Are share buttons and share counts a thing of the past?

I’m prepping four of the websites I work on to migrate — finally — to HTTPS. It’s something I’ve been putting off for a long time, both because of the number of things that can go wrong if not managed properly, and my attachment to the social proof (especially the share counts) of our websites’ top content. Like the 36,200 shares — and that’s just Facebook shares — for our Q&A with Winston Duke. But I digress. And once you move from HTTP to HTTPS, your share counts reset to zero. After all the work we’ve put into those sites — migrating them from custom CMS to Drupal to WordPress, and through digitising massive magazine archives — I was more than hesitant to potentially jeopardise that or lose momentum with the work we’ve been doing. But resisting a move to HTTPS is futile.

Given all that, I began gravitating toward the Social Warfare Pro plugin — as I was also assuming that share buttons (with share counts) were still recommended features of any website, to boost SEO and engagement and serve as social proof. Except…it slowly began to dawn on me that virtually none of the sites I frequently read had share buttons. And the ones that did excluded the actual share counts. Whenever I shared something, it was either from the built-in share features of my browser, via an add-on/extention, via a sharing service…or by good old fashioned cut and paste. Was I stuck in a time warp without realising it by prioritising share buttons and share counts?

I began to poke around online, taking in the ferocious arguments about share buttons being either essential or absolutely useless. Ironically, some of the folks arguing for using them…were not using them. But no-one was painting the picture about how or why sites across the interwebs had just stopped using share buttons or displaying share counts. What was causing the widespread abandonment of the feature? Was it load time? Was it because the services were one by one dropping their share count reporting — first Twitter, then Google Plus, then LinkedIn…with Facebook maybe coming next? Is it that they’re unnecessary or even counterproductive somehow, with a “low” count negatively impacting readers’ perception of the brand/publisher?

How do you feel about them? Does seeing an article with 35,000 impress you? Does one with 10 make you think less of the site/publisher? Do you even notice share counts? And how do you share content when you’re browsing? Do you use the share buttons? Your browser? Cut and paste? Would you miss share buttons or share counts if they disappeared?

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