Give share buttons their due - they do change user behaviour
There’s a really interesting post by Oliver Reichenstein doing the rounds at the moment entitled “Sweep the Sleaze”, about why sites should remove share buttons from their pages. If you haven’t read it, you should. So go and do that and come back here afterwards.
I’m a huge admirer of Oliver’s work - in fact if you just visited his website you’ll see we have extremely similar views on how to lay out a blog, and iA Writer is my productivity tool of choice - but I can’t say I agree with him on this one.
Share buttons aren’t there because people don’t know how to share without them. They are there as a visual cue to share.
And they are an effective one.
In his post Oliver says “Some people probably do use those buttons. Maybe even a lot of people. And maybe you do and think I’m dead wrong about this. Maybe I am. And maybe someone needs to do some serious research to know for sure.”
Well, I don’t have serious research across the board, but I do have access to the Guardian’s analytics, and we’ve actually just done a fascinating set of A/B tests around sharing buttons. This has culminated in the appearance of a “floating” set of buttons to the left of an article.
What intrigued me most of all when we did the test was not that “position A” generated more share interactions than “position B”, or that “position C” sounded the death-knell for sharing whilst “position D” caused people to share more freely. What intrigued me was the effectiveness of the positions was different for each service, even though they were always all presented as a block together.
As a business you end up in a position where you know that one position for the sharing tools boosts your presence on Facebook, whereas another position on the page boosts the number of tweets you’ll get, and you can optimise the page according to which you think is more valuable.
The point isn’t that people don’t share without buttons, but that you can increase the level of sharing if you present a reminder to share at the “seduceable moment” where a user might be considering to share. You’ve taken the friction away from them at that moment.
I don’t think there is a single news site on the planet that wouldn’t be improved with a severe design de-clutter, but, if it was up to me, the share buttons would survive the cull.