Social Media

Too Many Social Media Sharing Buttons Make Your Site Less Social

On a basic level, social media sharing buttons generate free advertising. The more people who share, the more visibility your blog receives—and if all goes well, the more referral traffic your site will enjoy. And if sharing buttons are so wonderful, why wouldn’t websites want as many share buttons as possible?

As it turns out, there are a few important reasons why too many social media sharing buttons do more harm than good. Here are a few tips to figure out if it’s time for some spring cleaning on your site.

Social Buttons = Slower Site Performance

image001 Too Many Social Media Sharing Buttons Make Your Site Less Social

Site speed report for Portent’s home page, via Pingdom

Page load speed should be a major concern for every website because it affects the user experience and the site’s search engine optimization. In 2007, Amazon reported for every 100 ms increase in load time, Amazon.com decreased sales by 1 percent. When it comes to search engines, Google has been using site speed as a search ranking signal since 2010.

Fast sites = more money, better rankings, and happier users.

Each social sharing button uses JavaScript to make calls back and forth between the social network’s servers and your site. The more buttons on your page, the more script the page needs to load. There are a few ways you can optimize and compress code and images to make your site zippy (check out how we got our home page to load in 1 second or less, which is freaky fast!).

Whatever you decide to do, you’ll find there’s ultimately a limit to how much you can optimize a button until you find it’s time to cut some loose.

Too Many Options Can Cripple Decision Making

image002 Too Many Social Media Sharing Buttons Make Your Site Less Social

Those interested in the psychology of choice tend to reference Sheena Iyengar’s 1995 “jam study.” The Columbia University professor of business set up a booth of Wilkin & Sons Jams in a California farmer’s market. Every hour or so, the professor and her research assistance swapped out a selection of six choices of jams with a selection of 24 choices.

While the larger selection enticed more onlookers (60 percent more traffic compared to the smaller selection), the smaller selection of jam generated more sales (30 percent of customers sampled and purchased from the small selection, compared to only 3 percent of customers sampling and purchasing from the larger selection).

While there’s no conclusive evidence that a selection of six jams are better than two dozens, the jam study paved the way for psychologists to agree that it’s wrong to assume more choices are always better.

Content with Zero Shares Looks Unpopular

image003 Too Many Social Media Sharing Buttons Make Your Site Less Social

Screen Caption from Coaco-Heaven. You should give it some love.

It doesn’t matter how tasty this blog is. By looking at the social shares, this post might as well be raw cow tongue (my apologies if you’re into that kind of thing, but most of us aren’t).

Herd behavior describes the effects of the social influence of large groups when they conform. Remember when McDonald’s couldn’t shut up about how many billions of people they served? It’s the same way when you visit a website, and you can tell if a blog post is popular based on very little information (the amount of shares and comments). This social proof acts as signal to persuade you that something is popular, and therefore, you should think it’s popular, too.

If you use social sharing buttons that keep a running tally of shares, you should only use buttons people interact with. An unutilized share button is a badge of dishonor. Each share button on your site that proudly proclaims “no one likes my stuff” can contain enough informational social influence to impact a reader’s decision to not share your link or continue reading your content.

Which Buttons Do You Remove?

Each website is going to have a different answer. When we try to figure this out for a client at my company, we look for these signals:

Referral Traffic

image004 Too Many Social Media Sharing Buttons Make Your Site Less Social

Portent’s Social Media Referral Traffic Snapshot, via Google Analytics

Where are people coming from most? Using your analytics tools, look up how much traffic social media sites refer to your domain or blog. The social networks with the most engagement to your site should be your highest priority.

With that said, make sure you’re using a broad data sample. Every now and then, a blog can hit a solo homerun that makes it on the front page of Reddit, but doesn’t mean all of your other blog content is Reddit-worthy.

Social Demographics

image005 Too Many Social Media Sharing Buttons Make Your Site Less Social

Portent’s Social Media Demographics Snapshot, via SproutSocial

Pay special attention to your social media demographics in conjunction with which demographics are more likely to use one social network over another. Since new social networks like Pinterest pop up all the time, you can create specific content targeted to share with those unique audiences. For instance, Pinterest caters most toward women (ages 25-54), and a majority of the content is about food and weddings, which means bridal and recipe sites are more likely to have success on Pinterest than other sites.

Similarly, if you’re targeting LinkedIn users (because 65 percent of B2B organizations have acquired a customer on LinkedIn), it’s in your best interest to create content that highlights different services on your website.

Interactions

How many people actually click your tweet button? Joshua Benton from the Nieman Journalism Lab ran some numbers to find out if social sharing buttons do the publishing world any good.

image006 Too Many Social Media Sharing Buttons Make Your Site Less Social

Study by Joshua Benton, via Nieman Journalism Lab

On a broad average, media sites receive a little over 15 percent of their tweet mentions from their own tweet buttons, which is still a large chunk of traffic.

As for a more typical website that doesn’t have a bazillion readers, social media gurus have a hunch that every website should have the four main social media buttons (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+), but that’s just a guess. You shouldn’t assume anything until you look at the data.

