As designers, it is our job to question why interface elements should exist. Sometimes we get so caught up in new ideas about navigation and animations that we forget to go back and examine more common elements—like social media buttons.

They are unsightly relics of the web 2.0 era, yet they continue to find their way into new designs. Why does this happen?

I’ve never been fond of them, but for a long time they seemed necessary. Trading some visual appeal for social network traffic is a compromise that many make. Plus, it is easy to hop on the bandwagon. If Mashable uses them, why shouldn’t I?

I followed that premise for a long time, but this is my stop. I’m hopping off. Those magical social buttons aren’t worth a damn anymore, and they won’t bring you traffic.

Anti-Social Media Buttons

Signal Tower is a show where I interview designers, developers and entrepreneurs. It is a great project. Recently, I posted an interview with Jennifer Dewalt, who taught herself to program by building 180 websites in 180 days.

It was an amazing feat, and not surprisingly the interview is among the most popular on the site. It has been shared hundreds of times.

However, there is something interesting about those shares—not one of them occurred by clicking on a social media button. According to my in-page analytics, the buttons haven’t been touched in the month since the interview has been published.

Initially, I thought that it was some sort of bug. Certainly someone clicked them, right? I decided to take a look at older posts. In all cases they had been used a negligible amount.

I’m not the only one who has seen lackluster performance out of sharing buttons. My friend Samuel Hulick, who runs useronboard.com, actually saw an increase in sharing once the buttons were removed.

Samuel’s experience may be an anomaly, but there is definitely a trend here. Either way, I’ve decided to remove the buttons from Signal Tower, and will not add them to this site.

The conversion-minded designers will say, “Why didn’t you test the buttons? You should change the color,  move them to the top, or try fixed, floating buttons.” And they are right. There is a good amount to be gained by A/B testing them, but there is another reason I’m getting rid of them.

Sharing, a Poor User Experience

I never paid much attention to sharing buttons. I always thought they were a poor user experience.

I’m a minimalist. When it comes to web design, I value white space, typography and function. People come to your site for the writing, which is why a focus on these elements will almost always result in a good user experience. Adding non-essential elements to a page reduces signal and creates noise.

If you are on the internet for the cat pictures, this does not apply.

Beyond the added noise there are other odd experiences using social buttons. Clicking on a button opens a popup window filled with oddly formatted text, marketing speak, and a ton of other stuff I don’t want to send out to friends and followers. All of the above degrades credibility.

Popups are awkward. Even moreso on phones and tablets, which brings up another point. Every phone and tablet has a browser with built-in sharing, and mobile devices are gaining marketshare.

What Major Websites Don’t Use Sharing Buttons?

The one that immediately comes to mind is Information Architects. A design group known for devout minimalism. Oliver Reichenstein,  IA’s founder, wrote a scathing article on social media buttons called, Sweep the Sleaze.

Reichenstein is right, “If readers are too lazy to copy and paste the URL, and write a few words about your content, then it is not because you lack these magical buttons.”

There are other popular sites that have forgone social buttons. 37signals (now Basecamp), the company that ushered in the era of SaaS businesses and invented Ruby on Rails, have a blog called Signal vs. Noise. You won’t find any on their blog.

Smashing Magazine, one of the world’s leading design publications has forgone them. As a result of removing the Like Button, they discovered that more readers shared articles on their timeline.

Closing Thoughts

There are some redeeming values to sharing buttons. A post with buttons that show thousands of shares definitely boosts credibility. It signals that there is quality content, and others are vouching for it. Simply having the buttons on the page also subtly reminds visitors that they should share the content.

On the other hand, what if nobody has shared your post? There are fewer things more sorry than a post that has a dozen buttons with zeros next to them.

The evidence against social media buttons is stacking up. The novelty and utility of social media buttons have worn off. It is time to reconsider how much value they add.

If people really love your content, they’ll share it.

62 thoughts on “ Why I’m Done with Social Media Buttons ”

  1. Since this article was written (and I just discovered it), Smashing Magazine seems to have added sharing buttons back in, as has the Signal Vs Noise blog. Both have social sharing buttons on their articles.

