Social networks are key to helping promote a site and in turn make sales. Google in cat places a lot of emphasis on sites that users like (or +1, digg, etc.) so making sure that your visitors can promote content they enjoy is paramount to a sites success.
Recently I have been trying to find quality social networking plugins to help me improve ApinaPress’ own social rankings and I managed to obtain a copy of Social Toolbar Pro to check and out and review for you guys (as well as myself).
Most social plugins work in two main ways, they either add some horizontal icons at the top/bottom of a post or they are in a floating menu to the side of the site.
Generally the first option is better as I find side floating plugins don’t cut it on smaller screens (the world is going mobile people!).
Social Toolbar Pro meets us in the middle on this, by providing an horizontal toolbar either at the top or bottom of your site, which floats with the content so is always visible.
The bar is made up of 3 sections, on the left is links to your social network profiles, on the right is share buttons and at the top is a recent twitter section.
The settings for the plugin are quite in depth, you can turn on/off and change almost anything.
Background colour, font colour, icon colour, even the hover state colour can all be changed. There is options to display the plugin site wide or just in specific areas of your site like single posts and pages (which is really the only place you need it)
The number of share buttons is limited to 5. This might seem like a downside when comparing the plugin to others like shareaholic which has seemingly hundreds, but lets face it, people use Facebook, Twitter and Google+ as their main sharing options.
Too many options can cause analysis paralysis!
Social Toolbar Pro also provides you with the ability to add links to your social network profiles as well and provides a long list of ones you can choose from, much bigger list than the share options.
Though the toolbar shrinks as you resize the browser, having too many icons on there can be a problem on smaller screens, the share icons tend to get cropped off first, when really it should resize at small mobile sizes, so keep it light.
If you link your Twitter account to the plugin, it can also grab your most recent tweet and display it, which is a nice way to promote a conversation.
Further to the customisation of the plugin, not only can you change the colour scheme easily but you can new social networks manually or change the icons to fit your theme, which is a wonderful touch, most plugins just provide set icons.
Social Toolbar Pro is definitely a premium plugin, you can see it in the number of options available that most free plugins fail to provide.
One thing that did seem to be missing though was the ability to swap the share icons to the left but this is minor in my opinion.
Will I be using this plugin on ApinaPress? No, the plugin doesn’t fit in with my vision of where the site is going or the next redesign which is being planned. I may change my mind, the plugin is solid and I can definitely see its usage on different sites. The fact that it is always visible but at the same time it is unobtrusive is great and no need to overly worry about it being lost on smaller screens.
There is a free version of the Social Toolbar available, but the customisation options and social network list is limited, and starting at $25 for a single site license the premium version is a steal.