Social media sites are all about sharing information and opening conversations. What happens when you want to create engagement based on current events though? The mainstream media and blog sites have recently begun doing two things to increase engagement; however, they don’t seem to know when to stop. CNN, Fox News, The Washington Post, Gizmodo, Mashable and a thousand other sites use the following methods as a default:

  1. Create social share widgets or buttons and stick them in any extra white space available.
  2. Posting the articles on sites like Reddit and Digg.

Both of these methods tie into to each other as most social share widgets have options to automatically format your article and place it onto social aggregate websites. The over use of share widgets is the primary issue for concern though.  An example of this can be found on the Washington Post, which a Reddit thread blatantly points out. After navigating to an article on their site, there are at least 10 different places on the page that asks you to share the article. Additionally, the leading website for social media news, Mashable, has eight or more locations to share their article or follow their brand.

too many buttons

The thought process behind filling white space with social share buttons is that the more they are in your face, the greater the chance someone will share it. Additionally, trend setting websites with well known brands may be the offspring of a print publication, and using house ads to fill white space is customary.

When I was working in a small north Georgia city for a newspaper publication company, there was always a shortage of content. Rather than filling empty spaces with wire articles (AP stories), the publisher would tell us to fill the extra white space with house ads that publicize our other newspapers. The transition from print to Web still has some lingering artifacts, and unfortunately the over use of the social share button is part of this.

User experience may not be directly affected by the over use of social share buttons, older demographics may be turned off by the cluttered article. A fine example of the proper social media widget distribution can be found on The New York Times, which only uses one share box per article. Like the New York Times, Play This Magazine also only has one share widget at the very end of each article.

The reason behind adding one share widget to the bottom of each article is based on logic and user experience. If a person enjoys your content enough that they read through the entire article, they will be more inclined to share it. So when they get to the very end of the article, what should be there waiting for them to spread information they are interested in? A non-obtrusive share button that does not distract from the rest of your article. You only have a few seconds to grab the reader's attention, and adding more widgets will create more clutter that users don't want.

Fight the over sharing trend by giving your website a minimalistic design that focuses on content. In place of spinning graphics and dancing babies from the 90s, these widgets are now plaguing sites.

TL:DR – Stop adding so many social media widgets to your websites. You only need one. If people like your content it will spread.

*Edit for clarification - While I mention there is only a need for one single share button, that doesn't mean you can't have more. The goal of this article was to generate a discussion to see what others think about the increase in share buttons. My preference is content above all. There is a need for one set of share buttons, but you may want more. Base your design off of user experience and necessity.

[This article was originally posted on Play This Magazine]