5 genuine reasons to stop using social share buttons

Are Social Sharing buttons really necessary?

Should I use social share buttons on my blog? Or, should I STOP using social share buttons on my blog? It’s a question I’ve wondered about lately. I thought I’d share my findings with you. Hopefully, it’ll help you make a decision for your own website and whether you need those social share buttons.

I’m not saying my research was scientific. However, it was enough for me to decide to remove those social share buttons.

Why have I decided to look into the social share buttons on my website?

When I first set up my website and blog I had already read a lot about what to do and what not to do. One of those things that I surely had to do was use social share buttons. I run my site with WordPress so there was no end of plugins I could easily install to accomplish that task. 5 seconds later and I had social share buttons on my site. I felt I was headed in the right direction.

I never stopped to think whether I SHOULD put social share buttons on my site though. So, why am I now only thinking about this? Well, it started with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which comes into force on 25th May 2018 (not far away now).

Part of the GDPR mentions cookies and that we should obtain explicit consent from our visitors. I’m completely on board with that. I actually used to work in the insurance industry as a compliance consultant. Reviewing data protection practices was a part of that work. I didn’t want to just gain my visitor’s consent for all the cookies my website set. I wanted to remove those cookies entirely where possible so I had a clean slate. Then, I could analyse what I really needed and add things back in when I found a good, user-friendly solution.

At first, I thought I’d try and find a solution that didn’t set cookies (there are solutions FYI). But I thought about whether these social share buttons that have pervaded our web lives so much were actually providing any benefit.

I’ll write another blog post about my hunt for cookies separately. But, at least you know where I started with this “social sharing” conundrum.

What I’m writing here certainly isn’t gospel. One solution doesn’t fit everyone/every business.

Do people actually use social share buttons?

That’s a huge question to try and answer. First, I checked out my own social share buttons. I had used some of them a few times myself, but apart from that not many of my readers actually used them. I knew people were visiting the pages because I had Google Analytics and comments to tell me they were (and that they were engaging with the content, which is much more valuable).

So, I ran a quick poll on Twitter and asked whether people used those social share buttons, shared content manually (old school copy and pasting), or didn’t share at all. Here are the results.

A Twitter poll I conducted on whether people used social share buttons

Ok, so I didn’t get a massive response from people. But it did give me a small insight into people’s thoughts. If only 23% of people on my site would consider using them (whether they end up using them or not) then perhaps they aren’t providing many benefits.

I decided to look for some other figures and opinions on this.

I read a post about social buttons and whether they caused a poor user experience. That got me reading the gov.uk website who ran some tests on using social share buttons. Here’s what they said about one of their most popular pages/news articles:

For example, on the Direct debit and abolition of the tax disc page, twice as many mobile users clicked on our social sharing buttons than desktop users (0.75% to 0.33%)

The UK government website might not be the most socially forward and innovative websites out there (although it is actually pretty good generally), but these figures are pretty interesting.

Based on my findings above, I could say relatively confidently that these social share buttons weren’t being that useful for me or the visitors. That on its own was enough for me to stop using social share buttons.

Do social share buttons get in the way and provide a poor user experience?

This one is a little trickier for me to measure myself. Short of ordering a user survey from a specific company to have users try my site and report back their findings. I did find other posts about this problem though.

The Next Web, in their article about the hidden cost of social share buttons, wrote:

By providing social sharing buttons, you are in essence causing all conversations regarding your brand and identity to be transported elsewhere (i.e. to social media sites). When people choose to share your content, the discussions will inevitably end up on the specific individual’s social media page.

I’d rather my visitors engage with my content specifically (like leaving comments etc.), rather than with the social share post on someone’s social account. Social share buttons have the potential to pull people away from your content. Couple that with the fact not many people seemed to use these buttons…

We Are The Weather wrote about some more specific points regarding user experience. Some of those topics I’ll cover separately (several topics make up the negative effect on user experience but it was worth covering this specifically).

Essentially my view here is, given these social share buttons weren’t being used very much then they were simply another distraction for users. I will have written a blog post because I think I have something to say that others may find helpful. That’s its purpose.

To me, a distraction detracted from that user experience and the post’s purpose.

Can there be any negative effects due to displaying the number of shares on social share buttons?

This is an interesting question. If people aren’t using those coveted social sharing buttons, and if you’re displaying the number of people who have shared overall (a popular option on most WordPress plugins I found) then your visitors are seeing that zero (or at least a very low number) people have shared it.

Social networks certainly seem to play a large part of modern life (discussions on whether that’s a good thing are not part of this post). People place a value on what other people think. It’s social proof. If you’re putting a figure in front of them that says “this post hasn’t been shared that much”, then you’re not giving your visitors a great reason to share it themselves.

Here’s a good article from vwo.com on increasing e-Commerce conversions/sales by removing social sharing buttons from product pages. In their social proof section, they wrote:

According to Jani Uusi-Pantti, the number of shares on most of his product pages were zero. While a high number of shares and likes act as a positive reinforcement, low number of shares breed distrust in the mind of the customer about both the company and the quality of the product.

If your social share buttons aren’t being used much, then perhaps it’s worth looking at whether there’s a negative side to having them.

