In October of last year, Twitter made the hard decision to remove the tweet count data the way it was presented at the time, without replacing it. I would say they simply removed the API access, but that's not strictly true, because there was no real API for that data. They announced the news in this blog post, and at the time, marketers talked about the death of the social button and the viability of buttons without social counts. Not having the count made many third party button suites lopsided, and made Twitter stand out in a negative way.

What they didn't know at the time was that they were starting a trend. This trend continues today with the loss of access to the share_count data for Facebook. 

Facebook has not yet made an announcement about the loss of this data. Or have they? So far, it seems that the shared count data was coming from the old 2.0 version of the Graph API. For those who have been keeping up with such things, Facebook is up to 2.7, and 2.0 was retired back on the 7th of this month. Only now are the changes being felt, however.

Among these changes is the loss of third party social share counts. The appropriately named SharedCount business is retiring their Facebook data product, as they have been unable to adapt to the changes despite working on it. Users running WordPress plugins with sharing buttons are finding that only the official buttons work. ShareTally, which has returned zero for Twitter since their change, now no longer returns data for Facebook either.

This is an interesting change. Facebook clearly still shows share counts on their own buttons. It's only the availability of data for third party buttons that has been removed. In other words, Facebook is trying to shut down third party share counters, in favor of making marketers either use no-count buttons like Twitter, or making them use the official Facebook buttons.

Of course, many people don't like the official buttons. They're perfectly fine on their own, but they don't match the button design of every other social network, and they don't fit in many different designs. They're often small and somewhat out of place in terms of design. 

My question is actually how long Facebook's buttons will continue showing share counts. I may be erring on the apocalyptic side here, but this hints to me at a larger change in the works. Facebook share counts are a good metric to monitor for tracking engagement rates, but the display of the counts wasn't necessarily helpful or valuable. How many people ever fact-checked post share counts, anyway? The number of times a post is shared was barely even a subtle bit of social proof, it was simply something everyone needed to have.

In a sense, it's a lot like Google's now-retired PageRank. It's a metric with some value, but it was assigned much greater value by the marketing community. So many people put so much work into optimizing their share counts, without thinking deeper into what those share counts meant. They didn't work towards better goals, and treated share counts as the goal in and of themselves.

I'm not saying seeking engagement is a bad thing, but it's just another example of fixation on a number that isn't as meaningful as people thought it was. The question is, then, is this the end of third party sharing counts? Or is Facebook going to release another way of getting that data, and revive the industry they're putting pressure on with this change? We'll see if they make an announcement in the coming days.

Published on: Aug 18, 2016