Social Sharing Buttons: Location, Location, Location

Four typical social share icon buttons for Facebook, Twitter, email and the plus sign for more options in a horizontal line.

DigitalGov has seen posts from members of the community who land on opposite sides regarding social sharing buttons. There are those who find social sharing buttons useful (When Sharing Buttons Work and those who’ve found the opposite (To Use Social Sharing Buttons or Not. I’d argue the utility can be found in adjusting how, or more specifically where, you use them. But first…

The Basics

What are social sharing buttons? Social sharing buttons are the icons on your website that allow website visitors to click on them and share the page to their social media channels.

Why are social sharing buttons important? Social sharing buttons allow you to tap into the sharing power of the many visitors to your site. When visitors share your content on their social media accounts, members of their audience who click the link will be directed to your site.

Defining the Metrics

  • Social shares: shares from the tool (clicking the share button) to social media accounts.
  • Social clicks: clicks occurring on the social media shares that come back to the website.
  • Social referrals: the number of visits to your site from social media channels.

NIDA’s Experiment

Since 2011, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has used a small orange box that says “+Share.” In June 2014, we added a scrolling toolbar (on the left, in the desktop view screenshot below) to the site for those viewing on a desktop. Then in October 2014, we enabled a scrolling toolbar for mobile visitors as well (on the bottom, in the mobile view screenshot below).

390-x-275-NIDA-Website-Screenshot
155-x-275-NIDA-Mobile-Screenshot

Making these adjustments involved adding pieces of code provided by AddThis to our website. AddThis is the company we use for social sharing services. For the small amount of time and effort spent on the addition of the sharing toolbars, we quickly saw results. Immediately, we experienced a rapid increase in social shares. We averaged 1,000-1,500 shares until June 2014, when the toolbar was added. For the months of January and February 2015, we’ve exceeded 20,000 social shares each month.

More importantly, we’ve also experienced a correlational growth in social referrals to the site since the implementation of the social sharing toolbars. The tool we use only gives social click data for the top 50 shared pages, providing a slightly incomplete picture of clicks back to our site based upon the social shares. However, by analyzing the social click data available, social clicks on the shares have increased from about 1,000 a month to about 2,000 a month since we added the social sharing toolbars. When you consider that our social referral traffic has been averaging 30,000 each month, another 1,000 clicks is noteworthy.

600-x-429-AddThisDashboardMay14toMar15

Drawing Conclusions

Given this information, social sharing buttons are effective for NIDA’s purposes. With relatively minor effort, we’ve increased shares, clicks, and referrals.

Another lesson learned is that the location of the toolbars played a crucial role in the increase in shares. The toolbars, which scrolled with the visitor, made it obvious and easy to share NIDA’s content. If you feel your social sharing buttons aren’t pulling their weight, consider adjusting their location and design in order to attract visitors to the sharing options on your site.

If even a fraction of your visitors share to their accounts, you should see increased traffic driven back to your site. Once the buttons are up on your site, there is minimal effort required to keep the sharing going. Can you say the same about other social media strategies you employ?

What are your thoughts? Is it worth it?


Sara Smith is the Social Media Strategist for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. You can reach her via email or on Twitter, @CrocollSmith.

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