Don’t Do This: Social Share Abuse

Look. I get it. We all want distribution, and readership. And we want to make it easy for people to share our content on the networks they use. But don’t do this. Putting every. single. social widget you can find on your site isn’t smart — it’s desperate.

Social widget abuse

I love what Nick Denton, Gawker CEO, says about social widgets. I think it’s dead on in this, and many other, instances.

“These sites festooned with social media buttons–they look like primitive tribesmen clutching pathetically onto shiny baubles they believe to the symbols of modernity,” quoth Denton.

Here’s why it sucks:

  • It mucks up your user experience – what are people supposed to do here?
  • It takes away from the core content – what am I supposed to be looking at?
  • It ruins your design.
  • It shows a lack of focus – you should know what your users want to use and don’t want to use. Pick the ones that really drive your business and ditch the rest.
  • It hurts social proof – having 100 likes on something is one thing. Having 3 Diggs and 14 Stumbles and 9 LinkedIn shares, shows your audience that this content really isn’t going anywhere, on any network. So why should they share it. Social proof works both ways.

So please, don’t do this. Instead, look at your traffic and user behavior and understand the networks that really drive traffic for your site, and focus on those. Let random one-offs copy and paste the URL to where they want to share it. You’ll create a better user experience, keep your design clean, keep your site looking professional, and amplify the channels that actually matter for your site.


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9 thoughts on “Don’t Do This: Social Share Abuse

  1. Neil Pursey says:

    I tend to disagree with you on this one. So are you challenging, one of the most successful websites on social media? They do this and do it well. 

    How else do we cater for people on various social platforms?

    • Morgan Brown says:

      Hi Neil,
      Thanks for commenting and sharing your opinion! A few thoughts in response:

      1. Mashable has a pretty awful user experience on many fronts. They break articles into slideshows, use dubious pagination to drive pageviews and, yes, clutter their pages to no end. I would not use Mashable as a guide for user experience best practices under any circumstances.

      2. Mashable became successful well before the invention of any of these follow, share or Like buttons. Their success was driven not by what they are doing now; but what they did in the past. What they did to become successful was create quality content that was shared or found via Google. Which leads me to #3, 

      3. Much of Mashable’s current success is built on two things: a large readership, excellent and intention search engine optimization.

      If however, you do not agree with any of the above, then the large number of social buttons _could_ be justified because Mashable knows that they have a very large, very varried audience, that uses these various networks extensively. I disagree, but even with this argument, most blogs aren’t Mashable, most blogs have a narrow and small audience, and therefore don’t need to be broad and thoughtless about the share icons they add to their site.

      I believe you cater to the user experience, which is a clean, easy to read article that can be shared by on the networks your audience uses the most, without putting useless sites in their way in the process.

      What good is slowing down your page load time and cluttering your interface for one digg upvote a month? It doesn’t help, it doesn’t cater. It just gets in the way. 

  2. Paul Gailey says:

    dude you hit a bandwagonisation extremis nerve in me. Pin it buttons appearing on text only tech blogs? WTF? It makes me feel the author is more interested in indiscriminate distribution rather than any targeted readership. 
    As you say concentrate where your audience are and don’t slow down your page load just because you can whack in another widget.Even big publishers can still be more discerning with their badge buffet. Here’s another way of looking at it>

    • Morgan Brown says:

      Thanks Paul and great stats to add to the conversation. I also like how AddThis, the maker of the Swiss Knife of sharing does their social widgets on their blog :)

  3. T says:

    I can see both sides of this and tend to agree with the post. I prefer the Yahoo portal but I understand the idea of the more simplistic Google home page. If a business or other entity is truly successful in social media their blog can have an interaction button or few. Where ever the most hits or traffic come from there to tactfully advertise others. Twitter something like: “Find me here and there.” People will adapt, take and share it. Put out good content on whatever sites you are on and those who appreciate it there will carry it where they go and point people back where it came from.

  4. Paul Flyer says:

    I can see both sides. There are several problems.  One is implementation.  I agree that the vertical display of social media sharing icons is very busy and distracting.  I prefer placing them under a post.  The second problem is how many?  Point well taken to examine your own user base.  However, that is often difficult for smaller sites whose base is not very large.  

