There's an article from a prominent design blog describing social media buttons as sleazy, pointless, and even harmful. I completely disagree. As a marketer I always want to make it easy for a user whether it’s 1) performing a certain task or 2) making a decision.
After some criticism, the author tempered his stance in a followup but still concluded:
A lot of (technically savvy?) people despise these buttons and do indeed consider them to be sleazy. If early adopters in tech are indicators of tech trends, then these buttons will disappear sooner or later.
I am tech savvy and lots of tech savvy sites have them. Maybe only the most elitist tech savvy people despise them? Well even Harvard.edu has them. Share buttons are basically vending machines that provide convenience.
Works for Some Sites
Apparently, they work quite well for activist political sites and removing them might not be the smartest thing for similar sites.
It’s also not smart for non-political sites to omit sharing buttons. Since KISSmetrics, Mixpanel, and Conversion-Rate-Experts (sites that are optimized for metrics) are using share buttons, it can’t be that bad.
They Profit from You
Don’t be fooled: If you have 30 visitors per month, those buttons won’t make you a star. And for a quality brand with a higher brand value than Facebook and Twitter (yes, they still exist), these buttons actually profit more from you than the other way around.
I’m pretty sure we all profit. Facebook maps the web and sells ads. You get traffic and a relationship with your fans. Fans get to express their thoughts and identity, and create connections with people and companies.
Used by Top Brands
The only reason to omit social media buttons is if you’re such a big and powerful company it doesn’t apply to you. You can make a statement by saying you’re above all that petty social sharing. Maybe for companies like Oracle, Apple or SAP, they don’t need it but as a startup this is essential. But even then didn’t Apple try to make a product called Ping and then integrate Facebook and Twitter into their iOS?
Lastly, it’s not just allowing people to share their enthusiasm and gaining traffic. It’s also social proof and barrier to entry. Likes and followers are something you build like SEO and it takes time. It’s an asset for any company.