    1. To be fair Signal v. Noise is now a Medium blog, which only has a Twitter share link. I think that is rather smart considering most of Medium’s users authenticate via Twitter.

      As for Smashing Magazine—I think it is just a decision you have to make when building a website. If it works for them, more power to them.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  2. I use them sparingly. One click action buttons have their time and place but the weight they add to pages in terms of javascript seems overkill.Hopefully there will be a more efficient method one day.

  3. Thanks for your post. I agree. I’ve seldomly used share buttons since their appearance because I find them more inconvinient than just copy and paste the link into Twitter, Facebook etc. I’m not interested in the tags because I prefer writing and commenting on my own rather than just use the premade words.

  4. I don’t use the social media buttons a lot myself to share content on external sites. Must be because the UX has been bad mostly – but they are getting better. I still do have buttons on my website – I guess I’m conservative 😐

  5. Do you feel the same way about follow buttons? I think it’s important for businesses to let their audience know if they have an active presence on particular social networks.

  6. I know this article is a bit older, but I just wanted to share a few thoughts.

    As a fellow user and designer, I am quick to share things I like. If we are talking about user experience lets see how many more steps it takes.

    No share button: read story, look for share button and it is not there, take the time to highlight and copy the web address, go back to your screen, go into your twitter app, then tap to tweet, then hold again to paste the website, then find the handle to source from in twitter (this was from so-and-so, what is their handle again?), send.

    With a share button: read story, see share button, click share button, twitter pops up, AWESOME! All tags and the like are ready to go, hit send. The whole point of any web experience is usability. I just had an easy experience sharing a post.

    Another share button I love is the e-mail share, which is essentially the same thing (especially with certain websites). Click the envelope, it will pull up your e-mail application, it should already have a subject and the link to the site. Add your recipients, send. Done. I know we designers feel they are ugly and useless, but I just don’t feel like they are hurting anyone. I agree too many buttons are annoying (keep with a few) and the number of likes just doesn’t do anything for me. Point is, it depends on your audience. You have numbers that show no one was clicking? Get rid of them. It is just hard to imagine people would purposely take the extra time and steps just to share something.

    So in the end, when I see something I like, I try to look for a share button first. If I don’t see it, I have to do it the hard way. Perhaps there are those who would rather do it the harder way, and if that is your audience then so be it. Skipping out on social media buttons just because they are not worth adding for the lazy folks is just silly. We all want a faster, quicker way (especially online) of doing things. If you have the patience navigating online, then we wouldn’t complain about page loads and internet speeds.

    However, this is a great topic and interesting point of view! I’ll copy and paste this time simply because I took time to comment (rare for me), but my laziness isn’t going to like it! Too bad I can’t subscribe to this discussion for if it continues. 😉

    Let me know what you think: @domosarahbellum

  7. You make some interesting points here Sam. As a fellow designer, I was plagued by both the visual and functional downfalls of social media buttons. On top of that, social share buttons are generally a HUGE performance suck.

    However, I am also aware of audience demographics and why they’re necessary (both functionally and psychologically) for a lot of sites. Having worked with a lot of brands over the years and growing my own blog I realized that there was just NOTHING out there that was working.

    So I took a crack at creating a solution that would solve a lot of what previous commenters are talking about. I decided to see if I could design social sharing buttons that:
    – Were visually attractive (as a shallow, visual snob, this was HIGHEST priority)
    – Had the ability to be less distracting
    – Didn’t suck up page load time
    – Showed individual and total share counts
    – Could hide share counts until a specified number of shares was reached
    – Allowed me to customize HOW the page was shared when the buttons were clicked

    And there was a number of other features that I wanted that would allow me to eliminate a few other plugins.

    I banded together with my two favorite developers and we went to work. After 9 months in development, we finally had a solution that we were all pumped about!

    So I know that it’s possible to solve these pain points that both you and previous commenters identified. But it’s definitely not easy. And social network API developers have a LOT of work to do on making the act of sharing better. I think things are improving though– slowly.

    You can see the solution we came up with on my blog– they’re working quite well and have actually contributed to increased traffic and social shares all around.

    But then again, it always goes back to audience– who are you talking to, and will social sharing buttons actually serve them? That’s the first question to ask.

