WordPress Content Sharing Plugins: A Review
Don't Forget To Share...
An important part of a successful blog is creating useful and informative content - content people will enjoy and share with their friends and colleagues. It's one thing to write something that an individual reader will find interesting - that will get you one reader or subscriber. Creating something that your readers enjoy and learn from so much that they can't help but share it with everyone they know is something else entirely. Once you can do that, you have something that will gain you not just a reader, but an audience... one link, and one tweet at a time.
Writing great content alone, however, isn't always enough. Sure, more motivated readers will take the time to copy and paste the URL of your post or article to Twitter or Digg, but you want more than that. To make sure you are getting as much reach as possible, you need to make sharing as easy as possible. Somewhere in the neighborhood of two mouse clicks would be ideal. With WordPress, there are a number of plugins that make this possible by placing links and/or buttons at the bottom of each post that will take your reader to a specific sharing site AND prep the text for them so all they have to do is click "Send" or "Update."
Tweet This is a handy little plugin that has a lot of nice features built in. Tweet This supports Plurk, Buzz, Delicious, Digg, Ping.fm, Reddit, Stumble Upon, and of course, Twitter. You can select which services you want to have appear on your posts and select from a number of different buttons for each, allowing you to give a larger, more prominant button to your favorite if you so choose.
One of the things that makes Tweet This really stand out is it's URL shortening feature. URL's can take up a lot of space in a Tweet, which is why most links in Tweets are shortened using a URL shortener. Tweet This automatically shortens the links for you, and allows you to select from fifteen different services, so you can use your favorite if you have one.
Tweet This also allows you to edit the text that appears in tweets (of course, your readers can type their own messages if they want), which is a nice feature. Tweet This will also display a list of tweets about your article (if you want it to) and lets you choose how many tweets to display.
All in all, a nice plugin. Has a lot of settings to play around with but isn't ultimately as robust as some of the other options, as it only (currently) supports the eight listed services (although too many options can also cause a problem, as I'll describe later on).
AddThis is probably one of the most popular options. It is a simple button that when hovered over pops up a menu of different sharing services. This plugin offers your readers over 50 services to choose from in over 20 languages. You can specify what services you want the initial popup menu displays by typing them into a text field on the settings screen. You can further customize the plugin with a logo, company name, or a custom image (instead of the default button) by following the instructions on this page.
AddThis also allows you to track the way your readers are using the button. All you have to do is register (for free) at AddThis.com for access to a dashboard full of charts and graphs.
AddThis is a very useful plugin, which is why it's one of the most popular out there (it may even be the most popular). From my experience, there were only two draw backs. First, the customization options aren't easy for a beginner who may not be comfortable tweaking the code (although the instructions provided at the link above are very concise). In addition to that this particular plugin shares a common flaw with other popup style sharing options: with so many options it can be a bit overwhelming/tedious to find the site you are looking for if the owner of the blog you are reading didn't put it at the top of the list.
Share this is another very popular popup style plugin (this one is actually used by HubPages.) At the bottom of every Hub, you'll see the familiar green "Share It!" button.
Share This has a lot in common with the previous plugin, AddThis, although ShareThis doesn't offer as many services, it is a heck of a lot nicer looking. Once the plugin is activated, you can visit ShareThis.com/WordPress to customize colors, and header text. You can also select which if the 45+ services you want your readers to choose from, and in what order they should appear in the popup menu. You also have the option to customize the link text that appears next to the Share This icon at the bottom of your posts. Once you have the settings you want, you must copy the code provided into the box on the Share This settings screen in you WordPress admin area.
Also like AddThis, you can register with an account on the ShareThis website in order to gain access to tracking and stats for your reader's usage of the button.
The drawbacks to this one are pretty much the same as those for AddThis, although it is more easily customizable.
Last but not least, is our favorite: the Add-To-Any plugin (which recently got it's 200,000th download, making it the most popular sharing plugin on WordPress blogs). This one combines all but one of the best features of the above three. With Add-To-Any you get the same popup menu functionality as with AddThis and Share this, but with a LOT more control. Add-To-Any pride themselves on delivering exactly what the name of their plugin implies: the ability to share content with any service you can think of - over 100 services supported (I think the last time I counted was 109 to be exact).
Now, generally, I prefer options like Tweet This, because they provide individual buttons for specific services, rather than a huge, cumbersome list. As I mentioned before, these long lists of choices aren't very convenient, which sort of defeats the whole purpose, and a list of 100+ options would definitely be a problem.
Add-To-Any developed what I think is the perfect solution, by giving you both options. Add-To-Any allows you to select what it calls "Stand Alone Services" which will display their own independent icon in whatever order you wish. After that you have the option to provide a button that will take your readers to a popup menu of 12 more choices (from there they'll find a "more" button to see the full list, or they can use the provided search box).
It's also extremely easy to customize the look of the menu. By visiting Menu Styler (there's a button for this right on the settings page for the plugin) you can customize all of the colors of the popup menu to match your blog's color scheme. Simply copy the generated code into the provided box and you're all set
The really cool part is how Add-To-Any makes the size of it's listed services a non-issue. Most popup plugins let the blog owner decide what order the services should be listed, which is good if you want to try and force your readers to use a specific service that you think will bring you the most traffic. The only problem with that is people want to share where they want to share... and if you make their personal preference hard (or impossible) to find, they probably won't bother at all. The way Add-To-Any addresses this is with "Smart Menus." Smart menus place the services that your readers use most at the top of the list, by quickly scanning their browser history. Whichever services your readers have used recently are the ones that are listed first, in bold print!
Add-To-Any also provides a different type of tracking solution: the stats for plugin usage integrate directly with Google Ananlytics, (which is one of the best ways to track traffic to and on your blog anyway). No need for a separate account on a separate website - the information is right at your fingertips in the same place with the rest of your statistics.
With all of these positives, Add-To-Any only has one tiny drawback that I've noticed, and it's something they could very well fix in a future release: It'd be great if there were an easy way to customize default tweet text like you can with Tweet This, because that would make posting literally a two-click process for your readers.
Apart from that though, this plugin stands (in my opinion) head and shoulder above the competition.
So... what do you do?
Ultimately, the best way to decide which plugin you want to use for you blog is going to be testing your different options. Search for different plugins, install them and take them for a test drive... usually after reading the documentation provided by the developer and taking a look at the settings screen (and how the plugin appears in your posts,) you can get a pretty good feel for how it is going to work for you over the long term.
Give a few options a try and pick the one you like best... but always remain open to new alternatives... you never know when you'll stumble across a new plugin that has that one feature you've been wishing for!
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Sean Croxton grew up in Alameda, California. He was very active in his youth, and was an avid basketball player, but unfortunately fell into the trap that plagues so many American children: processed foods. While he was...