Maybe the social share buttons aren’t just being ignored – maybe they’re actually damaging your presence in the social sphere…

“We removed FB buttons and traffic from Facebook increased. Reason: instead of ‘liking’ articles, readers share it on their timeline.” —@smashingmag

 

So how about you?

What if social share buttons disappeared overnight? Would you care?

  • As a website visitor?
  • As a web publisher?

Leave a comment. We’d love to have your thoughts…

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