    P.S. Would LOVE to have a “subscribe to comments” option here to see if the conversation goes further. Guess I’ll just have to come back here every now and then to see if anyone else added their thoughts. lol

  8. This post just answer a question I’ve been pondering for a few days now. I just started a blog, powered by postachio and evernote. I really like the platform, but they didn’t have social media buttons. I considered moving to a different platform, until I read this. Thanks for that. 🙂

  9. I saw 43 Comments under your post. It made me click on the C2A. I’m pretty sure 1 Comment would not work in the same way.

  10. On a different note, impressed by the classy and minimalist layout of this page. Sam, I recall Mozart who said silence/space in itself is an entity. Correct layout and spacing is truly essential. And the unsightly share buttons mar the integrity of webpages as envisioned by website builders like yourself.

    1. +1 this. I love the CSS on the comments section. Especially the amount of margin/padding and the clarity resulting from that.

      Share buttons are one thing. What about previous/next post links? Are they really working? Are people using it? I’m curious to see some evidence. Especially when you don’t know what is the content of the next post.

      1. Thanks! That’s an interesting point. You’re absolutely right that they have no idea what the content on the next or previous post are. Perhaps, I need to revisit those.

        As far as clicks go. It looks like 14 percent of the clicks on this page are on the next, previous post arrows.

  11. Great blog! I was actually thinking the same thing and started to do a little testing with people I know. Virtually everyone said they just cut and paste the links rather than use the buttons. Then I looked around at some links I found on a popular message board and on twitter — none had substantial share numbers, but were articles that were heavily shared.

    I think the problem is that most people will cut n paste rather than use the buttons, but none of those shares or retweets show up in the counter. That makes the counter look as though nobody has used it and the way people are, if nobody has used something they tend to avoid it as well.

    In the end, a low share number LOOKS BAD imo. Unless a counter can record every share — including those done via cut n paste — the counter isn’t worth having.

  12. Thanks for the article. I agree with you for the most part. Because I hardly use these buttons myself, it’s easy to believe that others seldom use them as well. Still, there’s one case where I use the button almost exclusively to share and that’s at TED.com. When I find an interesting talk, I share it using their social button. In almost every other case, I copy/paste the URL, but for some reason I don’t with them. I find that interesting. Going one step further, I found it annoying when they redesigned their site and made their facebook share button more difficult to find/use.

  13. After having them on our site for years, I removed them all a little over a week ago.

    They slow the site down, even when using the asynchronous coding for them. If the site is slow, users leave so sharing isn’t even a concern. Contrary to the hive mind, not everything is social.

    Your points are spot on.

  14. I think you bring up a good point, but I agree with another author that it should not be the “default” in getting rid of those buttons. I am someone who goes to a site and clicks on those buttons to check out people’s performance and following everywhere. If they look like they have a great Twitter page, I will add them to a list that corresponds to their topics on my Twitter acct. I get quite frustrated when I can’t find these buttons on a website and I enjoyed an article by someone.

    Also, the analytics for my author page at http://www.jenniferhudsontaylor.com has shown a steady flow of clicks on my social media buttons, but it could be that I write about social media marketing for authors who are trying to build an online platform and I am targeting the right audience for those clicks.

    Another reason people may not be using those buttons is due to RSS feeds. If you have made your RSS feed available, people may be posting your RSS feeds on their social media sites rather than an article here or an article there. In this case, the buttons aren’t necessary. They are already sharing your info on a regular basis.

    Another thing, I think white space is necessary, but you also need a balance. I would like to see a little more color on this page. Too much white space is just as bad as too little. Great topic to create some interesting discussion.

  15. My favorite cartoon, XKCD, has no share buttons, and his cartoons get shared in the tens of thousands with each posting. He provides a permalink (simple URL) and that’s it. Great content and people sharing on their own because they love the stuff. I share his stuff all the time. I just quickly get the URL and pop it on my Facebook timeline or Tweet. I tried buttons on my websites years ago, but when I realized they were for the purposes of tracking people and that sharing was the front for it, I removed them. Sharing kept increasing despite that. It’s easy to find out that this is so. You can create a static page in a protected directory that contains some share buttons with counts. Just pop the URL you want to check into the button code, upload, open in a browser , and the count will come up. Thanks for this excellent article that confirms my beliefs.

