Sunday, August 25, 2013

Social share buttons are useless

Social share buttons are about everywhere. Ubiquitous on the web, they invite you to like, share or plus the most insignificant page to help its content being seen by hundreds or, why not, even millions of potential visitors. But are they as necessary as they want to make believe?

A bias is often lurking when we meet those buttons. This invite to share can easily be perceived as a beg, a desesperate call to be in the trend, to show up where the action takes place, that is to say in the social networks. But in which social networks? Each type of content is going to appeal one network rather than another. Do you need to leverage a professional network like LinkedIn, a generic one (Facebook, Twitter, Google+), a network targeted at pictures sharing (Pinterest, Instagram)? Displaying more than two or three options greatly increases the impression for the visitor that that site is not for her, that it's too general and that it does not fit her. A service like ShareThis proposes nearly one hundred networks, among which you will have to make a choice depending on the content type, its theme, its language, the site demographics.

All shares are not equal. What do you earn with one Like? Your visitor should better share a link with her community alongside some personal content.

Instead of trying to make share your content at any cost, it is more interesting to make it shareable in the background. The Open Graph protocol metadata has been designed for that. Properties like title, description, url, type and image are used by Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. Even Twitter uses closely-related metadata in its Twitter Card. Once filled up, these data will be directly used by the social networks to prefill their forms, making it easier for the sharer to add her own words to it. Plus these data enable you to keep the control on how you market your content, as this data is centralized at your place, alongside the content you produce and publish.

Whether we like it or not, our content has now taken off. We cannot think our content as only a way to draw visitors to our sites through search engines. The on site optimization is only a part of the magic spell. We also have to actively work on the social networks side, i.e. to introduce our own content at the very least, and to seek for visitors where they are, even if that interaction does not always spontaneously translates into more visits to our sites (we are really talking about branding here).

Illustration: Social media icons by Andy.

Les boutons de partage social ne servent à rien (in French)
Los botones para compartir con las redes sociales no sirven para nada (in Spanish)
Os botões de compartilhamento social são inúteis (in Portuguese)

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