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I can certainly see arguments for both sides of this one:

Buttons at the top: Easy to find, reliably positioned regardless of the article length. Extreme ease of sharing as you don't have to reach the end of the article to share.

Buttons at the bottom: Ensures your users most likely read or scanned to the bottom of the article rather than sharing the article immediately after reading the headline.

However I am wondering which is superior in terms of conversion. Do users share stories more if the sharing buttons are at the top of bottom of an article?

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Bottom. That's an answer right? –  Dynamic Jan 11 '12 at 20:46
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@Jae No. :) –  Ben Brocka Jan 11 '12 at 20:49
    
Sounds like you need to do some A/B testing :) –  ChrisF Jan 11 '12 at 21:04
    
ux.stackexchange.com/questions/3462/… ,another question relevant to this –  Mervin Johnsingh Jan 11 '12 at 21:10
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5 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The most effective placement of social sharing buttons is the place, at which visitors make the decision to share and where it's the most prominent.

Naturally users will decide to share once they're done consuming the content. This means that the social sharing buttons should be located somewhere close to the bottom. However, content footers often contain a whole lot of meta information as well as links to "related" content and whatnot. All of that is competing for attention with the social sharing buttons. In addition, visitors won't know what sharing links are available until they scroll all the way to the end. Thus, it seems that they should be present at the top as well.

A less obvious advantage of top placement is that high sharing numbers serve as a form of social proof encouraging people to read & share the content when they're making up their minds.

AddThis (one of the leading social sharing toolkits, which I shamelessly promote because they're also from DC are) has these suggestions in their best practices for placement:

Do's

  • Keep AddThis near the top of the page
  • Place sharing near the content being shared

Dont's

  • Don't put sharing in the navigation
  • Avoid putting sharing in the footer
  • Avoid putting sharing below the fold

Their best practices also have an image with a sample layout and the instructions that read, Install AddThis before and/or after each post (see the link above).

Another set of placement recommendations from them suggests (italics added):

  • Keep your button near the top of the page: Avoid making your readers scroll to find your sharing button. It is okay to have the button at the top and bottom of the page, but users will find it easier at the top.
  • Watch out for navigation: be careful about placing the button too close to navigation, so users don't interact with it by accident.

Some developers think that multiple instances of nearly the same code shouldn't be repeated. The only position that satisfies both top & bottom placement is a fixed location. Most commonly, it is on the left side of the content ("in the empty space"). The problems with such a "solution" include visual imbalance, occasional JavaScript incompatibility/quirkiness, and no support for responsive design.

Other front-end devs might want to experiment with a horizontal sharing bar that appears once a user scrolls past a certain point but it still carries the disadvantages of the sidebar JavaScript module plus it's not going to be visible if everything fits above the fold.

Therefore, don't try being cute or gimmicky and put sharing tools both at the beginning and at the end of your content (just make sure they don't distort balance when everything is visible above the fold).

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This is an excellent answer. And the point about the 'shared by X people...' figure proving the value of an article or content is a great insight. –  Jimmy Breck-McKye Jan 29 '12 at 15:57
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I've conducted a study about this on a blog. The blog contains short posts and images of various objects.

I've started out by placing the share buttons at the bottom of the blog post. Then I placed the buttons both under the headline and at the bottom of the post. When I did that I've doubled the clicks.

I've also studied another web site where the share buttons were placed pretty far away from the content (such as in the footer or in the header) and that placement gave almost no ctr at all.

The social sharing service Addthis also recommends that you place the share buttons as close to the content as possible and they claim that the reason for this is because people don't know what they are actually sharing when the button isnt placed near the content.

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Very interesting results, thank you! –  Ben Brocka Jan 11 '12 at 22:36
    
Did you include just placing the social media buttons at the top of the page in your study? –  helixed May 5 '12 at 8:37
    
Hmm, I'm not sure what you mean. Could you rephrase your question? –  Tony Bolero May 6 '12 at 20:20
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In my eyes, it doesn't really matter. Really you have THREE choices:

  • Bottom.
  • Top.
  • Moving ("following") sidebar. I like these because it basically stalks the user to share a post or page, but it is not so annoying that the user just wants to go somewhere else.

So, really, there are no real benefits. But I, personally, like either bottom or moving sidebar.

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I like the sidebar as well, as it makes finding the buttons very easy. I was more interested in whether people are more inclined to click before or after reading the article (if they even reach the end) however –  Ben Brocka Jan 11 '12 at 21:03
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@BenBrocka: and I really do not like content that moves as I scroll. It is distracting and very "in your face". Top and bottom is simple and sufficient to serve both social validation and "share when consumed" purposes. If you do want a moving bar, do it like google mail keeps it button bar always on top and scrolls the rest under it. When you move back to the top of the page, the buttons move back to their position under the main headers of the page. It makes for high availability without the distraction of movement. –  Marjan Venema Jan 12 '12 at 9:03
    
@MarjanVenema what do you mean "movement"? Technically the fixed buttons are the only thing not moving as you scroll, like Gmail's sidebar. –  Ben Brocka Jan 12 '12 at 14:18
    
-1 This answer is just an opinion with nothing to back it up... –  Rahul Jan 29 '12 at 18:54
    
@Rahul: Well I'm sorry. I wanted to help the OP in any way I could. –  Dynamic Jan 29 '12 at 19:53
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It depends on what you want to give your users. If you want to give a gift you will not mind how much it is shared. In this case you will want to put the share buttons at the bottom of the post. See Seth Godin's blog If you do this for marketing you may want to put the sharing buttons to the top or side of the post. In this instance you focus on marketing. Eg mashable

So I think it's a matter of what you want to "give". Do you want to give a genuine gift or do you want to give marketing.

One thing: if you have a high profile blog an people do read it and share it you may want to show the number of shares ie facebook likes and retweets because it will act like a social proof. Everyone wants to read a 12K liked post, so if you put this counter to the top you most likely will increase conversions.

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Nice question ,According to an answer on Quora ,

Heat maps show that the top left of a web page is the most viewed part of the web page. More eyes go there than anywhere else. There will be people, your biggest fans, who will Like something or vote it up just because you wrote it and they'll know it's good. Or if you ask them to then they'll go and vote it up whether they read it or not.

Other people will read the post and vote for it if they like it. In that case, it's good to have the buttons at the bottom of the post.

The danger at the top of the post, however, is having too many buttons and crowding them out. So you don't want more than one or two. Only the most important ones. Put the rest at the bottom of the post. But you don't want too many there either so just pick a handful - no more than 5 or 6.

However my challenge with this is that most of the sharing I do on twitter is based upon my reading the entire article or atleast skimming through it and having to find out that I need to scroll all the way up(assuming it was a long article) to share it is pretty annoying .Further more,people while reading down the article might forget that there is a share option on the top and not end up sharing it.

Hence given your two choices,my vote would go for at the bottom of the article,but if I may offer an alternative ,how about a side scrolling share applet as given in the image below

enter image description here

Of course this might not work if there is no sidebar where the scroll can flow through but its an option

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Ah,I see see Jae had posted the same answer as me :) –  Mervin Johnsingh Jan 11 '12 at 21:06
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I'm not sure what the value of linking to an answer on Quora is. The person on Quora just solicits their opinion and there's no way to know if they have any specific experience that can lend weight to their conclusion. –  Rahul Jan 29 '12 at 18:54
    
@Rahul, I agree Rahul but I was just referencing a view point ,I agree a more data based analysis would have been better –  Mervin Johnsingh Jan 29 '12 at 22:26
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