When you post an article and it gets 3 shares on Facebook, 7 on Twitter and 2 on Google+, is that good or bad? How does it compare to your other posts? How does it add to your overall total?
Without an accurate count of social shares, you don’t know. You might know that on average your posts are shared 5 times on Facebook, thus making that article a bit below average. Or is it? You also have to consider time. 3 shares in the first day, when you average 5 over the lifetime of an article, is pretty good. Then again, some sites have posts that get shared 1,500+ times on average. It’s all a matter of perspective.
On an individual article basis, counting social shares is pretty easy. I assume you’re using a social sharing plugin, something like this. When you configure these plugins, you typically have the option to display share counts for each of the networks the plugin uses. Just enable that display and count all of the shares.
Of course, if you’re capable of doing a little coding, you can make this more automatic. Some sites, like Mashable, have an aggregate view count displayed. When you hover over it, it shows the spread of those shares amongst different social networks.
The spread of social networks is really the most difficult thing to deal with when you’re counting your social shares. Which networks do you count, and which do you ignore? Facebook, Twitter, Google+, obviously you want to count those. What about the slightly less important sites, like Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon or Reddit? What about Buffer, which isn’t really used as a social network and tends to be a more professional tool?
Even if you count all those, what about others? What about Delicious, Inbound, Pocket, ScoopIt, Hacker News, Vkontakte, Xing or BizSugar? They all allow you to track shares, and if you want a complete total of all of your social shares, you’ll need to track them all.
The question you have to ask yourself is where you draw the line between a social share and a backlink. That’s really all social shares are; specialized backlinks on social networks. If you want, you can make a selection of social networks to tally, and ignore everything else as nothing more than a backlink.
If you’re at all familiar with coding, you can create your own aggregated share counter. You can keep it as a back-end tool, or you can use it to display total shares on your page; it’s up to you.
The way you’ll do this is to develop some code to pull data from the API for each of the social networks you’re concerned with. This is critical, and it means you can’t measure the shares from a site that doesn’t have an API. I’m looking at you, Instagram.
This site has a list of social networks and the URL you need to access in order to pull shared count from an API. It also helpfully displays the data and format for those shares, so you can pull your data accurately.
Of course, if you can code it to pull data from the various APIs of these various social sites, someone else can. It follows that if someone else can, someone else probably has. It’s just a matter of finding out where they did, and whether or not their product is worth using.
The first option I’ve found is Sharedcount.com. It’s a small, lightweight and incredibly fast tool. You plug in a URL and it gives you data about it. You get Facebook likes, shares, comments and the total of all three. You get Twitter tweets, Google+ +1s and Pinterest pins. They also include LinkedIn shares and StumbleUpon stumbles, though it’s questionable how well those works.
I question their accuracy because, as a trial, I put Mashable.com into the system. It records 15,429 total Facebook actions, 6.6 million +1s on Google+, but only 32 pins, 8 tweets and 0 shares on LinkedIn. It also pulls different data between HTTP and HTTPS urls.
I think Sharedcount is a more accurate tool for pulling the shares of a given post, rather than for a site as a whole. For example, pulling a direct article from Mashable reports 566 Tweets and 45 Facebook actions, which tallies up to be 611 actions. Mashable’s own count for that post is 612, so it’s fairly accurate.
The second tool I’ve found is ShareTally. This is a slower tool, but it covers a much wider range of social networks. Plus, it includes a total number.
How accurate is it? Once again, I turned to Mashable’s article. Using the same post, which has increased to 715 shares in the time it took to write the last few paragraphs, ShareTally records 651 shares. Using Mashable as a whole, it pulls much more accurate numbers for tweets and stumbles. LinkedIn is still 0, though, which leads me to believe they changed their API or have removed the relevant code recently.
There’s one other form of “social share” that isn’t really countable, but might be interesting to see. Specifically, you can go to SocialMention and plug in your brand name or the title of one of your posts. This will give you a list of search results where your keyword has been mentioned. This, in a sense, counts as an implied link and is certainly an element of brand recognition.
The unfortunate downside to social mention is that it’s not really all that useful for getting a direct count of anything. It’s limited in time and thus in scope. It does, however, give you quite a bit of additional information, including the names of users who mention you the most, and the sentiment of those mentions.
Oh, and one last side note before I end this and leave it up to you; all of these tools are free to use and completely unreliant on being the owner of the site in question. Obviously, I don’t own Mashable. That means you can use these tools, or even just API calls, to pull all of the same data for your competitors. Curious how you stack up against your biggest rival? Put their URL in after your own, and you’ll see their data as well.
James is a content marketing professional who enjoys writing useful content for bloggers. He’s a contributing writer at Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, and Business Insider.