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Author: Steve Jenkins
10th November 2012

Thord Hedengren: Serious social dislike

The many reasons why you should cut your social sharing buttons now

Thord Hedengren: Serious social dislikeBIO: Thord Daniel Hedengren is a published author and the CEO of Odd Alice, a web agency based in Sweden. He’s been fighting online clutter for years and his ideas have made their way into the news, the government and  corporations. Follow on Twitter @tdh.

Social networks are a huge part of the web today, there’s no denying it. Even if you hate Facebook, don’t want a thing to do with Google+, and haven’t pinned anything on Pinterest, these social networks and more are a part of everyday online life.
The problem is that the social networks won’t stick to their turf, they’re spreading like weeds. The weeds in this case would be the buttons and widgets that litter the web these days. Sometimes they even morph into new shapes without your knowledge, messing up your design. That sucks, at least sometimes. It’s not the biggest problem with the social network weed though. Speed is.

The average editorial site (and/or blog), as well as every storefront with half a brain, uses sharing buttons to promote content. Pin it to Pinterest, tweet it to Twitter, plus it to Google+, like it on Facebook. The list goes on, but these are the main culprits. The sharing buttons are there with good intentions: to make it easy for the visitor to spread your no doubt brilliant content to their friends on the social networks, thus bringing free traffic your way. Free.

Problem is, it isn’t free. The user convenience, if we’re actually to believe that there is any, costs page load speed. Every button you add from a social network connects to said network, including code using JavaScript or whatever, and that means your site is less snappy. To me, that sucks. It probably sucks for your visitors too.

But wait, it gets worse. After we’ve added the tweet it, pin it, plus it, whatever it buttons to the carefully designed site, literally littering it with graphic elements that hardly fit together and most likely doesn’t fit your design at all – and after all that – we’ll add some more. If the sharing buttons are weeds, then the follow me buttons are pure evil.

Follow me on Twitter, follow me on LinkedIn, like my Facebook page, and so on, they might be littering your very own website’s sidebar as you’re reading this.
First of all, please remove these right away. Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here while you do it.

Great. Now, do you know why you just removed these buttons? First of all, because they add even more calls to a third-party site, hence un-snappifying your site and adding to the page loads even further. The visitors will thank you for remedying this.

Second, you removed the buttons because they are telling me that you are a lazy fellow who just won’t take the time to convince me to follow/like/plus/whatever your presence on a social network. That’s the message these buttons are broadcasting: that you are elsewhere too and that you expect me to blindly follow you because of a button you copy-pasted. Or, to be blunt, you’re telling me that I’m a moron who will blindly join you without any motivation whatsoever.

‘But I want people to follow me on Twitter!’, you might be whining right now. Of course you do, I’m just like you, so if you want to talk further about this (or anything else for that matter), by all means follow and tweet to @tdh.

See what I did there? I inserted my Twitter presence, and I did it with a message to you, the reader. By doing so, I encouraged you to talk to me on Twitter, which you might or might not want to do, in a way that makes sense to the context.

A ‘Follow me on Twitter’ button beside a picture of your cat sleeping on a vacuum cleaner doesn’t exactly invite conversation. In fact, I know nothing of what sort of presence you have on Twitter, so why should I press that follow button? Compare that to my invitation to join me for a discussion about these things above, or just to talk, and you get the point.

I’m sure there are times when the sharing buttons work, but, you should always question their existence with raw data. Do people share using the buttons? Are they sharing your content even if you remove them? Is it even worth having ugly buttons crowding your site, making it a worse experience for your visitors? There are no universal truths here.

The follow/like/whatever buttons however, they should just burn in digital hell. Then again, if I come across your site and you use these buttons without explaining why, at least that tells me something. It tells me that you think I’m a moron, and I’ll probably not stick around after that.

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    • http://www.danielbough.com Dan

      I almost bought into what you were saying. Then I saw the “Did you enjoy this article? Share it!” section at the bottom., with 15 ‘whatever it’ icons. I must be a moron.

    • http://www.rubster.tk Ruben

      Dan,

      I recently wrote a lengthy comment about your very observation (which sadly never made it to the site), and at the time counted the social media icons and realized there are 28 of them on this article alone.

      The article sheds light on something incredibly important, and Thord clearly feels the way most of us do about these icons/links.
      If an article, post or webpage has a worthwile content people will share it, icons or no icons – it’s as simple as that.

    • http://mashe.hawksey.info mhawksey

      Yes if people are lazy and just drop the social networks javascript laden button in you are going to get lots of additional calls extending your load time, but you can just provide a plain link does the same job without the extra loading. What’s more you can use this technique to get social share buttons into your emails and even pdfs. I explain more in http://mashe.hawksey.info/2011/06/email-to-world/

    • http://blog.thoughtballoon.co.uk Dan Eastwell

      There’s nothing wrong with social media buttons per se – the problem is poorly considered calls-to-action, and over-reliance on bloated scripts.

      You want a cta button at the end of an article, in the way you want an ‘add to basket’ button at the bottom of a product item.

      You don’t want your users looking for your twitter handle or facebook page, in the same way you wouldn’t want to search for how to purchase a product.

      You need to consider design of the calls-to-action, and how these are added to the page. You need to be doubly sure about third party scripts and how efficient and intrusive they are.

      If you have a good script and your buttons are well designed, then ‘tweet this’ and ‘like me on facebook’, will have direct merit.

    • Kier

      If you have compelling stats to show that the extra page load time costs sites more than they benefit from people sharing content and engaging by following/liking then let’s see them. Otherwise this looks like a poorly thought out rant based purely on your own aesthetic preferences.

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