Two exciting things happened last month in the social sharing space. First, Google released their Facebook killer Google+ and the now ever recognizable +1 share widget. Second, for you fellow Google analytics nerds out there, they made it easier to track all of these share widgets out there with their new social interaction tags. This got me to thinking about sharing as a concept in general. During a digital strategist meetup my good friend Alex C. Williams from Trendline Interactive and I were discussing this topic and how he was trying to increase sharing actions for his client’s email programs. What came out of this conversation was an undeniable fact, 99% of websites and emails have these features, and 99% of them were doing a pretty bad job with them.
As I started my research for this post I began to see what I can only describe as laziness. On most of the sites I visited these poor little widgets looked like they got placed haphazardly somewhere on the page. I could literally see the developer/designer checking it off the “best practices” list. If this is true, then why the hell are there literally billions of dollars being pumped into measuring how many shares, likes, re-tweets, +1’s, karma and all the other verbs people of came up with to describe one simple thought and action – “Hey, I think this content is neat and I bet others would think so too.” Why are there not hundreds of posts about optimizing these features and functions like we do our button Call to actions (CTA’s) and form designs?
Here’s my opinion on it.
The first thing we must do is think about the placement of those widgets. I believe anywhere in the vicinity of the content you wish to share is good. They can be at the top of the article or after the last sentence of your post works to. Now, the second thing… for Christ oh-mighty please put a frickin headline by it to promote ACTION. If you just have “share this” written by the buttons you’re better than some, but we both know that just an extra 2 minutes of copy writing could go a long way. If you stop reading this post now and go do this, I’ll have felt this post a success. If you wish to continue, I’ll give you some examples of some surprising sites who are doing this really bad and others that are doing it just right. For those of you who wish to read the whole thing, I’ll conclude with my personal thoughts on what social widgets I think are necessary and which ones you can throw in the trash.
Example #1 – So bad and you won’t believe what site this is.
This comes from one of the leaders in tech and internet news, and you think they would know better. The first thing we see is that the share buttons for the article are 435 pixels downward from the actual article content and then to put the cherry on it, there’s a giant rule dividing the share section. I’m sure the UX people out here would agree, at least put the damn buttons by the damn content. Without some visual cues, how am I really even know what I’m sharing? Rule number one, put these buttons in context with the actual content. The second major fail is the lack of a headline CTA. Where’s the reason I should share? Why should I click one of these buttons? Rule number two, at least tell me what these buttons are supposed to do. This might be suprising, but this is actually a screenshot from Wired.com. All of their article pages are seriously like this. :(
Example #2 – How can there be so much creative thought put into this blog, but absolutely none into their sharing section?
For this article I asked my good design friend Elliot Olson what some of his favorite design blogs were, and he directed me to Fastcodesign.com. I myself was very impressed with the overall layout and elements. And then I went into a post detail page. Much disappoint ensued. How can they be doing so many things right visually and than when it comes to sharing this beautiful site to the world, this sound is sadly appropriate. Considering the creativity of the content and overall design of the site, I feel this section should be just as cool as every other piece on this site, but it looks like it just got slapped on because there was whitespace available. See what I did there my designer readers? At least they are better than Wired’s buttons and are placed in context of the article.
Example #3 – Now we’re getting somewhere.
I did say earlier that there were a few sites out there doing a good job and the Huffington Post is one of them. While, I would agree the amount of real estate taken in the actual article seems a bit much and the share headline is a bit weak. Take a second to look at how much utility they get out of these boxes, AWESOME! They do an amazing job with 8 ways to share, plus a one-click action email signup…bravo. Notice that this does not end up looking like a Nascar stock car like we see in some sites out there. Designers and developers take note, with a little bit spacing and background colors these pesky buttons can not only look great, but the amount of utility in such a small space can be dramatic. The placement is also great with absolutely no confusion about what article you will be sharing. Huffington post you definitely get my “SHARE ALL THE THINGS AWARD”, nice work.
Example #4 – My personal fave.
Now this last example might not be the best one out there, but I think it illustrates the points I’m trying to make, plus it’s on my favorite analytics blog, Occum’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik . Besides just being overly simple and to the point, it exemplifies what just 2 more minutes thinking about the “headline CTA” can do. Why yes Avinash, I did like this post. Ok, I’ll share it. See, this isn’t hard to do. His placement is also nice, right at the end of the article, no design elements, just a relevent CTA, some buttons and voila. We’ll also give extra points to for having some old school share buttons for the paper pushers out there.
I promised some thoughts on what actual share buttons you should have and what you can throw in the trash, so here it goes. No matter who you are or what your site is about have the big 3 – Facebook’s Like, Google+’s +1, and Twitter’s Re-tweet. They make it so easy to add these buttons and everyone uses at least one of these sites, so stop being lazy and do it. Now comes the hard part, what about all the rest? Is your audience b2b? I would say LinkedIn would be a smart choice. Is your content weird photos in Portland? Perhaps you should have a Stumbleupon button or maybe a reddit link (Digg is dead. Sorry Kevin.). Better yet, look at your data that you collect on your site and see if you historically have gotten referral traffic from one of these sites, if so ADD IT!!! Lastly, for those of you who use Sharethis or Addthis icons, personally I believe these are relics from when we were trying to figure out what this share thing was going to be about. Personally, the metrics I have seen on these being used on sites have been abysmal at best. Last but not least, email sharing. I’m going to get some flack for this, but honestly when was the last time you actually wrote someone an email to share some web content? That’s what I thought. Now let’s go SHARE ALL THE THINGS!
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