There was a time, not so long ago, when publishers could demonstrate “social proof” by indicating exactly how many times a particular piece of content had been shared to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and even Google+. Depending on the network, these numerical chest-beatings may have included engagement to posts shared to those networks, such as likes or comments.
Each network would create programming “hooks” within their API which allowed third-party tools like Social Warfare or Shareaholic to pull those numbers and display them as share counts. Other tools like Buzzsumo made it possible to see and sort content based on how engaging it was on social media.
Those days are coming to end.
While it was still an active network, Google+ turned off those share counts – ostensibly due to unreasonable server load – but most likely due to an embarrassing comparison between the low usage of that network and the high usage of other platforms like Facebook or Twitter.
Twitter was next to follow suit, though in Twitter’s case it was a revenue play. Since Twitter’s advertising platform struggled to see the same degree of success as Facebook or even Instagram, they opted to turn off free use of their share count API and began charging for that access. Being able to show tweet counts became a premium, and largely extinct, feature overnight.
That was in 2015.
At that point, many publishers continued to show Facebook and Pinterest like or share counts, and some were able to use some workarounds and hacks to still demonstrate tweet counts, but the Twitter integrations have been unreliable, to say the least.
Instagram believes that it is detrimental for us to see how popular other people’s posts are compared to our own and is moving forward with removing that popularity indicator for public consumption.
But, since there’s no share count for published content with regard to Instagram, what does this test have to do with content like counts?
Because now Facebook, which owns Instagram, is implementing the same test.
What’s interesting here is that, if Facebook hides like counts on a share within the platform, it would almost have to hide those same counts from third-party tools, otherwise users could click through to a linked article and see the share count there.
Which means, for all intents and purposes, publishers will no longer be able to show share counts for content for any network other than Pinterest. And at that point, even if Pinterest continues to offer that data in their API, what would be the point for publishers?
The psychology for publishers was a simple one. Readers of a particular piece of content who see that it was shared previously feel:
A) Reassured that they’re reading something of value, because other people thought it was valuable enough to engage with it on social media.
B) Encouraged to share that content themselves to social media.
This explains why certain pieces of content spread virally – as more people see it, more and more people are reassured and encouraged to share it themselves, and it spreads exponentially.
Fortunately, content publishers do have other ways to demonstrate social proof, including:
Embedded social media
For instance, if a particularly piece of content has gotten some interesting engagement and conversation on Twitter, the publisher could edit that piece to include some of those tweets, showing off how it’s been received as well as enabling additional engagement.
Here on The Social Media Hat, we’ve now taken the step of simply turning off all social share counts. Sharing buttons remain, of course, so that our readers can easily share informative articles with their respective audiences, but there’ll be no Facebook or Pinterest counts.
It’s unfortunate, particularly for content like ours that is about social media and therefore performs particularly well on social media, but it’s simply the reality of how social networking is evolving. All we can do is accept and adapt to change!