Social sharing – observations and recommendations

I’ve surveyed the social sharing options on a number of news publication websites, to see if there are any common or best practices. Here’s what I found:

  • Facebook and twitter are seen as the most important sharing networks.
  • Google+ is reluctantly included. Given recent announcements about Google deprioritising Google+, it seems likely to be even less of a focus in future designs.
  • Most publishers aren’t using whatsapp sharing yet. It seems to me like a good opportunity, and Buzzfeed and The Atlantic are leading the way. Some info on setting up whatsapp sharing. Note that Whatsapp desktop isn’t currently widely used.
  • buzzfeed social sharing options mobile
    the atlantic social sharing options mobile

  • Few publishers are using share by text. Again, Buzzfeed and The Atlantic lead the way. With mobile such an important part of the web traffic mix, we should plan for mobile-specific sharing options.
  • If comments are permitted, sometimes the option to comment, and the number of comments, are shown alongside social sharing options. Other times these are separate.
  • Few publishers are using social proof – showing the numbers of people sharing to encourage more people to share – perhaps because this would increase the page load time.

Some recommendations for best practice

  • Know what the most important actions are.
    The best buttons for your site depend on your users’ needs, and your objectives. In most cases, I’d start with: Facebook share, Twitter share, whatsapp share, phone share, pinterest share, email share. If you’re interested in information provision, printing / PDF download options will be important too. You should do user research to find out how your audience would like to store your content before committing to a design that doesn’t help people. e.g. if you’re designing a site for an older audience, a pocket sharing option is probably less useful than a print option.
  • Prioritise your top actions by making them larger.
    The Daily Mail has a Facebook share as its largest button, and iMore’s Facebook and twitter buttons are the largest by far.
  • iMore social sharing options desktop
    daily mail social sharing options desktop - top of article

    The Washington Posts’s social sharing options are quite cluttered. Perhaps some of these (e.g. tumblr and Google+) could be deprioritised or removed entirely.
    washington post social sharing options mobile

  • Design with different sharing contexts in mind – e.g. mobile as well as desktop.
    Try out whatsapp and text sharing for mobile users only. Most people will be printing from a Desktop
  • Think about how best to present your content when someone shares it socially.
    e.g. making sure that you have appealing sharing copy and images for pinterest. Customise your social sharing metadata for each page, so that you don’t rely on the social network trying to work out some copy for itself. There’s a great Moz post on configuring your social sharing markup.
  • Social sharing isn’t just about blocks at the top or bottom of an article. Calls-to-action weaved in to the page are very important. E.g. encouraging people to share a blockquote through twitter.
  • Think about how to encourage people to share.
    People are used to sharing content from publishers, but what about other content that might be valuable to share, but that people aren’t as used to sharing? Just Giving’s case study of increasing social shares of donations is a useful case study here.