Before you remove every Digg button from your site, keep in mind this isn’t the golden ticket to social media bliss. There are thousands of factors that dictate how many interactions your website will receive. Before you make a gigantic change to your website, establish a goal and test your results.

What social media buttons do you use on your website?

 Too Many Social Media Sharing Buttons Make Your Site Less Social
Doug Antkowiak is the lead social media strategist at a Portent, Inc., full-service internet marketing agency. When he's not writing short-sentences, he's vehemently complaining about why Ghostbusters 3 isn't a thing yet. Follow Doug on Google+ and Twitter.

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13 thoughts on “Too Many Social Media Sharing Buttons Make Your Site Less Social

  1. I’d agree with your study. When opening a blog post with zero shares, I immediately tend to realize it’s unattractive. Breaking the ice for most of the users is hard, none wants to give first like, tweet etc.

    So I usually, after writing a blog post, like it, tweet it and give it a +1. Also you can “outsource” liking ,tweeting etc. It isn’t viral, but if other users see larger numbers of social media connectivity, they might share your article too.

    And yes, the most important ones (at least for me) are like, tweet and +1. I get fine traffic from reddit, but it’s because I post there not others.

  2. Why do blogs have the share buttons at the top of the article?

    I’m not going to share it without reading it first and then there is a very real chance that I’m going to follow a link or get involved with the comments and then forget to go back to the top to share.

    Has anyone done A/B testing with an identical blog entry with the share buttons in different places?

    How about “floating” share buttons like the Wibiya toolbar so that visitors can share at any time?

    1. I find having the share button at the top of the page adds more credibility to the website, providing it has a moderate amount of shares. Seeing that others have already liked the article naturally raises their interest before they start reading.

  3. I agree with what you say and can’t help but notice beside this comment box you have zero LinkedIn shares. Are you using the Digg Digg plugin? I’ve recently been upgrading my WordPress blog and noticed just how many plugins I have installed. A lot of them compete. The most obvious is web analytics. Google Analytics + WP Stats (Jetpack) + Mint… I do look at all three but do I need all three? I check Mint the most and have been using it the longest, but everyone in the industry is all about Google Analytics.

    The other area I now have three plugins and thus three JavaScripts doing the same or very similar work is “recommendations”. Facebook released a new plugin for WordPress so I decided to install it. That did not go smoothly.

    http://blog.muschamp.ca/2012/09/09/installed-the-facebook-for-wordpress-plugin/

    Two of its many features, features I didn’t necessarily need or want was Facebook Insights and a Recommendation Bar & Box. So now I have three recommendation scripts running. Yet Another Related Post Plugin (YARPP) may not use any JavaScript. DISQUS decided to add recommendations to it’s plugin and they definitely use JavaScript and finally in order to auto share my posts, I’m using the official Facebook for WordPress plugin which wants me to use it’s recommendation widget and JavaScript.

    My blog has been around for over 7 years so a lot of content and plugins have accumulated, but I clean house and I think some of these recommendation and analytics scripts aren’t pulling their own weight. It is hard to tell if the Facebook Recommendation Bar is even working correctly. I need to watch other people surf the web to determine if it is recommending posts they might want to read. Insights is also not insightful having just turned it on or having Facebook turn it on for me…

    I will be watching to see if any of these recommendation plugins is used and I may have to consider abandoning Mint in favour of Google Anlytics and WordPress’s own stats.

  4. You make some good points, and I strongly agree with the “too many options may cripple decision making”. I often see sites cluttered up with tons of buttons and it looks terrible from a design aesthetic.

  5. Conversely, I sometimes see a large number of Tweets, Likes and Plusses – and I’m somewhat DIS-incentivized to share it because so many other’s already have. Something that’s already clearly very popular doesn’t need my help, or may be ‘Been there, seen that’ content to my circle/followers. I’m much more likely to share an UNDER-promoted but worthy post than one that’s already propped up on a pedestal.

  6. Thanks for this. I’ve been trying to convince customers that ‘more’ isn’t necessarily ‘good’. I’d agree with the ‘biggies’ of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn & Google+ but would also add YouTube.

    I have to access the web via a dial-up connection and seeing all the “Waiting for……” messages at the bottom the browser will often have me bailing out and looking elsewhere.

    My hosts file is also filling up with ‘junk’ that I just don’t want to ever connect to.

    It’s a shame that this page is not ‘practising what it preaches’ as it is being slowed down by ‘pagead2.googlesyndication.com’ which still hasn’t completed loading after more than 5 minutes!

    1. That slowdown is because of the ads. Considering the price we all just paid for this fine column, I.e., not a cent, I think we have to recognize that sites need advertising or they’re not going to be around long, and sadly, as I’ve found as well, there’s little we can do about ads loading slowly.

  7. Which is actually a big impact. Social share in place at the bottom of the article or the on the side article

  8. great post never thought of that social buttons may slower site performance and user experience. Thanks great tips.

  9. Hi, Thanks for awesome post (and agreed by the members, looking at all the “shares” to the left! Just wondering which sharebar you are using on left. Is it then custom coded to stay where it is ? I find the ones that bounce around very distracting on the page, but the one you have used is great.