Ten years ago, if you read an article and wanted to share it with friends or coworkers, you’d email it. Thanks to social media buttons, the way people share content has evolved. Instead of sending an email, readers share your content on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

If you don’t have social media buttons setup on your site, you’re missing out on a golden opportunity to drive traffic, distribute your content and build your social presence.

Types of Social Media Buttons

There are two main styles of social media buttons. Each has a different use, and most sites tend to have both.

  1. Social share buttons
  2. Social media follow buttons

Social Share Buttons

This is what most people think of when they hear social media buttons. These icons are within blog posts and you can click on them to share the page to Twitter, Facebook and other social networks. They’re usually at the top, bottom or side of a page. You’ll notice ours are on the side, scrolling along with the article.

Social sharing buttons are ideal for encouraging people to spread your content across different channels.

Social Media Follow Buttons

Follow buttons are links, widgets or icons that take people directly to your brand’s social media profile. If you look at Lost Lake’s website, a Chicago-based tiki bar, their follow buttons are at the bottom of the page with an email sign up field.

The goal of these buttons is to build your following. It’s a great way to stay connected with people who stumble across your site, but don’t intend to take any action yet. Getting them to follow you on Twitter or like your Facebook page will allow you to keep feeding content to them and build awareness.

What About Social Media Widgets?

Another option that a lot of websites consider are social media widgets. These are similar to follow buttons, except they’re embedded directly into your site. You’ve probably seen the Facebook widgets in the sidebar of websites before.

The benefit of using a social media widget instead of a follow button is users don’t have to leave your site in order to follow you. Plus they look pretty slick.

The downside is they can cause your site to load a little slower and take up more space than buttons and icons.

The Best Place to Put Social Media Follow Buttons

There’s a lot of debate over where to add social media buttons to your site. Where you decide to place your buttons can impact the effectiveness. Unfortunately, there isn’t one best placement. It can vary site to site depending on your audience and design.

For social media follow buttons, the most popular options are the header, footer or sidebar.

To find the best placement, study your visitors’ viewing patterns with a heatmap. A heatmap shows where people click on your site. The most popular areas are darker in color. If your site uses WordPress, SumoMe is a free plugin you can use to setup heatmaps on your site.

Place your social media buttons in multiple areas and monitor where your audience clicks the most.

The Best Place to Put Social Share Buttons

When you’re placing social sharing buttons, the most popular choices are before or after your content, or floating to the left.

Be cautious of placing social share buttons after your content because most people won’t make it to the end of the page. Slate and Chartbeat analyzed how people scroll on articles on Slate.com. They found most readers only make it about 50% down the page.

Placing your social sharing buttons below your content means a large percentage of people won’t see them.

The more prominent you make your buttons, the more likely people are to use them. That’s why floating social share buttons have become popular. They stay fixed to the side of your content while readers scroll, so they’re impossible to miss.

Something else to consider is how people scan content. A famous eye tracking study from Jacob Nielson found most people read websites in an F-shaped pattern. They read two horizontal lines, then a vertical line down the left.

Just like the follow buttons, it’s a good idea to test different placements to see what gets the best results.

How to Add Social Media Buttons to Your Site

Adding social media buttons to your website is simple, particularly if you’re using a CMS like WordPress.

There are several plugins that will let you add social media sharing buttons to your website such as SumoMe and DiggDigg. With these plugins, you can choose the networks you’d like to include and where you want the buttons to appear.

For social media follow buttons, you can also use plugins. However, a popular option is to add them in manually so you don’t slow down your site with unnecessary plugins.

To insert them manually, find free social media buttons online to use for your icons, then link them to your social media channels. Canva put together a great resource to find icons, and IconFinder also has a good selection. If you’re comfortable with a little coding, you can place them yourself. If not, you can hire a freelancer.

If you want social media widgets instead of buttons, you can get them directly from the social network you’re using. Most marketers know about Twitter and Facebook’s widgets and buttons already. However, nearly every major social network provides embeddable widgets.

Pinterest gives you the option to add a simple follow button or a glimpse of your profile.

LinkedIn provides embeddable social media buttons and widgets for businesses.

Tumblr lets you customize the look of its social media buttons a bit. You can choose different color schemes and change the placement of the social counter.

Although widgets look nice, don’t forget that they can slow down your site. In most cases, it’s best to just use icons for social media follow buttons.

Which Social Media Buttons Do You Need?

For your social media follow buttons, only link to your active profiles. If you made a Twitter account five years ago that still has an egg as the profile picture, it’s probably best not to promote it yet. Linking to inactive social media profiles makes a bad impression.

Social sharing buttons are a bit different. It’s not uncommon for brands to allow people to share their content on platforms they’re not very active on. The goal is to get the content distributed, not necessarily upping your number of followers.

It’s also important to consider which social networks your audience uses to share content. TrackMaven analyzed over two billion social shares and found Facebook and Twitter were the top platforms people use to share content.

That probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to most of you. However, remember that every audience is different. If your site is image driven, you wouldn’t want to neglect Pinterest. If your content caters to professionals, LinkedIn might be your audience’s top channel for social sharing.

As tempting as it may be, avoid going overboard. There’s no need to have a share button for every social media platform in existence. It may sound shocking, but giving people too many choices can be detrimental.

In 1995, Columbia University professor Sheena Iyengar conducted an experiment known as the “jam study.” Iyengar setup a booth selling Wilkin & Sons Jams in a California market. Every few hours, she switched from having six jam options on display to 24. Although 60% of shoppers were drawn in by the larger selection, the smaller selection generated 30% more sales.

Having too many options can stop people from taking action because it becomes too difficult to make a decision. Keep it simple.

Using Sharing Buttons for Social Proof

You’ll notice most social sharing buttons include a counter to show how many people have shared or liked a page. This can provide great social proof by showing readers that other people like your content. As a result, they might be more likely to share your article or even take an action like sign up for your email list.

If your content receives a lot of shares, social proof is great.

However, when your  posts only receive a handful of shares, it has the opposite effect. E-commerce company Taloon saw the impact of negative social proof while performing A/B testing on its product pages.

The company decided to remove the social sharing buttons from its product pages. Most of these pages had little to no social shares.

After making the change, the company saw an 11.9% increase in the amount of add to cart buttons clicked.

When customers or readers see only a few people shared or liked a page, it seems unpopular. As a result, they trust it less and are are hesitant to take action.

Does that mean you shouldn’t use social sharing buttons if your content doesn’t have a lot of likes and shares? Not at all.

To combat negative social proof, remove the counter on your social share buttons and just display the icons. People can still easily share your content, but they won’t be able to see how many shares you already have.

The Real Key to Social Media Buttons

No matter what type of social media buttons you use or where you decide to place them, it doesn’t mean anything unless your content is great.

If you want people to press your social share buttons, you need to create share-worthy content. Your beautiful social media follow buttons aren’t quite as effective if you’re not sharing valuable content. To keep track of your social media analytics, try using Sprout Social for everything publishing, monitoring and for engagement.

With Sprout, you can easily manage your social channels and see the impact of your engagement, shares, and likes from your website’s social media buttons. Try us today for a free 30-day trial.

Do you use social media buttons on your site? Leave a comment and let us know if they’re helping or hurting your social media strategy.