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
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?