  16. I disagree.. Although social buttons might not be for every site, there are benefits for many. You have to know your market, audience, product, brand and the pros & cons to social media in order to find the best balance between them all. This article sounds like someone is frustrated perhaps because their content hasn’t delivered an abundance of traffic which would be typical of 99% of sites on the internet.. The best comment I heard recently, Internet Marketing, Brand Building and building traffic requires alot of hard work which perhaps has been missed in these cases discussed.

  17. This really depends on what kind of site you have. If YouTube got rid of it’s share buttons? The world might just end. Just because I don’t have time to write a paragraph, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to share your content, which should be able to speak for itself: so long as it’s visual. If you’re a news website or a blog with topics people care about – a share button that delivers a relevant thumbnail picture and a headline is all people really need. And why should they have to type that in themselves? They shouldn’t. They won’t. Never expect them to.

  18. It is quite simple.

    Most people who would be interested in Signal Tower’s content know how the sausage is made. Therefore, they are immediately wary of the built-in social media tag links that a designer might have chosen for their site.

    Was it a 3rd party component or something they cooked up themselves? Do they spam your contacts or try to get you to add them as friends after the fact? Does it harvest information that you give it? One immediately asks oneself these questions when faced with the “helpful” little icon. Being in a field where one thinks about the value and tradeoffs that adding such links might bring a site, or having had bad experiences with them in the past, it gives pause before using them.

    These same readers are just as apt to snag the URL (shorten, possibly with tracking for their own benefit), and post directly. The link sent to one’s contacts or followers is clearly posted by them in a format they control; a much more personal recommendation that this article is worth reading. Reputation has it’s own value, especially to this reader group.

  19. Genuinely curious what the data is on social media buttons on the product pages of e-commerce sites. I’m currently in a battle with a few people on our e-comm team on putting those on our product pages (I’m against them, they are for; our products are less than glamorous). I’ve cited page slowdown, how we’re basically advertising for the different social media sites, etc., but nobody has any data to back up whether social media buttons on these sites are a good or bad thing.

  20. > Smashing Magazine, one of the world’s leading design publications has forgone them. As a result of removing the Like Button, they discovered that more readers shared articles on their timeline.

    Facebook likes to throw away content that it feels is not important. The algorithm that determines which activity merits getting shown on your friends’ activity stream is murky, if functioning properly at all.

    Per my observation “Likes” don’t have the same weight on the activity stream as directly posted links. Feels like this is a flaw in Facebook’s platform.

  21. I don’t know, I think your limiting yourself here.

    The bulk of social media shares may not come from the buttons on the page( its probably from shares of shares and retweets etc), but that’s where it may start.

    Why deprive your readers of the functionality to start that share train.

    Also, the ball is completely in your court, on how your social media buttons work and how they integrate with the user experience of your blog. Why not accept that challenge?

  22. Horses for courses.
    you could have saved time writing this post by saying
    `in my sector of the internet it seems sharing buttons don’t work as well as on some other niches or industrys`

  23. As a response to Oliver Reichenstein’s rant about this in 2012, I did an analysis using real-world data, and found that the Tweet button was definitely used at a significant percentage for content by major publications:

    http://luigimontanez.com/2012/actually-social-media-buttons-work-really-well/

    The Nieman Journalism Lab followed up with a fresh analysis a few months ago, and while the percentages have gone down, they’re not zero:

    http://www.niemanlab.org/2013/11/tweet-buttons-are-less-of-a-big-deal-than-they-used-to-be-for-your-twitter-strategy/

  24. Do you think small businesses that don’t use blogs could find this helpful? Or is your line of reasoning more focused on content producers?

    I don’t mean for the share function, but simply the link to their FB page. While it seems intuitive that providing an easy link is the best bet to get the customer to like you on whatever social network, it may be that making the user look for you makes them stickier to the brand.

  25. I find it interesting that neither you nor any of the commenters seem to dismiss social media icons because of privacy concerns. After all, they give Facebook and Twitter information about your browsing habits. But the criticism offered here is solely based on design and UX considerations and there is much to dislike on that front alone.

