'Drop social media buttons' call

These days, most websites include buttons for sharing content via social media services. Bucking the trend, designer Oliver Reichenstein has, in a piece called Sweep the Sleaze, said such buttons should be eradicated. He states that buttons do more to promote social network brands than your site, can make you look desperate and that there’s really no need to remind social network users about the likes of Facebook and Twitter. “We find content through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and so on, not the other way around,” he said, and cited a recent Smashing Mag tweet, where the publication noted its Facebook traffic went up after removing social media buttons.

Designer Hilton Lipschitz told us he had much the same experience. Buttons were slowing his site by over a second, which made him concerned some potential visitors would leave, and many were rarely used: "One article got 22,000 page views, but there were no Google+ or Facebook Likes and no Tweet shares." He said people are probably used to seeing these buttons but blank them out like adverts, and added that his traffic – which mostly arrives from Twitter, Reddit and Hacker News, has not been negatively affected.

Wanting to find out more about this subject, we spoke to Reichenstein (OR) about the thinking behind his article, possible dangers of social networking buttons and also the ramifications of removing them.

.net: Why did you decide to write this article?
OR: I think as users we all agree most websites are too noisy. Buy this! Read that! Click here! The user is treated like a stupid tourist. When I work with clients, I strive to reduce noise, which usually involves fighting a marketing department. With advertising funding sites, marketing holds the power and can suffocate sites with monetisation options.

So it’s not just about social media buttons. After five years of being ‘forced’ to design news sites in a certain predefined way, I’m convinced ‘related links’, Google ads and social media buttons are, to say the least, overused. I’m not the first to complain, yet a lot of people moan about noise, but hope their own related links and social media buttons will help spread their complaints about the noise!

With this article, I decided to sit down for an hour or two, pick just one aspect of website noise, and think it through. Why, really, are these buttons bothering me? Why am I so sure that they are conceptually wrong?

.net: So is there a danger of industry figures creating sites getting obsessed with social networking buttons when they should be concentrating on other things?
OR: I don’t care what people get obsessed with. Passion is not necessarily a bad force. But I do care when bullshit is sold as wisdom. And when bullshit becomes a standard it’s time to take a stand.

A few years back, a newspaper we pitched for chose a different agency with the reasoning that we had no social media integration in our concept. We wondered for months what that social media strategy could be – to discover that, after the redesign went live, the site was plastered with dozens of social media buttons!

If you consider our own suggestion for social media integration, you will also notice that the argument doesn't come from a blind conservative social network hate. We advocate integrating intelligent response from social media. With that, you have everything a button does, and more, without the downsides. But, yes, it's harder and requires more care and attention than just posting a code snippet into the CMS template.

.net: With people increasingly ‘trained’ to Like and Retweet, is there not a danger in removing existing social media buttons?
OR: Reduction always has pros and cons. What matters are results. So far, I can see no lack in social media presence [for us]. The reason is we posted two articles with meat and bones.

The pro of these buttons is you don’t take a risk in being different. That's a very weak pro, which, with a simple one-week test, can be ignored without too many consequences. The contra is a long list of embarrassing, performance-slowing and even politically dubious arguments of which each needs careful consideration. In my case, this reduction, once thought through, is a clear case. The reason why no-one puts it in these clear terms is that it's easier to complain and continue than to think things through and act.

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