A poll has been running here regarding sharing buttons. We asked it this way:
This best describes how I share links on my social media site(s) of choice:
12.5 thousand CSS-Tricks visitors voted. The results are in! Here are the choices and results:
- 60% I don't ever use sharing buttons. I share my own way.
- 31% I can go either way.
- 9% I typically only share pages that have sharing buttons.
Of course, these are CSS-Tricks visitors. You can decide how relevant that is for yourself. I like to think that front end developers aren't entirely different from other human beings.
One way to look at it is that 60% of people (at least say) that they would never use them even if they were there. That's a pretty strong case that they could be considered visual clutter. You're already fighting to get a tiny percentage of people to share, and to know that you're trying to squeeze those from just 40% of visitors feels a bit weird.
But that's only considering direct use. There is the "remind" consideration, in which showing people a share button might remind them to share regardless if they use the actual button or not.
Then there is the performance consideration. There are ways to be responsible about the loading of sharing buttons, but any way you cut it adds weight to the page. There is always a risk you lose visitors from having them. I've never seen a statistic in which weightier pages garner more viewers. It's always more speed = more visitors.
The last big one for me is aesthetic concern. Even if you can make them visually nice, the presence of sharing buttons at all always feels a little cheap to me. It never makes a page feel more classy, anyway. And that leads into "quality of shares". We all know not all shares are considered equal. I don't have any data on this but it seems like you'd be likely to get higher quality shares from a classier page. From people who are good enough at social media to share things they actually like in a classy way.
From the comments on the original post:
I typically don't use share buttons because I've found that they don't share things in a way that I’d like them to. Too many that I've tried either insert their own robotic message, use a crappy spammy-looking thumbnail, or link to a page that wasn't the one I was trying to share.
If a user doesn’t know how to share pages on my site without a share bar, they’re not really in my target audience
I think sometimes developers tend to project their own preferences (and skills) onto their users.
Yes, we all know how to copy and paste a URL into Facebook, or use a Chrome extension, but a significant proportion of our users are likely to share more if we make it easy for them.
Personally, I do like to include buttons for my own site and most my clients’ sites. Not because I think the value of the content is worthy of being shared all the time, but because someone else may think it is.
One site I was on yesterday had over 150k likes on Facebook for the homepage, their best selling item (sells about 125 units per day) has 3 likes!
I usually don’t use share buttons because I want to have more control over the things I share. I’m also not an serial sharer so the little extra time it takes me to “craft’ the share doesn’t matter to me that much.
Not only am I far more likely to share via a share button on mobile, but I’m far less likely to share if there isn’t one. Sometimes copy/pasting the url into a different app is just a little too tedious when I’m busy and on the move.
Having a custom link allows you to tweak the buttons to match your site, preventing any garish look, and won’t display how many times it’s been liked or shared (embarrassing low numbers). If you’re only adding a few icons (which you may already be using elsewhere) and
<a>tags, there’s barely any performance implications.
At the time of this writing, and I change my mind a lot on this subject, I'm with Shaw. I'm using custom anchor links for sharing buttons. Simple custom look, no performance penalties, there if people need them (perhaps most useful on mobile).