    Though to furtter your point, I use the Shareaholic sharing bar.  It gives you 86 social network options to include on the sharing bar.  86!!!  I have never heard of 25% of them.  Xerpi anyone??

    I looked at my own icons because of this post and cleaned things up.  I am tempted to reduce it even more.  

    How many people actually USE the icon from your site versus a browser widget from their favorite network?  I tend to believe people set themselves up to use the networks they like and they do so via browser plugins, shortcuts or “press this” kinds of implementation.
    I would love to see some research on that aspect. Know any?

    Thanks for the post.

    • Morgan Brown says:

      Paul – great question on the data of using in-browser extensions and bookmarklets vs. on-page buttons. I’ll look around.

      Of course, design and aggregator widgets certainly help; but if I know that 80% of my readers use Twitter and Facebook exclusively, why make them fish through the Xerpi’s of the world to find and click? Why not give them those two up front and for every Xerpi user that comes by let them be content with sharing the link the old-fashioned way?Regarding audience, I think a smaller audience actually makes it easier to decide what to include and what to skip. There may be one network that is critical to your audience and others that are irrelevant. For example in the SEO community SPHINN used to be big, so SPHINN shares were important for SEO blogs.  

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. Info_festival says:

    I am a “newbie” and do not have a clue what is good and what is bad!!!!

  6. Zaw says:


    I am happy to find a marketing guy that can see through the clutter who wasn’t thinking the more the merrier. I couldn’t agree more. I’m an IT consultant (12+ years), web developer, and a business owner. And I have done pretty big sites and I avoided these buttons mainly because of these reasons.

    1. Is it really appropriate to add “Like” button to an embassy website? What’s to “Like” and not to “Like?” Do people really need to “Like” a visa application PDF file download page?

    2. For whatever (kind of unexplainable and gut-felt) reason, I felt like these buttons are creating emotions similar to what is happening to my teenager cousin girls. Oh. He doesn’t like me. Oh, he likes her more. Oh, I got 2 less “Likes” than she does. I’m going to sulk now and skip dinner.

    3. In my field which is a higher-end IT consulting business, the white papers, the columns, and the tips that I write don’t need anybody’s approval. And all this “Like” by grandpa, grandma, and teenagers (or who knows?) doesn’t really help my credibility at all. My target is geared towards decision makers, C-level executives, and engineers. All these social buttons make me looks like an attention craving child.

    4. Having been online since the dawn of Netscape Gold and IE 3.0, I believe that there is one fundamental truth/focus to websites that can get kind of lost or distracted. A website’s sole purpose is to help visitors. These buttons (in the guise of helping the visitor share with friends) is actually more for helping yourself (your site) to become popular. Come on. I can admit it. Every site wants to be famous. If you go on YouTube and watch videos from Matt or Maile at Google Webmaster Channel, the goal should always be making your visitors happy; not you and definitely not Google.

    Of course, you can say I am probably a dinosaur in this day and age of all these social things though I set up servers and networks that these sites run on as a living. I don’t have a Facebook account still because I will spend $2/min phone call across the world if I value this friend enough. I don’t need the junk friends I deliberately don’t call for decades to come find me on Facebook and keep bothering me with Invites. It may be my aloof personality.

    The way I think about this is, if your content is good enough, all these will happen automatically, without buttons. And, true, it does take a little more to share, but, I would take one such emailed link than a thousand people click the “Like” button on my site. Also as a site admin, I can cheat, voted up my articles that are down in stars or “Likes.” So, it is pointless. So, the only button I have in my article is comment and printer-friendly. As a result, site is lightening fast. I don’t need all the external Java-scripts slowing my site down.

    Also, the worst part of this is that with some articles having only one or two votes in a year since they are written, you are kind of advertising the fact that your site doesn’t have traffic = bad impression when you are selling your knowledge. Reminds me of 1990s where every site has “You are the visitor 000088 since (say 2 years)” CGI scripts. Um. No thanks to that. Looks like history repeats itself. More way to make your site looks bad 2.0 version!

    Just take this article for example. It is very well written. Look at the comments. The comments are far better written and thought out than the one on YouTube with “The idiot that clicked on Dislike must be blind” type of comments.

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