Even if you have not signed up for all of the popular social media channels out there, chances are your readers have. Today we will focus on giving your readers the chance to spread the word across social media on your behalf. Or, as it’s referred to in blogger-speak: sharing.
Have you ever noticed when you are reading someone else’s blog, that there are often a series of colorful buttons at the end of the posts? These are sharing buttons. They each correspond to a different popular social network, and they are there to encourage you to tell your friends about what you just read.
[As an aside, notice I said up there, "when you are reading someone else's blog." I think it's crucially important to be a blog reader, if you want to be a good blog writer. Spending time visiting successful blogs helps you to define what it is you want to accomplish in your own space. Maybe you love the graphic design of their site, or the particular way they arrange their images and their words in each post. Maybe you like that they post on a predictable schedule or that they have special theme days. Or maybe it's their laid-back, spontaneous style that is so appealing. Make a note of what grabs you, and one-by-one, see if you can make those things work for you in your own way.]
So, how do you add share buttons to your blog?
A quick note about sharing on social networks
It’s worth mentioning, you do not need to belong to any of these social networks in order to include the buttons on your blog. If you don’t tweet, and Facebook leaves you cold, that’s fine. The buttons are meant for your readers to use. As long as you include buttons for their favorite social sites, you can be as much of an online hermit as you like.
Be prepared, however, to come out of that cave at some point. In the near future, we’ll be talking about how you can take a more active role in promoting your blog content on the social sites. For now, though, while you’re getting comfortable with all of this, it’s fine to let your readers do the work.
If you are on Blogger
Remember my Blogger test blog? Here it is before today’s changes (you can click on all of the screen captures in this post to see them up close):
Blogger has a built-in set of share buttons, and if you’ll notice, in my current layout, they were enabled by default.
If you are not picky about which social networks you want to include, your work is easy. Visit your dashboard and click Layout on the left side menu. Look at your blog layout, and on the big box that represents a blog post, click Edit. Scroll through the options and make sure Show Share Buttons has a check-mark in the box. Save your options and you’re done!
If you are on Blogger, but want more control
Blogger’s built-in set of share buttons is easy and all, but they’re fairly limited to the big three: Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. While it’s certainly a good idea to include these three, those of us writing to a crafty audience might also want to include other sites that cater to visually-minded people. (Pinterest, anyone?)
If you want to go beyond the basics, you need to use a service that has a lot of options – options that they are constantly updating and changing to reflect the popular social networking trends. I have used ShareThis for some time, and I am happy with them, so that’s what I’ll show you.
First, visit sharethis.com via this link (it brings you directly to the Share Button settings page). Select “Blogger” as your platflorm and click Next.
Now choose your button style. This comes down to personal preference. Do you like the simplicity of square buttons? Or do you like to see the numbers? Those numbers refer to how many people have shared your post on the particular network, so if you are a statistics junkie, you might like to use one of the last two options.
For our purposes today, I went with the simple square buttons.
Click on your choice, and then click Next.
Now is your chance to tell ShareThis which social networks you want to highlight.
Here’s the cool thing about ShareThis: it has about a million (slight exaggeration) social networks available, many of which are probably new to you. You will have to select your own favorites to display, but even the networks that you do not choose will still be available to your readers, if they want to use them. That’s important, because unless you have your finger on the pulse of your readers’ preferences, you will never really know where they like to hang out online when they’re not visiting you.
When you choose the share buttons to display on your blog, you will be making an educated guess about what is most popular with your readers.
Those readers who don’t see their favorite networks listed can click on the green button. That’s the ShareThis button, and behind it lives a widget that includes all of the other networks you haven’t listed. Your readers are bound to find what they are looking for there.
That said, it’s still a good idea to try and anticipate what share buttons your readers will want. A Twitter button will be more attention-getting to a Twitter user than a ShareThis button will. The green button is a great backup, but try not to rely on it for everything. Include at least four other options to catch your readers’ eyes.
Scroll down, and you will see a place to change around your button configuration. You can hover over items in the Selected Services box to remove them from your button list (click on the X that appears). You can drag services around within the Selected Services box in order to re-arrange the order of your buttons. You can drag new services from the Sharing Buttons box into the Selected Services box. (You can play with the items in the Other Social Plugins box, if you want to, but I’m not going to talk about them at this point.)
For my test blog, I removed the LinkedIn button, because generally speaking, my posts are not the usual LinkedIn kind of fodder. (Still, if someone wants to share one of my posts there, they can get to LinkedIn through the ShareThis button, remember?)
I like Google+ and want to encourage my readers to use it, too, so I dragged over the Google+ button.
I could have added others, but this seemed fine for now. And in the future, there would be nothing stopping me from repeating this process to add or remove social networks as I got to know my audience better.
Click Finish to begin installing the buttons into your blog.
ShareThis will encourage you to create an account. This is a good option if you like numbers, and want to really delve into the (anonymously-saved) sharing behavior of your readers.
If you don’t care about statistics, feel free not to bother creating an account. Click No Thanks in the top right corner.
You have one more choice to make, and it refers to the behavior of the green ShareThis button: multi-post or direct post. Here’s the difference:
If you use multi-post, then when your reader clicks the green button, she can enter the little description she wants to share with her friends, and then choose to send it to as many social networks as she likes, all at one time. All of this is done with an overlay on top of your blog, so she never actually leaves your site when she shares your post.
