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Do Social Sharing Buttons Actually Work?

Posted by justin on July 5, 2016, 10 a.m.

So, you want your users to share your awesome content. And why wouldn’t you? You spent months crafting your bio/caption/article, and you’re proud of it. It’s a little word baby, and if you’re like me, you’ve given it a name and sung it lullabies.

But after a few hours, you get antsy.

Nobody’s looking at your baby. And the people that have seen your baby have not made comments on its adorably chubby cheeks or size zero Vans® slip-ons.

You decide it’s time to take action. Let’s get that baby in front of every man, woman, and child with an online presence -- by dropping a share button right on the page. It’s so convenient, right? It’ll get millions of page views this way!


There are a number of arguments against adding social share buttons to your site, but can they be effective when used appropriately?

Kinda. Let’s take a step back and examine the most common reasons social share widgets get placed on a page.

Why do you want to add sharing?

  • To show users the company has a social presence (Linkedin, Instagram). Most users will discover your presence within the social app in question. It’s not a bad idea to represent your social pages, it’s just handled more elegantly with links on your contact page or footer.

  • To extend your reach through high-quality content, like your little word baby I’ve named “Phillip” (Tweet this, Pin it). Lots of social shares can give your brand a positive social proof--but be careful; a negative social proof can be devastating.

  • To boost usership of social networks and grow your base (Facebook Like, Google +1). See #1.

  • To fill whitespace. Because what else are you going to do with all that extra room?

What are the downsides?

  • The sharing widget won’t mesh with your brand look & feel. The easiest way to include a social share button is to use the official widgets -- but these are branded for their respective networks, not for your site. You probably didn’t plan for Facebook Blue® in your color palette, let alone a half-dozen other social-network-specific brand colors.

  • Your page will take longer to download.  Each third-party share button includes its own set of of additional script calls, which quickly add up, padding your site’s overall download time and slowing performance.

  • Sharing buttons distract from conversions by offering a competing, but less important, exit point. Ideally, your website is channeling visitors down a sales funnel to convert them to customers. Don’t pull them by the wayside with distracting, lower-value alternatives.

  • It’s easier to share within the native mobile app. Users are likely logged into the app, not necessarily the mobile web -- creating friction when they’re asked to log in again.

Yeah, yeah, but what are the upsides? A 10,000% boost in sales, right?

Probably not. But by combining the right social network with the right type of content at the right time, prompting shares can be a good way to engage your existing user base and attract new customers virally. Here are a few pointers on how to effectively integrate your social shares:


  • Before setting up any kind of sharing plugin, set your meta tags correctly for open graph / twitter card / rich pin. This ensures your content is curated for sharing, and displays consistently across platforms.

  • Only prompt shares on platform-appropriate content. For example, “pin it” on recipes or images, “tweet this” on pull-quotes, “share this” at the end of blog posts, or “look what I got” after a completed purchase. There’s no compelling reason to include a share option for a highly visual network (Pinterest) on mostly textual content (“About Us”).

  • Instead of asking users to share, encourage timely “follows,” where the benefits of joining your network can be better demonstrated. For example, after a contact form entry or a completed purchase, include a link to your social network(s) with a few bullet points of what they’ll get by jumping on board.

  • Avoid the stock widget. With a little programming, we can avoid the 3rd party plugin completely -- creating a more seamless, branded design of your share buttons, reducing distraction, and lightening the page weight.

So now I’ve done all that (have you?), I should expect my rank to go through the roof!

Probably not. Google does not use social networks in ranking. A well-organized Google+ profile can create trust with your visitors, and an active social network may bolster your perceived authority over your given domain, but your social networks won’t have any direct effect on where you appear in search results.

In one recent study, the presence of social sharing buttons actually decreased conversions. While every change to your sales funnel warrants an A/B test, it’s likely better to leave sharing buttons out of a strictly e-commerce conversion flow.

Key takeaways:

  • If you can get the big 3 to align (network + content + timeliness), go for it -- but only if the page weight and visual clutter can be mitigated.

  • If your content is compelling enough, users will share it of their own accord.

  • Leverage your own social presence to push your content to followers (and in turn, their social networks).