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May 31st, 2011

Overwhelming Over-Sharing

In the last few weeks at least two new options for publishers to offer readers as shortcuts to share what they’re reading with their social graphs were announced or at least discussed.

First, Tumblr officially announced the release of a button that would allow for a one-click way for people to share something of interest with their followers on that network. How what’s shared is displayed is interesting in that it’s almost completely up to the original publisher to set standards for themselves, something that’s good for them but which might not fit with what the reblogger usually does. So they’re risking lower usage in order to offer control.

Second, rumors continued to circulate that Google would create a “+1″ button that would then offer a recommendation of that story (or the link to that story) when someone you’ve connected with on Google’s decentralized network does some searching that results in that link being displayed. Google’s been experimenting with this in its regular search results and this is seen (and I don’t completely agree with this idea) as a natural extension.

The very real Tumblr button and very speculative Google one enter a field that’s becoming more and more crowded as each and every social network seeks to be the one that is most adopted by publishers, something that hypothetically then results in more users. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and many others have their own buttons that are in varied levels of adoption.

Before publishers – and this included businesses and organizations running their own publishing programs – go ahead and add these or any other sharing buttons to their content there are some points to consider:

1) Where is your audience? It may not make a ton of sense (note “may” since everything needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis) for a B2B company to prioritize Facebook sharing since their audience of retail lawn mower parts buyers isn’t getting their industry information there. But that audience might be heavier users of LinkedIn so adding that share button is essential. Making this decision can be helped drastically if there are web analytics to inform the process showing what networks, if any, people are already coming from.

2) How is it impacting the user experience? It may be that by continuing to add to the already colorful array of sharing options that are already implemented or available you’re just adding to many graphics to the site, changing the way people react to it. Hopefully at some point research was done (or at least analytics analyzed) to see how people were interacting with various components of the site. More than that, designers and UX experts were likely consulted to make the site as a whole and individual pieces of it specifically were user-friendly. Haphazardly adding buttons can throw that experience off and make a well-designed site a jumble of ad hoc components.

3) Are you giving the reader too many options? If you’ve already added the Facebook and Twitter buttons and then have ShareThis or some other similar catch-all button and are seeing pretty good results from them the addition of another option might actually cause usage to drop off as people can’t decide which network to share this story on and ultimately give up entirely. If your site management workflow is flexible enough to allow for some testing it’s not a bad idea to do so.

The bigger question to ask when considering how to enable easy sharing of content is this, though: Is what you’re producing worth sharing? Only after that’s been answered can you move to the next step of deciding what platform or platforms make the most sense to encourage that sharing on.

About the Author
Chris Thilk works on the Client Services team, part of Voce Connect, developing and executing social media strategy. You can follow him at @christhilk on Twitter.

Filed in Publishing Programs, Usability

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