Why Twitter is Right to Remove Share Counts

Published on Author Eli Fennell


The Death of a Twitter Share (Count)

In an unceremonious way, Twitter dropped a huge bombshell by announcing, as part of a redesign of their social buttons, that they will be removing support for Share Counts.  The technical details are complicated, but putting it as simply as possible, it will now be nearly impossible for any share button, even one created by a 3rd party developer (e.g. a WordPress social sharing plugin developer), to retrieve and display an accurate count of the number of times a URL has been Tweeted.

Even any conceivable solution for doing so would require use of the Twitter Search API, which has to be used by an Authenticated User (e.g. the plugin user), requiring any 3rd party solution to build in a system for getting permissions to act on behalf of each user (OAuth), adding layers of complexity for developer and user alike, on top of whatever other limitations would inevitably arise.  Even after putting in the effort to solve this, if it was solvable, Twitter could change their API at any time to make it harder or impossible.

If somehow, all of these issues were overcome, and a 3rd party were able to build a tool for restoring the Share count to theirs or other developers’ sharing solutions, I think this would be a serious mistake.  Twitter is right about removing the Share count, and here are a few reasons why.

Twitter is right about removing the Share count, and here are a few reasons why.Click To Tweet


Vanity Count, or Broadcasting Defeat?

Share counts are a vanity metric, and in a way this is a good thing: users love to see how many shares they get, assuming it roughly meets or better yet exceeds what they had expected or hoped for.  On the other hand, for Twitter, the visible Share count on a button is almost always a sign of being outclassed.  It usually finds itself sitting next to a Facebook button, after all, which is usually displaying a much higher number than Twitter.

This will vary by site or app, of course, but is generally true: Facebook drives the largest share of social referral traffic, and so it should not be surprising if their Share counts also tend to be highest.  This might be less embarrassing for Twitter if they were always a strong second, but quite often they find themselves outclassed by other services, Google+ for example, often enough at least that it isn’t contributing to any sense of Twitter as part of any ‘Social Duopoly’.

While ceasing to display a Share count could end up looking like a full blown surrender, the greater likelihood is a Domino Effect: major publishers and websites, for sake of design symmetry, will simply cease displaying social shares entirely.  Major developers will also make the switch, or at least build prominent features to disable displaying share counts into their tools, if they weren’t there already.

Why should Twitter show how badly Facebook is beating them?

Why should Twitter show how badly Facebook is beating them?Click To Tweet


Size Isn’t Everything

By itself, a social Share count number is meaningless; the quantity of referral traffic doesn’t always tell you its quality.  If your Facebook shares bring in ten times as many visitors, but their time spent on site is a fraction of the time your Twitter visitors spend on site, their bounce rates are considerably higher, and their pages visited per session much lower, then I ask: which traffic was more valuable, the larger audience, or the more engaged one?

This is a hypothetical example, and it isn’t always the case that a Twitter visitor would be a higher quality visitor than a Facebook visitor, my point being that site visitors aren’t like the milk you buy at the corner store: they aren’t homogenous.  Some visitors will stay longer, view more of your site, be more likely to be converted to whatever your goal is for converting visitors (if you have one) as customers, subscribers, or otherwise.  The quality of visitors can vary on average depending on their source and, of course, your efforts: one social network may bring in one type of visitor, another brings in another type, while both are different from search engine visitors, who are different from visitors arriving from a content discovery network, etc…  Bear in mind, even the same visitor may behave differently depending on which source they found you through, as well.

Whether true or hype, Twitter likes to present its user base as discerning and trendy: modern newshounds, town criers, and whistleblowers ravenously devouring and sharing with each other.  There can be some truth to this.  If your Twitter Followers are, in fact, more engaged than your Facebook Followers (which, again, will vary), then fewer absolute Shares in terms of the count may mean very little.  If Twitter drives higher quality traffic then that’s what matters, not Share counts.

If Twitter drives higher quality traffic then that's what matters, not Share counts.Click To Tweet


Hello, Wearables (and Shareables!)

Apple Watch.  Android Wear.  Samsung Gear.  Pebble.  Google Glass.

Another good reason for Twitter to remove Share counts: the Wearables are coming.  The Wearables are coming.

Another good reason for Twitter to remove Share counts: the Wearables are coming.Click To Tweet


Assuming we ever, as a population, spend a meaningful chunk of our online time interacting with a tiny screen, a Heads Up Display, or even a pure voice interface, there will be little if any screen real estate to display Share counts.  This need only be perhaps 5-10% of our time, if that, to be sufficient.

While other sharing systems, such as native mobile First Class sharing systems like Android Intents, may compete with the traditional on-site-or-in-app share buttons, even more so on Wearables than on the larger screens of Smartphones, don’t expect them to go away entirely any time soon, either.


Hit Counters Redux

If you’re old enough, you may remember a time not long ago when many websites displayed Hit Counters, showing how many times a Page had been landed on.  This was a meaningless vanity metric, and easily gamed, and even in the early days was more commonly seen on personal websites (forerunners of social network profiles) than professional.  Nowadays, the presence of a Hit Counter almost without exception makes a website look amateurish and a throwback to more primitive days.

Perhaps, by choosing not to play the game anymore, Twitter’s decision will be remembered as the moment visible social Share counts followed the same path to extinctions, on the web and beyond.

Perhaps it’s time for the Share count to die.

Perhaps it's time for the Share count to die.Click To Tweet