If you believe they provide a benefit to your visitors then you could just consider removing the share counts.

What do social share buttons do to loading speed?

Firstly, why should you care about website loading speeds? This is an old topic, I won’t go into it too much. Website loading speed can have an effect on your search engine rankings (search engines like fast sites). Additionally, a slow website can cause a visitor to click away from your site if it takes too long to load. Plus, if someone on a slower internet connection tries to view your site then the loading times are only going to increase exponentially.

I’ll keep this short. I haven’t tested every WordPress plugin that can provide social share buttons. I have tested the one plugin I used and then ran the test again without the share buttons.

However, I do think it provides some good insight, and may at least prompt you to do some speed testing of your own.

It’s worth noting that there are some other optimisations I need to make to my own website at this point. The figures are still very useful though.

Here’s the loading time for my website’s homepage WITH social share buttons installed:

A speed report I carried out on my website when I still had social share buttons

Now, here’s the loading time for the same page but WITHOUT the social share buttons plugin installed:

A speed report on my website after I removed social share buttons

That’s quite a big difference. The number of requests that had to be made more than halved without the buttons. The page size roughly halved as well. Mostly I was interested to see that the loading time overall went from 3.9 seconds to 2.2 seconds.

That difference in loading times could be the difference between more people leaving the website than staying.

If you’re not sure how a decreased loading time can affect visitor’s decision to stay on a page, check out this post from Kissmetrics on its effects on conversions.

What about user privacy and the cookies problem?

Bringing this post full circle, what about the thing I was originally concerned about? Cookies being set on my visitor’s machines.

The plugin I had been using, it seemed, didn’t set a cookie for the social share buttons part.

However, I had been using that same plugin to provide a timed popup for my email subscription list. That part of the plugin DID set a cookie. As I wanted to remove any cookie setting parts of my site (for now), I removed the plugin.

A few of the plugins I tried out before settling on the one I just removed all had similar features like popups to help with conversions. What email subscribers I did have appeared to not use the popup anyway, instead deciding to sign up using the other forms I had in strategic places.

However, not all plugins for social share buttons are the same when it comes to privacy and cookies. Here’s a great post from xfive.com where they tested a variety of plugins. In part, they tested for privacy and some of those plugins DO set cookies.

Conclusion about the social share buttons

From what I’ve looked at, I’m confident that removing the social sharing buttons isn’t going to negatively impact my posts being shared by my readers. Additionally, it seems to me that if they aren’t being used very much then they’re just there as a distraction. That means they’re probably a negative impact on the user experience.

To be clear, I’m all for sharing things of worth on social media. Personally, I prefer to do so intentionally, rather than because buttons are there making it easier.

I’m also not completely against cookies. They can be useful. I’ll write another blog post about my hunt for cookies to go into more detail. Essentially I wanted to wipe the slate clean before intentionally and carefully (and in a very compliant and user-friendly way) reintroducing things I genuinely find helpful (and that I find I need) that set cookies.

My recommendation is not simply to assume any social sharing buttons on your website are a bad thing. I suggest running a few tests yourself. Perhaps even ask your visitors what they think and whether they themselves use them.

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2 responses to “5 genuine reasons to stop using social share buttons”

  1. Tulla says:

    Thank you, Scott, for this article!
    You’ve touched on some points I have been considering as well.

    Share buttons:
    Personally, when reading articles and posts, I usually find them a distraction to the point that I open the Inspector and use a “Display: None;” to hide them. Maybe I’m not very “social”, but when I do share links, it’s only on my phone, and then I use the browser’s Share button, not one located in the web page. Your post strengthened my decision not to add it.

    As to privacy, cookies and plugins:
    A topic I keep coming back to, as I am very concerned with privacy issues. I try to use as few plugins as I can, adding code snippets instead (which can be a hassle – I’m not very good with coding). At one point I removed google analytics, but then decided to add it back, since I really wanted to know more about my visitors, so I can better my content for them.
    I really hope I’m wrong about this, but it seems to me most people are not very concerned about their online privacy! I suppose mostly because protecting your privacy takes time and effort, means not joining certain platforms – It is so much easier to let go and put it out of your mind.

    Good luck with Mission: Cookies and with your website’s re-design!

    • Scott Cole says:

      Thanks Tulla!

      I completely agree that people generally don’t seem concerned with online privacy all the time. I think it comes in bursts; e.g. when the EU’s GDPR came about people were more concerned because they were more aware of the problem. I concur that, as it takes time and effort, most people aren’t going to continue to worry about it.

      When visiting most websites now, we typically have to get through a Cookies notification (sometimes full screen), a notification about the website’s newsletter, the website may ask if they can send up notifications, as well as any adverts that may be on the website, and other popups for some thing they’re promoting. It’s exhausting, and I’m willing to bet (I have no data backing me up at this point) that most people will simply click off these popups without reading them. They’re simply getting in the way of the content. Perhaps it’s this bombardment that’s affecting people’s willingness to engage with it.

      Also, I’m glad to hear my writing had a positive effect on your decision making RE social sharing buttons! Thanks for saying. Currently, I don’t use Google Analytics and rather rely on comments from people like you to tell me whether a piece of content was enjoyed.

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