    I think the distinction between more and less tech-wavy users that some of your commentators made is an important one. The less technically inclined probably don’t copy & paste. But I am guessing they tend to not click the buttons either. They re-share stuff on the social media platforms themselves.

    1. This is a good point Achim.

      I did consider talking about privacy concerns related to those buttons, but felt that the UX argument was a more impactful one to make. Designers are the ones who usually have to implement social media buttons. I wanted to make sure designers were the ones questioning their value.

      Thanks for your comment!

  26. It’s good that this is being spoke about, but I think it’s a pretty big error to remove social share buttons from sites whose target audience isn’t a “copy & paste” kind of audience. For a site like solomon.io or Signal Tower your market will share on it’s own, they don’t need buttons.

  27. I’m glad you wrote this article.

    I’ve pretty much stopped using share buttons to share content when I’m using my mobile phone. In Chrome for Android, I just go to the menu > Share… > Buffer to share to Facebook and Twitter. (I share via Buffer on desktop too.) Much easier than having to sign into Facebook and Twitter on various websites when I try to share via share buttons on my mobile. I suspect that might be one reason why fewer people share via share buttons. We need to remove the barriers to sharing especially for mobile.

    Also, occasionally I’ve noticed sharing buttons can increase page loading times. We all know about the effects of increased loading times.

  28. I prefer to keep things simple. I use ShareThis and keep it small and subtle. I never liked it when sites put the sharing widgets all big and in your face, annoying you as you read content. The same deal goes with icons to represent the social media accounts of said sites.

    I also hate it when sites try to put an added “catch” to sharing, and I’m seeing too many do this. Suddenly it’s not enough that I want to share your article, but said site wants me to connect my social media account to them in order to share. Yeah…so not going to happen. Just let the user share and be done with it. If I want to like your page and/or connect, then I’ll make the effort.

    As I type this comment on my Nexus 10, I also realize how easily I share through the Chrome browser as opposed to buttons on a page. Simply go to the menu, press “Share…”, pick an app, and I’m done. I’m sure this is a factor now in the low use of share buttons, and I’m sure more and more the browser will become the new share widget.

    Maybe I’ll eventually remove ShareThis from my sites.

    1. Alex, I think you summed up my writing with about the quarter the words.

      Also consider how much more of the internet is being accessed from tablets and phones. I’d recommend looking at your Google In-Page Analytics to see if people are using ShareThis to share. Seeing that almost nobody was sharing via buttons prompted this post.

        1. I’ve never tested ShareThis, but as a general rule those counters show every time someone shares a post whether they clicked a button or not.

          Like I said, Google Analytics is your best bet.

  29. There are some redeeming values to sharing buttons. A post with buttons that show thousands of shares definitely boosts credibility. It signals that there is quality content, and others are vouching for it.

    I disagree that this should be a redeeming value of any sort. I believe that if people like the article they’ll want to share it regardless of how many people shared it previously. If anything I’d say that it puts me off sharing a bit, because I’ll know that it’s been shared plenty already by other people.

  30. I’ve thought the same for a while because I personally HAVE NEVER CLICKED ON A SOCIAL SHARING BUTTON. Ever. I share stuff, and a lot of stuff, but I have bookmarklets for that, or I just paste URLs straight into the social network. But I figured I can’t assume I represent everyone, so we’ve continued to put social buttons on all the sites we develop.

    I’d love to somehow convince our clients that they aren’t necessary.

  31. I’ve felt this way ever since I first saw social media buttons. I’ve never put them on my websites, and I try to dissuade clients from including them as well.

  32. When I find something I want to share on social media, rather than using the built-in “Share” buttons on the page, I copy the URL and login to Facebook / Tweetdeck / Google+. This way tends to give me more options. However, I know I am an anomaly.

    I’m wondering if your podcast interview were about something more mainstream (example: Justin Bieber) where the fan base isn’t as technologically with it, if you would then see an increase in use of your social media buttons.

  33. While I dislike the share buttons personally (especially the 0 for share issue mentioned by Mike), I would be interested to see the stats on much larger, general populace type sites. As suggested by others already, the demographic for the sites mentioned are for a tech-savvy audience.

