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To Social Button or Not to Social Button

By: Dan Redding

Most savvy website owners were quick to adopt social sharing when the ‘Web 2.0’ and its ensuing horde of social media services crowded the digital horizon roughly a decade ago. That’s a good thing; the way we have embraced content sharing has made the web what it is today. The downside is that in 2013, many websites have a slew of social media buttons lazily pasted on by default; some features, like the ubiquitous ShareThis toolbar, are overbearing (including dozens of unheard-of social sites) and difficult to use. Isn’t that style of social gluttony somewhat, well, antisocial?

So is it still necessary to include social buttons on your website?


We’ve become conditioned to use social buttons by default; most clients will request them right off the bat. To some, the mere presence of these buttons adds a sense of legitimacy; to others, they are merely free advertising for Facebook and Twitter. As web designers, we should always question their use before proceeding. Will the buttons be effective – or used at all? How will they impact the rest of the site’s user experience?

If possible, conduct tests. If you can analyze your users’ social behavior on your site and the corresponding impact on traffic, you can diagnose the effectiveness of these tools.

One prevailing opinion is that users will share with or without the buttons on your site. After all, genuine sharing comes from an authentic interest in your content, and a happy blog reader will be naturally inspired to grab your URL and tweet something nice about it. “If you provide excellent content, social media users will take the time to read and talk about it in their networks,” says Oliver Reichenstein in his case against social media buttons. “That’s what you really want. You don’t want a cheap thumbs up, you want your readers to talk about your content with their own voice.”


The mobile era may be a step towards the obsolescence of social buttons on your website. The reason: mobile device developers are integrating the buttons into your native user experience. In Apple’s iOS6, for example, Twitter and Facebook buttons have been added to the ‘share’ screen by default.

iphone The iPhone’s native sharing tools render most local share buttons obsolete

This means that users can share on the web’s two most popular social platforms quickly and conveniently. Still want buttons for MySpace, Flickr, and obscure social site X? Before you add them, consider the broader ethos of designing for mobile: less is more, and simple efficiency prevails.

Speaking of efficiency, it’s possible that your social buttons are harming your site’s load time – a major flaw. According to designer Jonathan Smiley, “I think the real killer for (social buttons) on the web is simply speed – they brutally damage page load, especially on a mobile device that might have a slower, higher-latency connection.’


Surely, the use of mobile buttons should be determined in a case-by-case basis: what makes sense for one site might not make sense for another. If your target audience has high social-sharing web behavior, then  you’ll likely want to include them. The web is an experiment in evolution, so you can always test your site with and without social buttons. There are no rules.

There may not be a simple yes or no answer here – but there is a moral to this story. The time when social media buttons were considered a default must-have website feature has come and gone. Just like any other feature, this element should be given careful consideration before implimentation. As the mobile web leads us down the path of potent simplicity and lean efficiency (those should have always been our guiding principles, anyway), it’s time to reconsider our default settings.

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