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This is something that we were thinking about and couldn't really find a solution yet, so appealing to the smart people here.

The context

we all know that social media is good, we believe that, we encourage our users to use our lovely social media links... well, it's a social media world. Problem is: depending on many variables, including page, type of pages, hierarchies, goals, site owner's technology, human resources and so on, it's difficult to find a formula for a cost/benefit radio that we can apply to any situation with some kind of reasonable expectation in terms of return, where return could be measured by money, bounce rate, fidelity or any other metric as long as it works.

The problem

Right now, we've done some (quite extensive) Multivariate Tests and I'm observing the traffic leaks and disruption of user's attention isn't worth the benefits. The more action oriented the page is, the worse the results are. This is quite obvious, of course, and quite expected, so I'm taking this as an extreme of the range. Say "do not use Social Media at all", or 0 (zero) in an equation. This doesn't represent a problem in itself, because we have clearly identified user's behaviors with this kind of pages

However, in informative pages such as a corporate website, or an artist's site, or any kind of "brochure" site, I think that social media is needed and may prove useful, despite the eventual immediate monetary costs, like when using paid campaigns. Here, I can measure the return in terms of fidelity, so no problem either.

Then I have "mid way" sites: sites that may have call to actions, but they're not a meaningful part of the site. Take the artist's site again, and a link to buy tickets for a performance. In terms of analytics, this is the more complicated case, because it doesn't "fall" on any side.

The Question

My question/s is/are: is there some kind of CURRENT study/research (I have several 3-4 years old) or ux.stackexchange user's observations supporting or contradicting these observations and not coming from social media sites themselves? I'm not talking about traffic from social media to my site, but links to social media in my page. Even better, is there some kind of equation relating to the influence of social media placement (or lack of) and its costs, whether they're monetary, SEO or other?

EDIT BASED ON COMMENTS Just to narrow and focus, I have data with very definitive results, so outstanding I'm wondering if they're correct. I might share them at a later time, but not at the beginning because I would like non influenced answers. I admit the title is a bit broad, but I think the text of the question is as explanatory as possible and it focuses on 3 main cases (not saying that there are not more than this, just delimiting 3 big groups) and the effects of traffic leaks and technical issues (like site slowness) and its return in terms of benefits.

Just in case a more technical redaction helps understanding the question, I'm looking for more research I can compare with ours, and if possible, how to extract an algorithm that serves as much cases as possible based on the data I have

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    I think this is a very broad question. The benefit of social media links would depend on so many variables...the least of which would be how effectively the client is leveraging social media in the first place. That said, it's definitely an interesting question. – DA01 Jul 30 '15 at 20:26
  • While I don't think you're going to find any golden rule or equation this is very well written and I hope some solid numbers do arise. – DasBeasto Jul 30 '15 at 20:27
  • Just in case, I added an edit to explain and narrow the question – Devin Jul 30 '15 at 20:46
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    I want to answer this but I'm not sure I can, you need to tell us what site objective you have, if your selling something and if the leaks really are bounce rate based on the wrong assumptions? A social link is supposed to bounce a user to a social media where she posts and draw more traffic to your site. If that is you goal (hit rate) - then it's a good idea. But it also lowers the conversion rate if your selling something. But conversion rate can go down at the same time revenue increas. Tell me this: what is your goal? – Benny Skogberg Jul 30 '15 at 21:14
  • @BennySkogberg, you're correct in your descriptions, but my question is about a more general rule rather than any specific case, hence why I mentioned 3 big groups. Like I said, I have data for all 3 groups, and that data shows a very defined user behavior. So defined I find it a bit hard to believe, so I'd like to know other research or experiences from people here. So my ultimate goal is to find an universal algorithm, so to speak, but in the meantime I need to contrast with information from different sources, because there's a chance I'm doing things wrong – Devin Jul 30 '15 at 21:34
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A very comprehensive answer is called for, and delivered by DAO1. I would like to add the simple answer, which in fact is the driving principal.

User interfaces should be driven by purpose. Consider the purpose of the user and stack the architecture in terms of priorities. Simplify by erradicating all non-essential elements.

There is a time to read, a time to understand, to act, contribute, and when you have reached the point where its time to share socially - use these recognizable icons.. Otherwise they are a visual distraction and only serve to canibalize attention.

We just pulled all social media links off a web application we are developing, in favor of them being deliberately offered up at the end... when the user is ready to share the content they created.
UI WITH ICONS

I find the way FB and Twitter icons are everywhere is absurd. You can find a Facebook Icon on a bottle of Mylanta... who the hell wants to follow Mylanta on Facebook? Mylanta

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I'll try to answer the more specific points at the end:

effects of traffic leaks

Well, any link would 'leak traffic'. So for this to be good/bad, it has to be determined if it's really a bad thing to begin with. For instance, a link to twitter. The bad side of that coin is that they link to twitter and are no longer on your site. The good side of that coin is that they may follow the company on twitter, so you've gained a subscriber.

To reduce the bad side of that argument, you could handle this on your own site. Many social media APIs allow you to 'follow' right from your own site.

and technical issues (like site slowness)

A proper client-side API should accommodate AJAX based loading and you should be able to script things on your side so that it's a low priority. I don't see this as a major risk if implemented properly.

and its return in terms of benefits.

This, I think, is impossible to answer generically. It will all depend on all of the specifics of your project. For example:

  • The client's industry (a restaurant may benefit greatly from social media by sending out frequent coupons to get people in the door. A home inspector probably will see very little benefit.)
  • How it uses social media (is it active? Engaging? Of use to the end-user?)
  • Size of company (you likely get a much bigger ROI if you get a local bakery 100 Twitter followers. Getting 1000 more people to follow Wal-Mart's Instagram is probably not a ROI you can even measure).
  • Resources the company has committed to social media. (Do they have staff actively monitoring and replying to customers on an hourly basis, or did they hire an intern that logs in once a week?)

Random real life examples:

These may not help a whole lot, but your question got me thinking about companies I've dealt with online.

Example 1:

A local bakery has a facebook page. Good: They'd post the occasional photo from inside the restaurant with comments on what's coming out of the kitchen. Bad: the owner was increasingly posting political-leaning posts that had nothing to do with the business. Treating the company facebook as a personal ranting platform was likely a huge detriment (they've since gone out of business)

Example 2:

I follow a local coffee shop on Instagram. Good: almost daily, they have at least one original photo and a message of what specials are going on. The non-necessarily-bad-but-weird they 'fave' every single one of my photos. This is getting to the point of annoying and making me feel they have a bot running the show.

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