Social buttons = Poor UX

Social buttons = Poor UX

Posted on 14 October 2016 by Jason

If you’re anything like me, your Facebook feed is filled with more links, memes and references than anyone posting an update about what is going on in their day to day lives. In a similar fashion, friends and family send links via Whatsapp of pictures they’ve found funny, or a product they like the look of. In short, people are sharing content more than ever. So why are social share links so frowned upon when it comes to user experience?

Let’s start go back a few years. These buttons were seen as playing an important role in social media marketing. They were seen as a simple way of allowing your user to share content at the click of a button. Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, the frequency that these buttons were used increased. You’ve probably seen them placed in the footer of a website on a contact page, but the question must be "why would anyone feel the need to share a contact form?".

Surely they must work?

In short, not really. A study carried out by gov.uk wanted to find out how many times their users engaged with sharing buttons. This is what they found:

“During the time period we analysed, GOV.UK URLs were shared a total of 14,078 times to Facebook and Twitter using our sharing buttons – that’s 0.2% of the total of 6.8 million pageviews. Overall, our social sharing rate was 0.2%.”

It could be argued that the gov.uk site is a government website that that users won’t be sharing content as much as on entertainment or news sites. Smashing Magazine (a resource used by web designers worldwide) carried out their own separate experiment. Here’s what they found:

“We removed FB buttons and traffic from Facebook increased. Reason: instead of “liking” articles, readers share it on their timeline.”

Hardly convincing.

What about the overall experience?

Clearly there are some people that will use share icons. It’s therefore up to us to make an educated decision about sharing content through social media. If you look at the overall user experience associated with these buttons, there are convincing arguments to remove them from your site.

Slow loading

Social widgets slow down the loading of the website, because they increase the amount of data that is downloaded on each web page. Every second counts and users are too impatient to wait extra time. This becomes even more annoying for users with smaller bandwidth and it makes for a bad user experience.

Noise and clutter

Good user experience is about reducing clutter and increasing focus on the content. Remember, that's what users came for. Social buttons create noise and distract the user from their primary focus. The social widgets that show the number of shares through each social networking website create even more frustration for the user too. There may be one or two social shares through these buttons, which degrades credibility and reduces the motivation to share.

Poor mobile experience

Trying to share through social buttons on mobile is at best - horrendous. The buttons are rarely optimised for mobile, as well as throwing the user to a new webpage, where you have to login and then share the same weird stuff with a slower connection and a smaller screen.

Remember the device you’re using

If you’re on a laptop or desktop machine, most users are likely to copy the URL, before pasting it and sending it to a friend or colleague.
On a phone? iOS has a share shortcut in the bottom taskbar, and Android has a share link in the menu bar. Users are likely to use these rather than the poorly rendered, slow, unprofessional looking social icons on a page.

Still not convinced?

If you feel that social share buttons are integral to your website and to your users, then there are few practices that we’d advise to make their experience as enjoyable as possible.

Only feature them where needed

Research has shown that users are unlikely to share a generic content page, but they may want to send a link to a news article they found interesting. Therefore, just place them on the news stories.

Don’t embed the share buttons

Buttons that have the total number of shares next to them rarely do any favours. It usually highlights how many people aren’t sharing your content. Instead, use images or icons that contain the link to open the share functionality if the user decides to interact with it.

Monitor the interaction with the buttons

Once the site has been launched, take note of how many users are using the buttons to share content. If the numbers are low, then it may be an option to remove them from the site altogether. 

Our suggestion?

Overall, our advice would be to remove social icons from your site. From our personal experience, interaction with them is minimal and the knock on effects of placing them on your site are so detrimental that the poor user experience is what they remember - not the engaging content.

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