Giving visitors the opportunity to share your content on social media seems like a good idea, as may using free plug-ins to provide this facility. It’s free marketing after all, isn’t it? Unfortunately not, the cost is two-fold.
Free plug-ins – they are not free, most are essentially malware. Those we’ve looked at include tracking code to send back data to centralised databases – the business model is: “this visitor has shared this page with these people on say, Facebook/LinkedIn etc., therefore this person and the people they are sharing this with may be interested in this type of content so we can sell this information to advertisers who are selling goods and services related to this type of content”. On this basis, the plugin is effectively 'slurpin' data from your site to gather information its originator can then sell on to your competitors.
They also pull in resources and files from sites that are external to your own. This will slow your site speed down with the consequences of diminishing your site visitors’ experience and probably adversely impacting upon your Search Engine ranking position (especially Google’s) – the data ‘harvesting’ element being the main culprit. Assessing the impact of two freebie ‘sharing’ plug-ins (ShareThis and Shareaholic); inadvisably installed by a couple of clients of ours, we found that these added between 1,281 m/s and 2,235 m/s to their sites’ download times. Much of this overhead was associated with the ‘data harvesting’ activity. As having this facility seems to be an important part of many organisations’ social media marketing activity we wrote our own ‘sharing’ code and incorporated this into our core software framework – needless to say this has zero impact upon site speed and does not harvest visitors’ data for the benefit of our clients’ competitors.