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A time for sharing (government content on Facebook and Twitter)

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Product changes

We've added social media sharing buttons to 4 formats in the departments and policy section. If you look at the end of any consultation, news story, press release or world location news page you will now see sharing buttons to post a link to the page on Facebook or Twitter.

Social buttons
Social buttons

This is a feature that colleagues in a handful of departments have repeatedly asked for. We thank them for their patience. We prioritise rigorously based on evidence of user need, and this particular feature has been queued for a long time because zero end users have ever requested it, and all users in several rounds of guerrilla testing were able to share GOV.UK links to social networks easily by copying and pasting them.

But that's not to say adding these links wouldn't encourage more people to do so - and we're keen to support the needs of departments and agencies better too.

We've placed the links onto the 4 formats which lend themselves most readily to sharing activity, using the 2 most popular social networks. We've implemented it without use of third party code to avoid any data tracking nasties or anything that might slow down page speeds.

We'll be measuring the use of these links closely and will report back on what we find out.

[Image by Alice Harold.]

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  1. Comment by S posted on

    What about publications, or (considering where we are) blog posts?

    • Replies to S>

      Comment by Neil Williams posted on

      It's coming for blog posts soon. Publications, very possibly - I'm keen to see how users interact with them on these 4 formats first.

      • Replies to Neil Williams>

        Comment by Chris Lake posted on

        We changed our social buttons a year or so ago, fixing them on the page so they remain visible as you scroll down. I was expecting good things to happen. Good things didn't happen. There was basically no difference in social sharing, and I, having requested it, ended up with what Michel Roux Jr would describe as "oeuf sur mon visage, or, egg on my face".

        As such I'd love to see if it makes any difference for you. Do let us know!

  2. Comment by Nathan W posted on

    Im really interested to see how this feature will be used. We included social media sharing buttons on an early version of New Zealand's beta, but when we tested the site with users we got a few unexpected results:
    - users either thought the buttons were going to link them to the social media channels and pages of the Departments,
    - they thought the links would force them to sign up for something with government, or
    - they saw the links as an means for 'big brother' to watch what they were doing in the social media space

    We asked our users what they would do instead, and nearly everyone said they would just copy the URL of a page they found useful and wanted to share, and they would paste that into the tools and social media sites they already used.

    As a result, to make sure we were keeping things as simple as possible, we took the buttons off our beta site.

    • Replies to Nathan W>

      Comment by mark heseltine posted on

      On previous projects I've observed a significant jump in sharing activity when adding sharing buttons to a web page. Sharing buttons should be designed with occasional users in mind --labelled clearly -- so that visitors understand what they do.

  3. Comment by Tom McLaughlan posted on

    Many thanks for adding these. As someone outside of govt who regularly links to announcements etc on Gov.UK this makes things much, much easier so thank you from a user! That said, it would be even better if you included LinkedIn 🙂

  4. Comment by Tim Lloyd posted on

    Hi Neil, do you have an idea of what a worthwhile number of shares is, to justify rolling this out?
    I think that sometimes the bar for this sort of functionality is set very low by some Departments. People seem happy to report on just a few shares or likes.
    It would be a shame to have to roll out this type of thing on the basis of a few low numbers.

  5. Comment by Neil Williams posted on

    Thats extremely interesting Nathan. Would love to see some of the data on that, I will email you to discuss further.

  6. Comment by Gilbert T posted on

    So wait, hang on a moment here. You’re adding a feature that absolutely none of your primary users has asked for and that you have found didn’t pose a problem for people anyway.

    So why exactly are you adding it and not suggesting to your colleagues that it’s not actually necessary or useful? is one of the pinnacles of good design in government at the moment and compromising on your principles seems like a silly thing to do at this stage.

    Unless you can actually quantify how these things will be used by these departments and make sure that it’s constructive would it not be wise to be cautious to avoid them horrifically over using the facebook button? Just how many people want their feed filled with the current passport fees anyway.

    This is one of those ongoing trends that tends to be there because it’s there somewhere else. Yes it might (possibly) make sense on youtube if your entire end game is to drive page hits for advertising revenue but is a public service not a video sharing site.

  7. Comment by jon walmsley posted on

    I would love to see some analytic findings on the usage of this feature at some point - especially contrasting it with how much sharing in general rises/falls, or the use of sharing not initiated via these buttons.

  8. Comment by Terence Eden posted on

    How will you measure success (or failure)? Will it be enough to see an uptick in the number of shares - or will you be tracking the outbound clicks from the buttons?

  9. Comment by Neil Williams posted on

    Thanks for all these comments.

    We will be measuring outbound clicks on the buttons, and referrals to GOV.UK from Twitter and Facebook. We won't be able to compare rise/fall in overall sharing in any meaningful way, because it's impossible to tell how many people using the buttons would have shared the content anyway.

    To be clear, we haven't implemented social sharing to follow a trend nor to generate traffic to GOV.UK. Though it's not something end users have asked for, we're experimenting to find out if it's something they would use if available, at the request of government departments. We don't have sufficient evidence either way - opinion and research on the web is inconclusive - so we want to get some ourselves.

    (Incidentally, my claim that zero users have asked for this feature turns out to be slightly overstated. More diligent colleagues then me have raked through the user feedback data and unearthed a handful of examples of users asking for social sharing links, which probably represents hundreds of people who have thought the same but not bothered to raise it. Very small numbers in the scheme of things ...but more than zero).

  10. Comment by Matt posted on

    Do you have any plans to introduce an auto-shortening feature for the Twitter URLs?

    I just tested this feature on a page and I'm -137 chars with the link and page title alone. I'm sure that page is an extreme example, but there are quite a lot of long URLs on GOV.UK, which are v Twitter unfriendly without auto-shortening.

    (Incidentally I expect to find these sort of links on any website I visit. They're especially useful if you're browsing on your phone when you don't want to be fiddling around copying and pasting URLs.)

  11. Comment by Siobhan A posted on

    Do you have any plans to introduce an auto-shortening feature for the Twitter URLs?

    Agree with Matt. A solution needs to be found. There is a barrier for sharing information as it is too much hassle for shortening the links.

    The user has to do all the work to share the information opposed to the website. There is not going to be an uptake in the use of the share it buttons on GOV.UK because of the barrier.

    • Replies to Siobhan A>

      Comment by Fred posted on

      Twitter has automatically shortened any link into a one for ages now meaning no effort on behalf of the user no matter how long a GOV.UK URL.

      I do think that link length is an issue mind but that's more in terms of quoting a resource in a document than it is in sharing it to Facebook or Twitter where this is a complete red herring.

  12. Comment by Neil Williams posted on

    As Fred said, Twitter does auto-shorten URLs to 22 characters maximum. See:
    "A URL of any length will be altered to 22 characters, even if the link itself is less than 22 characters long. Your character count will reflect this."

  13. Comment by Tom Steinberg posted on

    Hi - any findings to share yet? This would be very helpful data to see.