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Updated 5 Jan 2016

Social Media Buttons (Research & Studies)

I spent the last few weeks upgrading the sharing infrastructure on twiends, so I wanted to share what I found. The biggest change I made was to de-emphasise the mobile sharing buttons in order to free up some screen space for better reading and usability. The old sharing buttons used to take up the whole of the bottom of a mobile screen, which made them highly clickable but a nuisance for many. The new ones (shown below) are much smaller and don't get in the way as much.



As was to be expected the amount shares per pageview dropped on mobile due to the change (green line). But I'm ok with that as long as the site is more usable on a mobile phone now. It was crazy to be losing 10%-20% of the screen for buttons that weren't used on 98% of pageviews. Also, some of the prior shares may have been accidental clicks too.



I also did a lot of digging online to try and find any research into the results, performance, placement and optimization of sharing buttons. Considering their widespread usage, I was expecting to find more info than I did. The research is pretty thin, and a lot of it is outdated due to the changes that have occurred in social media over the last few years. Nevertheless, I'll keep on looking. If you know of any good research please let me know in the comments below.

2015

AddThis sees 62% desktop sharing vs 38% mobile sharing in 2015. They also highlighted that the mobile proportion had grown considerably since 2014 - so we should forecast mobile to be more equal in 2016.
Shareaholic sees Twitter shares decline 11% after the removal of counts. On the 20th of November Twitter removed share counts from their buttons. They've seen a small decline in shared tweets due to this, suggesting that these counts do carry some influence. Another factor could be that many share button widgets allow for auto-sorting of buttons based on share counts, which could cause the Twitter button to be pushed lower in the list.
TrackMavin sees most shares occurring on Facebook and Twitter. This research surprised me, as they show close to 99% shares occurring on these two networks. Twiends definitely has a growing number of the other networks contributing to shares, so it could just be down to the sampling of websites they used. Nonetheless it does show how important these two networks are.

2014

AddThis sees a 65% first-page bounce rate from social referrals. They also showed that search traffic showed higher levels of scrolling, possibly reflecting the lower levels of intent from social traffic. They highlighted that pages with sharing and content engagement tools have a 85% higher viewability rate.
Luke Wroblewski sees 0.25% of page views resulting in share button clicks. He averaged the share click data from multiple sites to come up with this number. It's important to note that button clicks are not the same as button shares, as some people may not complete the sharing process.
James at exisweb sees higher time-on-page when showing share counts. To balance this though, he also saw reduced time on page when the share count was 0. Additionally, he saw 17% - 36% of link shares coming from the share buttons.
Gov.uk sees 0.20% of page views resulting button shares. These were the results from the first few weeks of their implementation, without any optimization being performed (such as better button placement).
AddThis sees address bar sharing at 21%. Although not a perfect measurement, this stat is a good indicator into the proportion of shares that occur through people cutting-and-pasting the URL vs clicking on a sharing button.
Talhoon sees an increase in conversions after removing buttons. They provide some theories, such as 0 counts showing negative social proof and buttons distracting from the conversion process.

Older

NiemanLab sees 10% to 30% of link tweets coming from a tweet buttons. The author of this study is the first to point out that it was a quick and dirty analysis, but it still shows that a significant proportion of links tweeted were originating from tweet buttons back in 2012.
Luigi Montanez sees 63% of Upworthy link tweets coming from tweet buttons. This is clearly the extreme end of the sharing spectrum as Upworthy is known for being highly optimized for social sharing. It shows that they were seeing significant engagement with the tweet button, even though Facebook was their primary channel.
Smashing Mag saw an increase in Facebook traffic after removing buttons. The conclusion they reach is that people where sharing their articles rather than just liking them. This is outdated now that Facebook supports sharing buttons too.
NNG sees users focus their attention on the top left of a page, suggesting that if you want to optimize for sharing button placement this may be good location to consider.

Conclusions, Predictions & Guesses

In the absence of any real hard data, I have to draw my conclusions at a very 'thin' high level:
- Mobile and desktop could be close to 50% each in 2016.
- Facebook & Twitter are the most popular networks.
- The top left of the page may be the best placement option.
- Share buttons are clicked, but possibly on less than 1% of page views.
- Shared links do increase referral traffic, and this is growing.
- Most 'intelligent' sharing buttons do slow down page load times.
- Zero counts could be bad, while large counts could be good.
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