You see them on many websites – off to one side or another, or at the beginning or ending of an article – buttons with Facebook f, a blue bird signifying Twitter, a curvey P for Pinterest, the word in for Linkedin, etc. etc. Each one let’s the reader post the article on the respective social media site with a simple click. The idea is that readers will help you promote your article and your website by sharing it with their social media friends.
This is usually accomplished with a plug in that you add to your site. The best let you configure it so you choose not only how you want the buttons displayed, but which social media sites you want to include. Most allow a count showing how many times the button has been clicked.
In theory those shares can bring you not only readers, but clients as well.
It’s rarely, however, a direct correlation. Generally social media is considered a way to build your brand and increase awareness of you and your site. Which is a good thing.
Like so many things to do with marketing, there are pros and cons to adding social media buttons to your website. It would be nifty if I, or anyone else, could tell you ‘yes, to succeed you must have social media buttons on your website’ or ‘no, you don’t need them.’ Instead it’s a decidedly mixed bag.
Mightybytes.com, a firm dedicated to helping their clients use the web well, has an excellent article that lays out the pros and cons quite clearly, called This Versus That: The Pros and Cons of Social Buttons.
The pros of social media buttons
Katherine Raz, content strategist for Mightybytes.com leads with the pro side of social media buttons. She makes several points including:
Buttons make it easy for your readers to share your content. Many more readers are apt to click a social button or two to share your article then will take time to copy the url and email it to someone.
She quotes Entrepreneur Magazine as saying that sites with social buttons are linked seven more times on twitter than those without them. Obviously that means a whole lot more people are apt to see your content than if you don’t use the buttons.
The variety of buttons available means you can find sets that will look good on your site. Social media icons are, well icons. They have to be to be recognized by readers everywhere. Fortunately, you can find good plug-ins that will allow you to display the buttons in a way that doesn’t detract from your site.
The cons of social media buttons
In the same article, Tim Frick founder of Mightybytes, takes the opposing view. His reasons for not liking social media buttons include:
They can slow your site down. The sharing buttons are really a nifty piece of computer code that hooks up to the social media site in question and posts a link to your content. That connection can slow down the speed of your site, particularly on mobile sites. It’s even worse when, occasionally, the site your button is linking to has problems.
If there is no or a low count on the number of shares, it can reduce new readers confidence. The reason for the count is the idea that if 20 people share your article it’s more likely that another 20 will share it. Of course, if the number of shares is low or zero, it may mean people won’t bother to read it. Plus that number can be reset for any number of reasons without you realizing what’s happening.
The buttons create privacy concerns. That clever piece of coding that allows social buttons to work also creates a trail, allowing the site your linking to – Facebook, Twitter, etc – to collect information about your users and your site.
None of these pros or cons are absolute reasons to use, or not to use social media buttons on your site. Consider them carefully and make your decision.
If you have questions about social media buttons and your site, ask them here in comments.