netmagFeature

Big question: should we drop social media buttons?

Our experts ponder giving all those buttons the heave-ho

In a recent article Oliver Reichenstein argued that social media buttons create clutter and don’t really boost traffic. We asked our panel of experts for their views

Whitney Hess

Whitney Hess
UX designer
whitneyhess.com

There is no single answer for “should we do this or should we do that”. The decisions we make about our designs should be informed by the attitudes, motivations and behaviours of our target audiences. If they are heavy social media users and the flair helps to legitimise the business for them, then it’s worth having even if they aren’t ‘used’. If the target audience doesn’t tend to interact with brands via social media and the business success doesn’t rely on those channels for communication, then you can’t justify keeping them. Either way, the decision should be supported by business goals and user needs, not just some set of arbitrary ‘best practices’ or an esteemed designer’s opinion.

Whitney is an independent user experience designer
 

Chris Coyier

Chris Coyier
Web designer
chriscoyier.net

I’ve gone back and forth on this on CSS-Tricks. I used to not have them at all for many of the same reasons Oliver suggests. Then later I changed my mind. My reasons were: I thought I might be missing out on traffic generated from them, I personally enjoy clicking those buttons, adding them in a performance-responsible way was an interesting challenge, and the web is an ongoing experiment; nothing is forever. I’m on the verge of doing a new version of the site and I’m leaning towards removing them again.

Chris is a web designer working at Wufoo
 

Elliot Jay Stocks

Elliot Jay Stocks
Designer
elliotjaystocks.com

It’s very easy to feel that you need social media buttons, but I agree with Oliver’s point that if people want to share, they will share without needing buttons as a prompt.

And for those who can’t be bothered to do that, perhaps they would be meaningless shares anyway. I’ve followed Oliver’s advice and removed the ‘Tweet’ button from my own site.

See our interview with Elliot in issue 231 of .net, on sale now
 

Omar Martinez

Omar Martinez
Lead technologist
Agencynet.com

I strongly support getting rid of the social media buttons. The desired purpose of the buttons is to easily bring the article or page to the masses with one click. But in reality, if people really want to share an article, they can simply copy and paste the link and share it in the network that they feel most people will benefit from it.

On the mobile version of sites, I have mixed feelings about social media buttons. The mobile experience is digested more rapidly; providing the buttons makes it easier to share an article and not have the user jump through hoops. But right now Apple is doing a great job with Twitter integration with iOS 5 and Facebook integration in iOS 6, which makes social media buttons on websites obsolete.

Omar is the lead technologist at Agencynet
 

Rachel Shillcock

Rachel Shillcock
Freelance web designer
www.rachil.li

On the past few sites that I’ve worked on, including social media buttons seems to have been quite a high priority. However, on one site I noticed how much this affected the loading time – it literally added an extra second or two.

In my eyes, social media buttons are quite highly requested by clients because they think it’s necessary to push all of their social networks at once. I think we need to take a step back and instead of just automatically adding them in to a site, ask ourselves why we’re putting them there and what use case we think we have for their inclusion.

Smashing Magazine tweeted recently saying how taking the social media buttons off its own site had not only caused the site speed to increase by a massive volume, but it somehow caused more people to share their articles than had done so when the buttons were in place on the site. This just shows how, if a reader really wants to share what you have said and connects with it, they will make the effort to do so – social media buttons or not.

Rachel Shillcock is a freelance web designer
 

Anna Dahlstrom

Anna Dahlstrom
Freelance UX designer
annadahlstrom.com

In the early days of social media these buttons were great for driving awareness around how users could share your content. Today the users who want to share your content will do so whether you have a button or not.


Going forwards we won’t be able to have a button for each network we want users to talk about us on. And we shouldn’t. The focus should be on the message or products we want to get across and ensuring the content is worth sharing – not on adding as many share buttons as possible. Though the count in the share buttons do give some indication of activity, it’s not a true representation and I hope we’ll move to better ways of showing this in the future.

Anna is a freelance user experience designer
 

Rob Walker

Rob Walker
Managing director
xcitedigital.com

Social media buttons seem to do a great job of promoting the websites they link to – I wish I had a button linking to my corporate site all over the internet.

This question is a bit of quandary for me as I do occasionally press the Twitter sharing button on the BBC website – so they do work – and I would much prefer to press the button rather than copy the link into Twitter and share it that way.

The proliferation of the buttons devalues them though, and makes users skim over content like adverts. We (users) get very good at selecting the relevant content and avoiding everything else so they do seem like clutter in that sense, but they’re not pointless and do generate traffic – albeit less and less.

It would make sense to have the facility to share items in a single standard place on the web page you’re on, so you can share if you want to rather than share at will in a spam-like fashion. This could be incorporated into the footer, or could be added to the browser as an app making the process of sharing easier.

Rob is managing director at Xcite Digital
 

Aaron Gustafson

Aaron Gustafson
Principal
easy-designs.net

I don’t think social media icons are bad in and of themselves, but I think our strategy toward them needs to change.

In many instances, there is no context given for why a user should want to interact with a given brand via social media. We can address this by providing users with a value proposition for following. For instance, if you are in the investing space, you might say preface your button placement with a statement like ‘Follow us to learn more about personal investing’. Providing that sort of context can help establish appropriate expectations for your visitors as to how following you will benefit them.

If you have the room for it in your design, you might also consider including a recent tweet or rotation of tweets (perhaps curated or at least filtered to remove things like @ replies) that backs up your value proposition.

Aaron is principal at Easy! Designs
 

Trent Walton

Trent Walton
Founder of Paravel
paravelinc.com

I’ve always thought that peppering websites with social media buttons makes them look a little like the sponsor logo-packed fender of a NASCAR racing car. Oliver says that “social media buttons are not a social media strategy”, and I think that’s spot-on. Vitaly Friedman’s tweet on the removal of Facebook Like buttons resulting in increased sharing is even more reason for businesses and websites to test this theory for themselves.

There’s definitely something to be said for the utility of sharing buttons, but if the end result of removing them is quicker page loads and deeper user engagement, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate what we’re doing there.

Trent is founder of Paravel
 

Jonathan Smiley

Jonathan Smiley
Designer
zurb.com

It’s interesting to be advocating removing these quick share tools, even as Apple adds their equivalent throughout the Mac OS and iOS 6.

I think the real killer for these on the web is simply speed – they brutally damage page load, especially on a mobile device that might have a slower, higher-latency connection. They can help establish trust, and they do (sometimes) get used, so dropping them entirely might not be ideal. We’ve seen success in the past creating links right over to the service’s share URLs rather than embedded widgets.

Jonathan is a design lead at ZURB

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