Down with the share widget!
Heads up! This post was written in 2012, so it may contain information that is no longer accurate. I keep posts like this around for historical purposes and to prevent link rot, so please keep this in mind as you're reading.
In a world dominated by social media, it's natural to want visitors to share your content with friends and followers. This really isn't a bad thing, but how you go about encouraging them can actually be discouraging.
The rise of the "share" widget #
Six years ago, Twitter wasn't all over the news. Facebook had just opened itself up to any user over the age of 13. You didn't see social media logos on television commercials or on every box of cereal at the supermarket. The guy on the radio wasn't screaming at you to "like" this and that. Those were the good old days.
Today, everyone from the kid next door to the pope has a Twitter account. Major retailers and brands are reaching out to their customers through Facebook, providing them with offers and incentives faster than they ever could before. Companies are tackling customer support by responding within hours or even minutes to angry consumers who voice their opinions to the world. Social media is good stuff, and even our technophobic grandmothers are getting on board.
The point is, everyone knows about social media now. It's built into our desktops, tablets, and phones. There are a multitude of apps that make posting content to your favorite service a breeze. So why are we still plastering "share" widgets all over our sites?
I was recently speaking with a good friend of mine about this. We both have websites, and we both had those tacky, distracting "share" widgets on them at some point. We were social when social wasn't cool.
But now, it seems like every site we come across has some kind of obtrusive social-sharing widget included on every single page. Share this, tweet that, blah, blah, blah...it's just as distracting and tacky as a big ugly banner ad—and people become desensitized by that sort of thing.
It's usually not worth it #
That's a pretty bold statement, but let's use the very popular tech blog Mashable as an example. Mashable reaches out to tech nuts—people who use social media on an unhealthy basis. There's no shortage of social media sharing in Mashable's audience, so if anyone can pull this off, it would be them.
Considering Mashable boasts 20 million monthly visitors (as well as six million social media followers), you'd think their "share" widgets would have staggering numbers. On the contrary, the average post only appears to get between 500 and 900 collective "shares" in its first 48 hours of existence (an article's prime exposure period). Here's an example from an article posted a couple days ago:
While it's impossible to determine the actual number of visits to each article on Mashable, it quickly becomes obvious that the percentage of visitors who bother sharing them is extremely low.
If a news giant such as Mashable—who garners over 20 million visitors a month—can only pull in a few thousand shares per article, how many do you think your site will be able to pull in?
Encourage them without encouraging them #
So how do you encourage users to share your content without slapping an annoying badge or button on your site? The answer comes down to the most fundamental rule of successful bloggers:
Post awesome stuff that people want to read!
No matter how many "like" or "share" widgets you put on your page, if your content sucks, people aren't going to pass it along to their friends. But if your content is interesting, people will share it whether or not those widgets even exist.
If you think it's all about making it easier for users to share your content...think again. Social integration is built right into most devices these days. You can Tweet directly from the Notification Center in OS X. iOS has both Twitter and Facebook integrated right into the operating system. Windows 8 connects with those and many more services through its People App. And all of that goes without mentioning the many, many apps that are available on every platform to do the very same things.
Six years ago, when the average person had no idea what social media was, "share" widgets became a fad. Now, since social media is more than apparent in all our lives, they serve little more than to beg people to do something they would already have done if they really wanted to. Remember, quality is far more important than quantity when it comes to blogging. Besides, wouldn't you rather have people want to share your content instead of begging them to?