On Friday, Twitter stopped displaying share counts on its tweet buttons, officially pulling the plug on one of the ways publishers signal the popularity of content. Twitter had announced the move in October, saying that it needed to make the change to consolidate and simplify its platform and that the API endpoint used to serve the count was unofficial and not entirely accurate. After the shutdown, Twitter share totals disappeared from sites that include social buttons with share totals, including Slate, the Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly and multitudes of smaller organizations.
Short of a reversal by Twitter, publishers don’t have many options. Twitter’s shutdown of the count also means that third-party providers of share buttons no longer have a free way to access full sharing data. To retain the feature, they would have to pay Twitter’s Gnip subsidiary for access to the full search archive. Gnip prices are variable but pricey (said to range from $300 to $50,000 a month) based on how much data is served. For now, the third-party providers we talked to — AddThis, Gigya and Janrain — are taking a wait-and-see approach. None of them are including full Twitter share totals, although Janrain is offering the option to include a count of the number of times a page has been shared using the Janrain Twitter button. One developer has created a free alternative using Twitter’s search API. OpenShareCount, the developer says, will work with any third-party button, but it’s a beta product, so use it at your own risk. For sites most concerned with internal tracking of how well articles are performing on Twitter,BuzzSumo has created a free Chrome plugin that shows sharing totals for any page. It also shows sharing totals for Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+. Most major publishers depend on enterprise analytics platforms to measure their progress on social media. For those with smaller budgets, Twitter Analytics can show publishers their top-performing links. Many major publishers — BuzzFeed, the New York Times, CNN and the BBC, for instance — no longer display any social share totals on article pages. And one media executive we talked to isn’t worried about the change. Fisher Fisher, technical product manager for Cox Media Group, said displaying share counts isn’t a priority for his company’s newspaper, radio and TV websites. As a Janrain client, Cox properties are able to see sharing activity generated for the sites, but Fisher said they are focusing more on other analytics. “I think we’ve come so far past that in social,” he said. “It’s kind of known that that’s not the way. I would rather go by how many people are actually reading an article on ajc.com or myajc.com than sharing it. At the end of the day, we still rent social media and we own our O and Os [Owned and Operateds] so I would rather know the content that’s being read on our sites than live and die by what’s being shared on Twitter or liked or whatever.”