How to design social media buttons that work

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June 08, 2015
How to design social media buttons that work.
Social media is the key to any website’s popularity. Taking advantage of the psychological phenomenon known as social proof, social shares greatly influence whether people read content or share sharing it themselves. That’s why social media buttons are on virtually every page that you come across on the Internet. This begs the question, what goes into the design of these buttons? It’s not a coincidence that they look the way they do, right? You’d think that elements like page placement and positioning, size and color would all have an effect on persuading users to share the content. Designers aren’t just using a willy-nilly approach in creating these buttons. There’s a whole foundation of thinking behind button design. It’s quite fascinating, actually, and yet so simple at the same time. If you want to increase the chances of page content getting great social shares, it’s in your interest to follow these recommendations.

F-pattern placement

First things first: Before you worry about designing the actual buttons, it’ll do you good to think about where on a page you should place them. According to a popular study on user behavior, your site visitors will mostly absorb page content in the F-shaped pattern. This pattern begins with their eyes scanning content from the upper-left corner of the screen and moving horizontally to the right. Then, their eyes go down the page a bit from the point at which they started. After a while, their eyes move horizontally to the right again, but at a shorter distance than the first horizontal scan, before finally moving down one last time along the left side of a page. [pullquote]Designers aren’t just using a willy-nilly approach…There’s a whole foundation of thinking behind button design.[/pullquote] Notice where social media buttons usually appear on any given page—they’re along the upper-left portion of the page. This is no coincidence! Designers who place the buttons in this area are following what science tells them about how people read on the web. If you’re not placing the buttons in this area, you’re doing a disservice to your site, since people probably won’t even see them. And considering that the majority of people scan read a page instead of thoroughly reading it, it’s not unreasonable at all to conclude this. A good illustration of this is found on a page of the Wall Street Journal site. In an article covering Apple’s decision to begin offering a streaming music service, notice how the social media buttons are placed right where you’d expect to find them: on the upper-left of the page, right beside the prominent headline. According to the F-shaped pattern, people seeing this page the first time note the social shares and then read horizontally across to understand the headline. At the time of writing this article has over 2800 Facebook likes and almost 1200 tweets.

Clean and recognizable shapes

Because people scan and skim pages, it’s always best practice to make things on the page jump out at them. To increase the likelihood of visitors sharing a page, you should design the buttons in a minimal way since that’s how they can be recognized more easily. You’re better off going with basic, geometric shapes like rectangles, circles and even hybrids of the two, so users understand what they are and what they’re being prompted to do. Further, so many sites use these shapes for social media buttons that not also adopting this approach will actually harm your user experience. Most of all, users should understand what social media platform they’re sharing to and how many people have already shared the content before them. To achieve this, each platform’s symbol or logo should be clearly visible to users, along with its distinctive colors. That means:
  • the Facebook button should be #3C5B97 and have the distinctive “F” for the company name;
  • the Twitter button should be #55ACEE and feature its well-known bird logo;
  • the LinkedIn button should be #008CC9 with its “in” logo;
  • the Pinterest logo should be #BD081C showing the swirling-P logo.
On another note, avoid designing so-called custom buttons that depart from these accepted, best practices in button design. There’s always the temptation to make a site’s elements extra fancy to impress clients or to make yourself stand out as a designer, but it’s really not effective, for the reasons outlined above. The worst case scenario is that users fail to understand how to interact with buttons if they’re too customized. For a textbook example of a page that pulls off these best practices, we look at Daily Egg’s blog on conversion-rate advice. In an article about reverse-engineering a well-performing landing page, note the placement, shapes and colors of the social media buttons. They’re on the upper-left of the page, are rectangular, and feature the trademark colors of each social media platform.

Sticky buttons

Like sticky navigation where the navigation follows the user down a page as it scrolls, your social sharing bar should do the same, and for the same reason. You want people to be constantly reminded that they can share your content; incorporating sticky buttons also makes it that much easier for them to share the content because they don’t have to scroll up or down to find your buttons. [pullquote]You want people to be constantly reminded that they can share your content[/pullquote] A site that gets this is Marketing Profs, a hub of advertising advice and best practices. Its articles feature sticky social media buttons that stay on the upper-left side of the screen as site visitors continue to scroll down the page.

Social sharing matters

It’s no secret that social shares are incredibly important to a site’s popularity. The more people share your content, the more other visitors will discover it and potentially become regular readers or customers. That’s why making social buttons easily accessible and noticeable on all pages that include shareable content is a necessity. Why make it hard for your users to share content that they really like and with which they want to engage? After all, getting more social shares also means a more prominent search engine ranking for the site you design. Featured image, social media image via Shutterstock.

Marc Schenker

Marc’s a copywriter who covers design news for Web Designer Depot. Find out more about him at

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