Your Website Only Needs One Social Share Button

Elliot Volkman
Elliot Volkman Co-Founder and Community Manager, Digital District

Posted on December 28th 2010

Social media sites are all about sharing information and opening conversations. What happens when you want to create engagement based on current events though? The mainstream media and blog sites have recently begun doing two things to increase engagement; however, they don’t seem to know when to stop. CNN, Fox News, The Washington Post, Gizmodo, Mashable and a thousand other sites use the following methods as a default:

  1. Create social share widgets or buttons and stick them in any extra white space available.
  2. Posting the articles on sites like Reddit and Digg.

Both of these methods tie into to each other as most social share widgets have options to automatically format your article and place it onto social aggregate websites. The over use of share widgets is the primary issue for concern though.  An example of this can be found on the Washington Post, which a Reddit thread blatantly points out. After navigating to an article on their site, there are at least 10 different places on the page that asks you to share the article. Additionally, the leading website for social media news, Mashable, has eight or more locations to share their article or follow their brand.

too many buttons

The thought process behind filling white space with social share buttons is that the more they are in your face, the greater the chance someone will share it. Additionally, trend setting websites with well known brands may be the offspring of a print publication, and using house ads to fill white space is customary.

When I was working in a small north Georgia city for a newspaper publication company, there was always a shortage of content. Rather than filling empty spaces with wire articles (AP stories), the publisher would tell us to fill the extra white space with house ads that publicize our other newspapers. The transition from print to Web still has some lingering artifacts, and unfortunately the over use of the social share button is part of this.

User experience may not be directly affected by the over use of social share buttons, older demographics may be turned off by the cluttered article. A fine example of the proper social media widget distribution can be found on The New York Times, which only uses one share box per article. Like the New York Times, Play This Magazine also only has one share widget at the very end of each article.

The reason behind adding one share widget to the bottom of each article is based on logic and user experience. If a person enjoys your content enough that they read through the entire article, they will be more inclined to share it. So when they get to the very end of the article, what should be there waiting for them to spread information they are interested in? A non-obtrusive share button that does not distract from the rest of your article. You only have a few seconds to grab the reader's attention, and adding more widgets will create more clutter that users don't want.

Fight the over sharing trend by giving your website a minimalistic design that focuses on content. In place of spinning graphics and dancing babies from the 90s, these widgets are now plaguing sites.

TL:DR – Stop adding so many social media widgets to your websites. You only need one. If people like your content it will spread.

*Edit for clarification - While I mention there is only a need for one single share button, that doesn't mean you can't have more. The goal of this article was to generate a discussion to see what others think about the increase in share buttons. My preference is content above all. There is a need for one set of share buttons, but you may want more. Base your design off of user experience and necessity.

[This article was originally posted on Play This Magazine]

Elliot Volkman

Elliot Volkman

Co-Founder and Community Manager, Digital District

By day I work with startups to help them build out their brand, by night I support my non-profit, Digital District, that focuses on improving digital literacy.

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Comments

I'm curious about whether there is usage data or user experience studies to support the idea that share buttons are overused. And how do we determine which of the many sharing services to select for just the one share button you advocate? This all sounds like it runs counter to helping meet customers' expectations to interact with our online content when and how they — not we — choose. 

I agree with the core argument: don't clutter up your site with the multitude of sharing options and stick with one. However, the example highlighted in the article makes sense to me: one set above the fold and one below.

The only issue with placing a share bar above the fold is that a reader who uses that probably didn't read the entire article. While it may be great for the Web owner looking for added traffic and word-of-mouth advertising, it takes away from the contents strength. You may get a spike in traffic based on the headline, but to really get those power users coming back and commenting on articles it requires some elbow grease. As an example you can see that based on appealing to my audience's demographic that traffic spiked on a single article in a 24 hour period. After that there was a 98 percent drop in traffic. These types of traffic spikes are disruptive rather than useful due to it being inconsistent.

I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of having a share bar above the fold from a web owner prospective, but as a writer I also feel it's counterproductive towards the social media movement. Great content will spread on its own and have people coming back.

And why exactly is the NY Times approach "the proper social media widget distribution" while the Washington Posts's isn't? Do articles at the NY Times get shared more often than those at the Washington Post? Are readers less annoyed? What numbers are we talking about here? And who exactly decides what is proper and what's not? The reader? The editor? The sales department?

