Whenever a new social network starts gaining in popularity (recently it's been Google+ and Pinterest), there always seems to be a mad rush to add the new network's 'share' button to every web page on the planet in fear of missing out on a traffic deluge.
But are you really going to miss out on traffic if you don't include these buttons or widgets on your site? And are there in fact benefits to not including these buttons?
I'm not saying social media buttons and widgets can't offer significant benefits, however, I am saying you should think of the potential downsides before making an informed decision.
Argument against following the herd #1: Wrong call-to-action
It can take a lot of time, money and effort to drive visitors to your website. What is it you really want people to do when browsing through your website for the first time?
You need to be asking yourself what you want visitors to your websites to do. Ideally for most businesses this would be buying your product or service. However, if they don't do that then surely the next best option is for them to tell you when they might be interested in buying from you in the future, telling you approximately when and leaving their contact details. There are many ways to capture the details of potential customers - including encouraging them to 'like' your Facebook page. But sharing an individual post or page on a social network without subscribing to your updates isn't one of them.
Your aim should be to attribute a financial value to each visitor action - to determine how likely it is that a particular action will result in a sale, and trying to increase the number of actions that are more likely to lead to a sale. If increasing the viral coefficient of your site is your primary aim then that's not necessarily going to increase your businesses' bottom line.
Argument against following the herd #2: An exercise in negative publicity
Have you ever considered that displaying the fact that your blog post has been up for over a month, and it still hasn't received a tweet is an exercise in negative self-publicity?
If you wish to be perceived as an authority on a given topic, by openly displaying that nobody is engaging with your content, you're effectively engaging in this negative self-publicity exercise.
Also, if you display a Twitter or Facebook widget on your site, and you haven't updated your social media presence for a few weeks, is that really sending out the best message?
Social media is an integral part of many modern businesses' marketing strategies - but largely because they embrace it, and participate in it. Be careful about trying to ride the social media wave without fully participating.
Argument against following the herd #3: Slower page loading
Many social buttons and widgets take longer to load than you think, and this could impact on your overall page load time.
In one of our earlier posts we saw that 4% of websites have page load speeds detrimental to their search marketing efforts. However, we can also see that in this very post the Twitter widget connection takes nearly 2 seconds to load.
Although these objects are loading at the same time as other web page elements, it still distracts from your overall web page loading time, and hence your user site experience.
One of reasons that the page can take longer to load with the addition of these social media buttons is that they can result in many more HTTP requests being generated, therefore increasing the amount of work that a browser has to undertake while loading the web page.
Note, this argument isn't necessarily a deal breaker - but you should consider it as part of an informed decision making process before deciding whether or not to go with the buttons and widgets.
So to conclude, I'm not saying not to add social buttons and widgets to your site. Many studies have already concluded that by doing so you're far more likely to encourage social sharing. However, the takeaway here is that just because the majority of your competitors jump on a bandwagon, it doesn't mean that you should do the same thing without considering the consequences. Keep on testing what's right for your business and don't always follow the herd!