If you use direct-post, then when your reader clicks the green button, she chooses a single social network to post to, and then leaves your blog to go directly to that social site to share your post.
Generally-speaking, it’s a good idea to keep your readers on your site as long as possible, so I would choose multi-post. It really just comes down to personal preference here, though, so feel free to choose whichever option you like.
Press Go. (This generates a pop-up screen, so if you have pop-ups disabled, you will need to allow this particular one through. That’s usually controlled somewhere near the top of your browser, where you’ll see a warning that a pop-up was blocked.)
ShareThis communicates with Blogger on your behalf to let it know you want to include ShareThis buttons on your blog posts. Now Blogger has to ask you, “is this ok?”
Click Add Widget to finish the job.
This is what my Blogger test blog looks like with ShareThis added. Cool, no? I think that these ShareThis buttons, besides being more versatile than the built-in option, are just more aesthetically-pleasing than the default.
If you are on WordPress.com
WordPress.com users, you have it easier. Here is my WP test blog before today’s changes:
Like Blogger, WP has built-in sharing buttons. Unlike Blogger, WP actually lets you switch up the options and the included networks. Also? This is pretty much your only choice if you want the share buttons to appear within each post, so you’re kind of stuck with it. Good thing it’s actually pretty useful.
Go to your dashboard, hover over Settings, and click on Sharing.
Look at Enabled Services. By default, Press This, Twitter, and Facebook are enabled. You can verify this by looking at the Live Preview. The Live Preview shows what the buttons will look like when they display on your blog posts.
I prefer different sharing options, so I dragged Press This into the gray discard box to the right. Then, I dragged Email, Google+ and Pinterest out of Available Services and into Enabled Services, and re-arranged them into my preferred order.
Scroll down a bit, and you can see even more options:
These are all personal preferences, again, but I chose to show only the icons, to open links in a new window (remember what I mentioned earlier about keeping people on your blog as long as possible? by opening a new window for their sharing link, they will still have your blog window open when they are finished sharing), and to show sharing buttons everywhere other than media.
I also enabled WordPress Likes, because, hey, it couldn’t hurt!
Feel free to experiment and play around with the settings until you get a look and function that you find pleasing. You really can’t break anything on this page, so play to your hearts’ content!
This is what my test WordPress.com blog looks like now, with sharing buttons enabled.
If you are on WordPress.org
As usual, I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail here, but I will tell you about two options you have that are nearly identical to the ones we discussed for Blogger and WordPress.com.
Yes, you can use ShareThis, too. It’s just a bit more complicated than the Blogger version. You start at the same place, but then you choose WordPress as your platform. ShareThis will tell you that you will need to install the ShareThis plugin on your site, and that you have two options for this: automatic and manual.
Do yourself a favor and go with automatic. Scroll down the page you are on, and you’ll see step-by-step directions for installing and setting up ShareThis on your site.
If you already installed Jetpack after our discussion about email notifications, then this will be super easy for you. Jetpack is a plugin that brings some of the special features of WordPress.com together for use by WordPress.org blogs. One of these features is social sharing.
Visit the Jetpack section of your dashboard and click on the Sharing box. The setup should be very similar to what I described for WordPress.com.
By the way, don’t confuse Sharing with Publicize. Publicize is for automatic sharing of your blog posts on the social networks that you belong to. Sharing, on the other hand, is for your readers to use when they feel moved to do so, and that is the one we are focusing on today.
What I do
You should know this about me: I am extremely picky about the aesthetics of my blog, and I never do anything the easy way.
Since I know my way around PHP, CSS, and HTML fairly well, I was able to create my own custom sharing box. (And if that sentence just gave you a headache, you may want to skip to the next section and forget about the rest of what I have to say about this.)
Essentially, my “share the love” section is powered by ShareThis, but I have added some of my own tweaks. The ShareThis, email, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook buttons are actually part of the ShareThis widget generated by the plugin. Flattr, Pinterest, and the print button are all things that I added myself.
Actually, I made my own Pinterest button last year sometime, when I was dissatisfied with the behavior of the Pinterest button provided by ShareThis. It’s probably time for me to have another look, and see if I can retire my custom version in favor of the current ShareThis version. I always prefer to use one single service over a variety of different services (i.e. ShareThis vs. ShareThis + separate Pinterest) whenever I can. It keeps the aesthetics cohesive, and I think it makes the blog’s engine work less hard, too.
Share The Love, like most other areas of my blog, is under constant threat of being tweaked by me. I am always looking to improve the way things look, function, and load around here, so don’t be surprised if this screen shot is soon out of date!
Adding share buttons is an essential step to spreading the news about your blog. When you have something good to say, your readers will want to share it. By taking these steps today, you’ve given them valuable tools and potentially increased your blog’s reach tremendously.
Now go pour yourself a glass of wine and wait for your adoring fans to spread your blog posts across the land*
(*Sorry, it’s actually not that simple. Sometimes people don’t want to share. Nonetheless, it’s important that you give them the option, and for having done that, I still think you deserve that glass of wine. Bottoms up!)