Summary: If you have too many social share icons, people are paralysed by indecision, which means they take the easy way out – ignoring everything and moving on. If you want to increase your social sharing, cut all but the top 2-3 networks from your share icons.
We all openly recognize that social sharing is important. And a huge part of that is making it easy to share. Give people lots of options to share your ideas and the general logic follows that they will.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
(Sometimes) the more social share icons you have, the less your content is going to get shared. I’m going to explain why.
So what am I talking about? I’ll tell you. On the Quick Sprout blog, my friend Neil Patel wrote a post about nudges to get people to do stuff. In that post, he mentioned that he recently ran a test on his blog where he added more social share buttons (specifically, he offers sharing via Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, and added LinkedIn and Pinterest).
Sharing went down by 29%.
Another study by Visual Website Optimizer found that when they removed the social sharing buttons from a client’s website the CTA click-through (clicking ‘add to cart’) increased by 11.9%.
Why does this happen?
Well, for that we need to turn to a great TED Talk by Barry Schwartz . If you have a spare 19:28 seconds it is worth a watch but assuming that you don’t here are the highlights:
- We as consumers in the western world experience choice on an unprecedented level
- When humans are faced with lots of choice, they take whatever option is easiest, not necessarily what option is best (which is to decide to do nothing almost always – this is called choice paralysis)
- Even when we do manage to make a decision, we’re usually less happy about it, in part because we regret not choosing the alternative, in part because of the opportunity cost, and in part because of our inflated expectations
Let’s apply those ideas to Neil’s sharing woes.
The first one probably makes the most sense – that when faced with too many options, people generally decide to do nothing because it’s the path of least resistance. How many times have you been hungry but can’t figure out what food to cook or order? Lots of times.
It’s the same idea here.
So if you’re a blog reader, and you’re reading along with Neil and you think ‘I bet my friends would love this – I should share it!’ you’re then faced with a decision: what network? Do you share it on LinkedIn? Maybe, maybe not. Sure it might make you like a savvy pro, but the article’s a little dated. You don’t want to be dated.
Maybe you share it on Facebook. But really, that’s for personal stuff, and this has a more business vibe. Most of your friends aren’t on Pinterest, Twitter is too short to say what you and want… and eventually you realize that sharing this article isn’t that important to you anyway.
Or maybe people stopped sharing Neil’s article because they didn’t want to be unhappy with it, essentially experiencing sharing remorse (‘ohh I should have put this on Facebook not on LinkedIn!’)
Or maybe people are afraid that their sharing expectations won’t be met (‘only one like!?’)
These are, of course hyperbolic, but the core idea is the same – the more sharing options, the less shares you’ll get.
The Jam study
It’d be impossible to talk about decision paralysis without at least a nod to the famous 1995 Jam Study. Basically, some psychologists set up two booths in a supermarket to sell jam. They had two conditions: one condition offering 6 jams, one condition offering 24. Each customer tried (on average) two jams. The 24 jam condition stopped 60% of customers, but only converted 3% of them into jam buyers. The 6 jam condition stopped 40% of customers, but converted 30% of them.
It’s worth putting these numbers. If 100 people came in…
- 60 stopped at the 24 jam table
- 2 people bought jam
- 40 people stopped at the 6 jam table
- 12 people bought jam
All this to say that there is potentially tremendous value from a psychological perspective in offering consumers less options.
Other reasons why you should get rid of some share buttons
But it’s not only psychological. There are plenty of other reasons to shed a few share icons (that also might explain the 29% Neil Problem).
When you have lots of share icons, your shares are already lower. To make matters worse, the more share icons you have, the lower they look. Think about Mashable. They offer only one metric for their shares – total number. They don’t split it out or anything.
So if that number is zero yeah, it looks pretty bad. But not nearly as bad as four zeros. Your readers are influenced by what other people do. So if you’re reading a post with 1.5K share, you’re far more primed to be interested and engaged than if you’re reading the same post with 12 shares across seven networks.
It’s really important. Google likes fast website, users like fast website, and you probably like fast websites. Social share buttons slow things down, because each button has to communicate with the network’s server that it links to. And that takes time.
Why put yourself and your web users through that? Also, remember that users expect sites to load in two seconds or less, and abandonment shoots up after three seconds. So if you can speed your site by dropping your share buttons, I’d go for it.
What buttons to have
So knowing that your social share buttons need to be trimmed down to size, how do you pick which ones are best?
It depends on your industry and more importantly, your website. There’s probably a network that you’re strongest on already. For B2B companies, it’s probably LinkedIn. You should likely keep that.
Facebook and Twitter and responsible for the most shares, with Facebook ‘like’ accounting for almost 34% of all sharing, according to a study of 2 billion social shares done by TrackMaven. It should be noted here that Facebook is the largest network so that’s not really as stunning a stat as you might think.
But really, it’s going to depend on your own unique trends.
Dive into Google Analytics and see where referral traffic is coming from. If lots of people are coming from Twitter, then you want to be able to push traffic back out to Twitter.
Looking at your demographic will also help you draw some general conclusions about where your traffic lives, for example if it’s mostly women then Pinterest should probably be shortlisted as your network of choice.
You can get even more granular about your social shares to help your content in general, but with the above metrics you should be able to narrow your networks to your best two or three (tops).
The myth of more is always better is as ingrained as it is wrong. Sure – sometimes, more is going to be the best option. But when you present your users with options, you violate an even older principle – don’t make your users work. Make sharing easy for everyone by removing the decision making process from the user’s hands. Your shares will go up, your site speed will get faster, and you’ll look and feel younger.
Full disclosure I made up the last one but seriously. Dig into Analytics for a few days, learn where your audience hangs out and what networks they share to, and get rid of the rest.