How We Think

Social sharing buttons are useless

Nov 16, 2017

If you’ve been around the web, you know social sharing buttons are everywhere. These buttons make it easy for visitors to share the content of a site on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. It’s generally accepted that if you make all of your site’s content easily shareable, you will be rewarded with increased views and traffic to your site. For this reason, many site owners devote valuable screen real estate and precious load time to social share widgets with the idea that it will pay off later.

But consider this: do you ever actually use the social sharing buttons on any sites you visit? Statistically, it’s very likely you answered “no,” but social sharing buttons continue to find their way into new designs on new sites.


By the numbers

Moovweb, a company that researches mobile experiences and conversion, found that not even a quarter of one percent of mobile users ever use a mobile sharing button. That’s right – 99.8% of all users don’t bother with share buttons. Desktop doesn’t fare much better, clocking in at an 0.6% conversion rate.

In fact, Moovweb found that as a whole, mobile users were almost twelve times more likely to click on an ad than a social sharing button, and no social network could get above an 0.1% share rate through their button.


The argument without statistics

One of the jobs a web designer has is to question the reason for elements in a design, where space is limited and load times are always a factor. If it’s useless, get rid of it. Social media buttons, which have been a larger topic of debate among web designers and developers as far back as 2012, certainly could fall into this category.

Visitors come to a website primarily for the content, and social media buttons detract from that. They often use JavaScript to load external resources in an iframe, which can be an issue for visitors if your page takes too long to render.

The user experience is also pretty awkward. Clicking a button on desktop opens a popup window without much indication on how this information will appear when you share it. On mobile it can be even worse, because odds are you aren’t even logged in to take advantage of the share buttons in a mobile browser – you’re probably using an app. Furthermore, all major mobile browsers have built-in sharing functionality, making these buttons even more pointless.


Not everyone agrees

There are still plenty of respected people and companies that are pro-social sharing buttons, and that’s okay. Certainly, a button that shows hundreds or thousands of shares lends credibility to the article or site that displays it. They may also be a reminder to readers that they should share the content if they find it useful.

In any case, though, there is a lot of evidence against the use of social sharing buttons. A relic of the glossy “Web 2.0” era of the late 2000s, the utility of these buttons has long passed. If people like your content, they’ll find a way to share it. There’s no need to try and force it, because as we have learned, there’s not much you can actually do there.

If you like this post, please share it manually with your friends and family by copying the URL and pasting it onto a social media platform, or using the share option built into your browser! Thank you!


Written by Brian Pederson, Web Specialist