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).
These share buttons are hideous and useless I think. But every client wants them and thinks their site must have them to be successful. Reminds me of hit-counters back in 2000
I don’t think I’ve ever shared content through a share button, and I know I definitely haven’t clicked a link that someone else has shared, as they look so generic and “spammy”. If I’m on the web, I’ll copy+paste the URL. If I’m in an app, I’ll just use that app’s normal share behaviour (i.e. retweet). The results of this poll don’t surprise me in the slightest. Have you seen the friends who share links on Facebook, for instance? They’re very rarely the friends who have anything useful to say.
I honestly can’t understand how industry people can think they even remotely represent the general mainstream audience who visits the majority of sites we build.
Allowing personal preferences to cloud decisions at a client-level is exceptionally arrogant.
I can see that perspective. That’s how I feel about the use of target=_blank on links. Changing it without a solid better-experience based reason is just enforcing a personal preference.
But I don’t think the votes of over twelve thousand people is a personal preference. Assuming that a huge sampling of “industry people” are so incredibly night-and-day different in how they use websites is a bit arrogant as well.
You are absolutely right. It was arrogant on my part. The night-and-day comment is exactly right. I did go the complete opposite.
I guess I’m trying to ask – can we brush aside such a strong cognitive bias? Much like so many design and development articles are written and proposed in a very sterile and controlled environment. “The best way”, “XX rules you should be following”, etc. After 15+ years, I have learned a enough to see how to apply those to current projects – but comes only after making a lot of mistakes over the years and seeing progress and growth in both the tech and user.
I just think it lends to a rigidity that less experienced developers and designers can fall prey to.
I change my mind a lot on this subject too. I work on a donation-based site with >5k visitors a year, and it does make a noticeable difference for them. Although in my experience it doesn’t seem to make a difference for smaller, more niche websites.
So as much as I hate to say it, the correct answer is “It depends”. The only way you can know for sure is to test it on your site, with your users. Seems familiar, eh? :) Good article though Chris! Looking forward to your next poll.
Chris, I’d love to hear what your own stats are – what percentage of your visitors use share links (stats v. poll)? Some qualitative information vs. anecdotal accounts and an opinion poll would be much more compelling for folks justifying decisions.
What is interesting is the majority of the time when I share I use the URL and not the buttons. But it is shocking to me the number of people I speak to who have no clue about the URL bar. “What is that? You mean the place where I search in Google?” is something I hear often. Using sharing icons can help those that are not as savvy as many who visit this site.
I also believe one must consider the site. I have a site that is geared toward investors who invest in stocks, etc. For that site they don’t need the social sharing icons but another site that has a lot of social interaction share buttons are beneficial.
On a final note social sharing icons can be done classy and look nice without adding too much clutter to the page.
Looking forward to the next poll.
I personally think putting sharing buttons that display counters on posts on websites with few visitors is, generally speaking, a really bad idea – the reason being that a certain percentage (and I often wonder how many) will look at the numbers of shares, which will almost certainly be very few, and then decide the post isn’t worth reading (since it has so few shares) and go back to Google… …which will presumably only go to show Google that said post is rubbish and doesn’t deserve being anywhere near the top of the SERPs… disaster!
what’s more, social sharing buttons added without much thought can often slow a page’s load time down quite considerably (especially so for social sharing buttons displaying counters) – yet another reason to give them a miss…
There are good reasons for some sites to have share buttons. But they certainly are not for every site. Many sites put out freebies, introduce new galleries of, photographers photos, artist painting-drawing-digital work-sculpture or what have you and there are also those who are scouring the net looking for them and then sharing with a group of people who are in turn waiting for those shares at certain times of the day. Sites with large amounts of free content that can be viewed or better yet downloaded and used both personally and commercially would do well to have share buttons. And if they have share buttons they should be placed logically and not in ways that disrupt the flow of the site. On some sites share buttons do not make much sense, they will get about the same amount of visitor flow with or without the share because the people who curate content are not apt to visit them.
In closing- there is something wrong with the coding on this page. It starts at related articles and down. Text needs bumped up and there is something wrong with the comment div breaking or something.
I’m personally in favor of this method:
Have a share link, as in, a normal link that blends into your design well. Only when clicked, it will lazy load a share “lightbox” from where you can actually share directly to social networks.
There’s many pros to this approach:
No performance overhead
Blends into your design
No privacy overhead (just having the social buttons tracks users), truly opt-in
The only con I can think of is that possibly less people will click them, because this method is visually different from what people may expect. An example implementation:
Check out the “share” link in the brown navigation bar. Disclaimer: I’m the founder of that site, but am not selling anything.
Hi Chris I like the idea. In fact on one of my sites, I use button links to allow social sharing. You have more control over the design. And a little tip, add a target=”_blank” on your links so they can open on a new tab, because once you are done sharing an article, the page might close itself and the visitors might go somewhere else as well. Anyway it was just my 2 cents. Again thanks for sharing these kinds of cakes with us.