I've spent some quality time with social sharing buttons mostly because of my experience developing a social sharing plugin for WordPress. Most of that time was spent researching best practices and analyzing implementations on some of the more popular blogs I could find.
Did you know: Among the 10,000 largest websites, those that feature Twitter share buttons are, on average, mentioned in 27 tweets that contain a link back to the site, whereas those not featuring tweet buttons are mentioned, on average, in only four tweets that contain a link back to the site.
Without getting too much into which social sharing buttons you should be using on your site, I wanted to share some additional insights into how you can make those buttons display faster and how to measure their effectiveness.
You have a few options when it comes to measuring social media engagement on your website. The easiest being to just look at the button counts of the share buttons on your website and manually tracking their success over time. I prefer a more integrated approach.
It's actually not too hard to track social engagement on your site with Google Analytics. The problem is only a few buttons can do it (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus as of when this post was written). Joost de Vaulk has some excellent posts to help get you up and running with trackable social sharing buttons if you decide to go down this road.
AddThis could be credited with starting the social sharing button revolution in my opinion. I remember using their buttons in the early days and watched closely as they expanded the services features to compete with similar services popping up. One of my favorite features they added was analytics which is not only easier to set up than Google Analytics tracking but can also integrate Google Analytics tracking to your AddThis buttons on top of the AddThis analytics. This option definitely seems like a win for everyone.
Remember tinyurls back in the day? Well, bit.ly quickly took over with a short but lucrative relationship with Twitter that made it the undisputed king of short urls. One of bit.ly's coolest features has to be it's analytics which come with every URL you shorten and can be easily accessed by adding a "+" sign to the end of your shortened bit.ly link. Many people use bit.ly to measure their social media reach by tracking click throughs on their links. This is definitely a good solution and something we do on top of our Google Analytics integration here at AMP.
Optimize Load Time
Social sharing buttons can be resource intensive and are the number one culprit of slowing down many website. The easiest way around this is to limit the number of buttons we show which I'll get to in the next section. Assuming you do not want to limit the number of buttons you display it might be worth investigating asynchronous solutions. Asynchronous loading allows multiple files to load parallel to each other instead of the files loading sequentially. Usually this is done once the document is fully loaded and displayed on the screen so the user can begin navigating the page while the buttons finish loading.
There are a number of ways you can approach this and most people using WordPress will resort to a plugin that manages the asynchronous loading for them. We use the Socialize plugin here at AMP but there is also Digg Digg. Other solutions include custom implementations of the official sharing buttons as mentioned in this post from w3-edge or using a third party library like Socialite.js.
As I mentioned earlier, displaying multiple social sharing buttons on your site can have a dramatic effect on your page's load time. Also, displaying seven social sharing buttons with big fat zeros on them doesn't do much to help establish any social proof. Instead you should focus on the few buttons that are actually performing. This will keep your page's load time down and drive more clicks to those services you already have a presence on further increasing your posts reach.
Just because you're being selective about which social sharing buttons you display doesn't mean you can't remind your readers to share your posts in the first place. It can be as easy as a call out next to your social media buttons asking your readers to share and subscribe. Every little bit helps.
I also see a lot of blogs abandoning the default social sharing buttons and widgets for their own homegrown solutions that are often smaller and less actionable then their counterparts. I prefer the default buttons with share counts because they are both actionable and people are used to them. Share counts are an important part of establishing credibility and social proof on your blog, and the actionable buttons with share counts are necessary to encourage more shares and increase time on site.
Give Us Your Tips
I could turn this one post into a series of posts if I wanted to get into all the other ways you can track, measure and optimize your social sharing buttons ... and maybe I will. In the meantime, leave a comment with which buttons you think perform best as well as any other tips you might have for faster loading or better tracking.
Image by webtreats