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I continually run into this issue on sites that want to offer social media links to share content on Facebook, Twitter, etc., and often to share via email or text message as well. Showing all of these icons gets busy very quickly. Often they are grouped under a "share" button that then reveals the individual tools, but my general impression is that this seems to be slowly becoming deprecated in favor of just having the individual links all visible.

I have no data to back this up though and just my gut instinct, but I'm wondering if anyone has heard any best practices/studies on "hiding" share functionality behind a share button?

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4 Answers 4

I disagree with @Chris about the click counting. Click counting is very much abused as a usability factor, and while it definitely has its uses, I don't think this is the case here.

There's a number of factors at play here. Of course the number of icons has a great weight. Also, the layout of the website may be more suitable for one solution than the other. And it might become a chicken and egg situation - the layout and the number of icons might influence each other, depending on which was decided first. You can also combine the two solutions and have the major players directly accessible, while the secondary ones hide behind a Share button.

If you need to draw an arbitrary line, then you could use the other much-abused concept, the "magic number" 5+/-2, and say that up to 5 items are displayed directly on the website.

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I was thinking that the tracking would be used to manually decide which icons to show, definitely not an automatic process. –  ChrisF Mar 15 '11 at 12:16
    
@Chris, I was referring to "reducing the number of clicks", not tracking :) –  Vitaly Mijiritsky Mar 15 '11 at 13:09
    
@Ah - my mistake. –  ChrisF Mar 15 '11 at 13:11

One theory is to reduce the number of clicks a user has to make to perform the action. Another would be not to hide the options available - if someone can't see the option they don't know it's there.

When all the social sharing sites (Digg, Reddit, Facebook etc.) all had very roughly the same traffic there would be a case for including them all on a page. As you point out this would lead to clutter so they were all put behind a "share" button which would reveal them all via some flyout/AJAX/whatever.

However, now that there are some clear winners in the social sharing sites - Facebook, Twitter being the two obvious ones it's much easier to include a small number of "share" links that everyone is likely to have access to. This both reduces the clutter on your site and the number of clicks needed to actually share the link. Both of which will hopefully encourage sharing.

How many should you have? - one or two lines across your site, but that isn't backed up by anything at the moment.

Which ones should you include? - well there's the obvious ones (Facebook, Twitter) and beyond that you could track which ones are actually used and remove those that aren't used replacing them by others in the list until you have the ones that some people use. You'll probably find that you won't be able to please everyone.

As I said in the comment if you make it easy for you or the site admins to configure which links are shown you should future proof yourself to a certain degree.

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This makes a lot of sense, but my concern is two-fold: The internet moves fast, and there could be another major social player in a year or two from now that everyone could be using. Facebook, Twitter, and an Email share is not overwhelming. But where is the number at which it becomes too much? 4 links? 6 links? I worry about the slippery slope. This also is an issue since I work in a large agency and other non-UX members often get the final say -- I can easily see someone saying "why not add one more" until it gets out of control. –  Michael Histen Mar 14 '11 at 21:12
    
@Michael - I'm still looking for studies on this - but I guess you've already done that. The only thing you can do is to provide an easy configuration route, both in the sites that are displayed and the sites to choose from so you (or indeed your users) can update them as appropriate. –  ChrisF Mar 14 '11 at 21:15
    
Thanks -- all this is definitely helpful. I think it's all pointing toward just having the icons visible, but I think I was hoping for a miraculous study/insight that shows a share button works better. I think my visual designer eye sees clutter but usability wise, individual icons is probably the winner. –  Michael Histen Mar 14 '11 at 21:37

You probably know what social sites your users us more: show only those icons/widgets. Your users will probably use mainly a few sites, so you should not show many icons.

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I think that designers have a tendency to display lots of social media links as a sort of "wow, look what you can do with my content"/"look how connected my site is" credibility. That's not a bad thing, but might not really serve your users beyond that initial wow.

Michael's explanation was good - if you're putting them in, say, the footer of a blog post then there's likely room for quite a few icons. If you're making them prominent (as ui.stackexchange does with the Twitter/Facebook buttons to the left of the question) than it's really important to be thoughtful about what's important to your users.

Also, be sure you and your clients are on the same page about whether you're talking about sharing via social media and linking to their social media sites (to say, become a FB fan). To many people, a Facebook icon is associated with people/organization's pages, not the share functionality. So you may need to be careful with your labels, particularly if you end up with social media buttons on more than one area of your pages...

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