    The same applies for common mobile users, who may not know that social sharing may be integrated into their OS.

    Thanks for putting this together, it was a good read.

  34. Agree completely. If you watch users share things they more often than not simply copy & paste the URL anyway, mostly due to distrust of what these buttons might do. On our blog we implemented a ‘share it yourself’ button that just puts the link on your clipboard, giving the user complete freedom and saving them a click or two.

    I must add analytics on that to see how much it is used…

    1. That’s a really great point about users possibly being distrustful of what the buttons could do. I never thought about it like, but a lot of people are paranoid — especially of the Internet.

  35. Most of operating systems (OSX, Win, iOS, Android etc.) and browsers have share funcianality integrated into system, no need to put 100 buttons on the website …

    AGREE

    1. On mobile devices, sure. But they are nowhere to be found on any desktop mashine i’ve seen. It *should* be built into browsers. It would make sense.

  36. The most important part of this article for me is how bad it looks when you have zero shares next to the share button.

    Even if a million people see the article, the fact that there are zero to five shares makes it look like people don’t care or like it, degrading the quality of the article psychologically.

    Not only will people not use the share buttons because people don’t anymore, but it creates a weird cycle of nobody wanting to share it, making it look bad to everyone.

  37. I always enjoyed this little button in my search bar, and your article just made me wonder, why didnt i write similar ones for sharing stuff i like?

    Like/share buttons are cool because they let you skip a step.

  38. If the audience for a website is other web professionals and design savvy individuals, then yes, they know enough to copy and paste. As a general sweeping statement that applies to every site on the web, I completely disagree.

    This statement here:

    If readers are too lazy to copy and paste the URL, and write a few words about your content, then it is not because you lack these magical buttons.”

    could apply to people who read Smashing Magazine and Designer News, but is probably not going to be as effective for people outside of our tech comfort level.

    The buttons are a visual prompt to remind people to share. You have to know who the intended audience is before removing buttons because it worked for a completely different audience.

    1. John, you are absolutely correct.

      There is an interesting study that I considered linking to by Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, which takes into account audience demographics. It was done a few years ago, and only focuses on the Twitter sharing button, but it does show that tech-focused audiences use the button much less than the greater population.

      My audience is largely young, tech and design professionals who are more likely to share things without the button. I think the key thing to look at (if it is a redesign) is Google Analytics. In-Page Analytics will show if people are using your sharing buttons or not. That is actually what prompted me to write this article.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  39. In this article about flappy bird, they say how the share button in the game was so important for its major success http://marketingland.com/viral-rise-fall-flappy-bird-73479

    I believe sharing buttons are currently overused and mostly are badly designed. You don’t need to link all 300+ social networks that exist, just the main ones. Use a simple button in the same style of your website, because if you can make your users life easier, why don’t you?

    1. Antonio, thanks for commenting.

      I haven’t seen that article before. It is definitely seemed to work for Flappy Bird. Your second point about sharing buttons are overused and badly designed is on the money.

      The point of the article was to get designers to second guess adding in social media buttons. In some cases they may make sense, but it shouldn’t be the default.

      1. This. There are certain cases where these buttons can help a lot – especially in fundraising and when you are reasonably sure a piece of content will be getting massive traffic.

        The whole point of the icons is to make sharing easier, but they really don’t do that. The behavior when a user clicks these buttons is sometimes unpredictable – and they are used so often that I think ‘banner blindness’ is a term that can be applied.

        If you actually take the effort to make sharing easier for your end user, then you win. Just throwing in 3 or 4 icons is lazy and people only do it because they think they have to.

        Making sharing easier includes using a short and descriptive URL scheme, offering print-friendly versions, etc. With a lot of blogs you’ll get posts that have their own page, but users don’t know they need to send that specific link – instead they send a link to the main page where they read the post. Displaying a ‘sharing’ link on these posts can be helpful.

    2. Flappy Bird is an app though, making it very hard to share without the button. With websites, you can always just copy and paste the link.

  40. Good article Sam! Also I believe people underestimate the power of copy & paste, and people do forget that a lot of sharing happens offline.

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