Social media: Contextual help on UK newspaper websites

 by Martin Belam, 21 October 2008

So far in my observations of the use of social bookmarking links on mainstream media sites I have concentrated on the end results - the number of URLs that became popular on a service. Today I wanted to start looking at one aspect of the user interface that media sites provide, namely whether they have any 'contextual help' for users around social bookmarking.

Social Media Icons

Of course, it could be convincingly argued that actually the job of 'contextual help' here is really down to the target service. It is how Digg or Delicious handle a non-registered user clicking one of their icons for the first time that is the most crucial interaction. Nevertheless, several newspapers and television channels do include their own tips and advice about using social media. In this post I'll be examining those on British newspaper websites.

UK newspapers

The Sun

The Sun is the UK newspaper with the most comprehensive contextual help about social bookmarking. Next to their social media icons is a text link labeled 'What is this?'

Sun share icons in their article footer

Clicking this launches a pop-up, with a very clear explanation of what social bookmarking is.

" LIKE the story you've just read? Then share it with the online world by using our great SHARE THIS ARTICLE feature.

At the bottom of some stories you'll see we've added 'quick-link' buttons.

Each button copies the URL of the story and adds it to some of the most popular social-content network sites on the Internet.

These sites allow readers to rate the importance of the content.

The story will then be listed higher or lower on the page depending how YOU vote.

Each of these sites will sit behind registration so you may have to create an account the first time you visit.

Once you have done that, you can add as many of your super Sun stories as you wish!

Each site we have chosen has different merits so you may prefer one over another so try a few out to see which one you like."
Sun social media help pop-up

The pop-up then has brief descriptions of Fark, Digg, Delicious, Reddit, Newsvine, NowPublic and Facebook. Each of these descriptions contains a link out to the site in question.


The Independent also uses a pop-up to deliver contextual help about social bookmarking. Next to their icons is a text link 'What are these?'.

Independent bookmark and share panel

This triggers an overlay, which features an overview of social bookmarking, as well as a brief profile of the four social media sites - Delicious, Digg, Facebook and StumbleUpon - that The Independent features as links.

"Use these links to bookmark stories you find interesting on popular aggregator websites Digg, Facebook, and StumpleUpon. Once bookmarked, you can then uses these websites to access your favourite links from any computer, and also share the stories you think are interesting with people all over the web."
Independent social bookmarking help pop-up

The Guardian

The Guardian was the only remaining paper out of the 12 featured in my 'Measuring UK newspaper success with social media' e-book to feature any sort of social media help, and this was negligible.

There were no visible links, but when the user hovers the mouse over either of the two 'Share' icons The Guardian features on each story, a tool tip appears. If the user is at the top of the page, the tool tip explains that the green icon 'Opens a share this page in a new window'.

Guardian upper share icon tool-tip

The icon at the foot of the article has a different tool tip, stating 'Share this on Digg,, Facebook etc'.

Guardian lower share icon tool-tip

When The Guardian's 'Share' menu is fully expanded, there is no further help on offer.

Guardian Share Panel

AddThis widgets

When I surveyed the newspapers to check their contextual help, three of them were using an AddThis widget to provide social bookmarking links - similar to the one that I use here on currybetdotnet. These papers were the Daily Express, News Of The World and The Mirror.

Daily Express share button

News Of The World AddThis button

The Mirror social bookmarking links

The AddThis widgets do not provide any contextual help, but they do provide a link back to This is more useful for providing information about how to place an AddThis button on your own site, than it is about explaining how social bookmarking works.

No help at all

The six remaining newspapers - Daily Mail, Daily Star, Financial Times, The Scotsman, The Telegraph and The Times - provided no contextual help links in their 'roll-your-own' solutions to social bookmarking links.


Tomorrow I'll be looking at how much contextual help is provided to social bookmarking novices by the 24 hour news channel websites that were included in my recent social media study.

Keep up to date on my new blog