Great article and a topic I have thought of a lot lately.  However, there are multiple challenges related to this. 

1. There are too many options and yet not one really good option.  I use Digg Digg on my blog and have liked it. However, I wish it had more customization. Digg Digg also hasn't added the LInkedIn button yet.  I am playing with "Share This" but can't get it to align right on the top of each post. Had issues with many others as well. They always have features I like but bugs I don't. 

2. The average reader / viewer / website viewer doesn't know what all of the different buttons mean.  For example I love the "Sexy Bookmarks" widget you have highlighted in your post. However, I have heard numerous comments from my audience that they are clueless on how to use.

3. Additional issue some site owners are so clueless they place the "follow me" buttons that only link to their profiles under titles "share this". How is the average newbie to social media suppose to know what to do? 

The truth is social media is still evolving. The tools are still evolving. The share buttons are still evolving. Until there is one that is easily recogized by the majority of audiences we will continue to see cluttered pages as too many site owners are desperate for clicks, likes and shares. Sad but true, heh!? 

I met w/a local publication before the holidays to discuss their social media. It was amazing how stuck in the old school days they are. It is their audience leading them online by the toe nails, literally. They don't want to blog, don't want to have people comment and only want to push people to Facebook which is setup wrong as a profile page vs. biz page. Crazy! 

My wish list for share buttons currently is: 

1. One button that I can with one tweet/share send to my Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook & possibly Amplify. However, I want to be able to choose per share as I don't want everything going to LI, FB & Amplify. 

2. Ability to share using above mentioned features from multiple accounts w/out having to log in and out. Would be awesome for agencies managing social media for clients. 

There is more... those are just my top 2 features wanted. 

Thanks for a good thought provoking post. What ONE share button do you recommend? 

Thx

Pam 

To clarify, when I state there should only be one social share widget or box on a site, I mean 

Thanks for your well thought out and detailed comment Pam. Out of curiosity, are you using WordPress as your content management client? If so I'd be happy to help you debug the widget issues (shoot me a message on twitter @thejournalizer).

Aside from that I'm currently testing out new widgets, and as you noted the Sexy Bookmark plugin is my current choice. The code is built well and you can customize what social media sites you want included. I tinkered with using the Wibiya toolbar as well, but many users complained that it was obnoxious.

As far as informing site owners about where, why, and how many widgets they should include on their site, you just picked the subject of my next article. The short story is that they should really ask their users what they want to see more or less of.

Like you stated, social media tools are still evolving. If a developer really wants to come out on top, they will start listening to users like you and I. Less is more.

Thanks again for your comment!

I'm also using sexy bookmarks for my site and I think, it's fine to have one line of sharing icons...but a collage of them is quite an eye sore, literally.  I guess, that's the woe we have to face in wanting to get our content spread as far as the North Pole on the World Wide Web.  Happy New Year!!

I agree that widgets and icons can create clutter--the main issue to me is, do they create confusion? I don't think they do on the visual you supplied--I'm kinda in JonBarilone's school--one set above and one below is not exactly overdoing it--esp. if it is consistent article to article.

I'm experimenting with Wibiya on my blog, but I don't think it is as effective as I would like. I will probably drop it soon. A lot of good looking bells and whistles, but it starts to look cluttered as I want some widgets by the actual posts and on the side tabs high. It is a lot of experimenting, but be consistent so readers know what to expect.

I think that as long as the site is organized,you can have as many social sharing buttons as you want. I've seen some sites where the share button actually isn't prominent enough. We're in the process of changing ours so that there's a little more contrast.

 

But yes, quality in placement and having the right share functions is definitely way more important than a plethora of buttons.

A single share button seems a bit radical but we certainly do not need 10. My number is 3: email, Twitter and Facebook. All other options are for the very small population of ultra-geeks with too much time on their hands.

Happy new year,

Just call up any one article and there are buttons to share the article, then to share the site, then to share the ads, then to share the share buttons.  Honestly, I think pages are starting to look like Boyscout merit badge sashes. 

Can't wait for somebody to invent a "sharing" mouse, or one sharing button/key on your keypad or tablet or phone - just like a back button, space bar or hold button feature. 

Hello,  I am new web designer, i was many problem about this but not this time for this post. Very helpful post for me think all. thanks for this post.