Sharing Icons: What’s the Point?

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We see them all over: sharing icons begging us to share a story or webpage on our personal Facebook or Twitter profiles. But we got to thinking: are they really effective? We found some research that may lead us to believe we’re worrying about these buttons a bit too much.

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  • I couldn’t agree more about the use of sharing icons. I don’t use them and if I go to a website like Smashing Magazine or one of those other curated blog sites that relies on the sharing society, I still don’t use them regardless of how many people ahead of me have shared. I know people can be sheep and that showing counters can make people feel like they need to share, but I feel this trend is slowly evolving as the web continues to find itself.

    I also agree with the P.I.T.A that these widgets cause on a website. But more so, I have to agree with Dan in the idea that people/companies are putting these icons on their site while their accounts sit stagnant or aren’t thoughtfully used. I was asked by a small HVAC company if they should get a Facebook page. My first question was, “Do you have time to post, thoughtful posts, not what you are eating, 3 times a week?” If the answer is “Yes,” then I ask, “Do you think anyone of your customers wants to follow you on Facebook? What will you give them? Most of your customers are one timers or are very infrequent, so does it make sense?”

    Usually after something like that I can cut through the BS and educate them that just because Amazon or Kmart says their sales increase because of it, doesn’t mean it is right for your business.

    Anyway, I enjoy the show. I’d love to hear some theory and practice of graphic design sometime. :)

    • Dan

      Good points. A sharing button likely won’t encourage me to share a story anymore than without. If it’s good content, I share it. And I share it my way.

      For clients, I’ve been encouraging some of mine to just forego the buttons or do non-JavaScript buttons instead. However, it’s mostly because I don’t think it’s necessary to really show how popular an article is. Some get too obsessed with the number.

  • Prescott Perez-Fox

    I agree that the third party buttons are extremely annoying, especially when they don’t match! You’ll have 6-10 buttons all at different sizes, with counters displays in different formats, and more. Definitely annoying.

    Needless to say, the notion of including a button — with no text or written URL — in a print ad is absurd. I see that all the time on the New York City subway posters. It’s just the [f] icon for Facebook stuck in the corner, and I’m sitting there thinking “they don’t even say Facebook.com/whatever” so now I have to do homework just to find these guys. (which I would never, ever do, of course).

    But as you both discuss, if a site can feature the links in a small, tasteful way, I don’t mind at all. I even use them every now and then.

    • Dan

      I’ve felt the same way about the icon-sans-URL thing. I almost lump it into the companies who go crazy with QR codes. I usually find myself going “hey- great! You’re on social media” and never take the next step of searching them out.

      To me, it makes about as much sense as putting a phone icon without a phone number. I’m not going to go out of my way to look it up.