Social Networks, Particularly Facebook, Suffer From Low Customer Satisfaction

By Cameron Scott 

social networks, social media, At the close of 2012, the industries with the lowest customer satisfaction were airlines, print newspapers, cable television and social media, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, an annual independent study.

Social media companies stands out in a survey where low scores often correlate to troubled industries, such as the airlines. Within industries, too, often the most successful companies secure higher ratings than their struggling competitors.

As an industry, social media fell slightly from an already low score that had been stable since the industry was first included in the survey in 2010.

“Companies or industries that are having a hard time satisfying their customers are going to be companies and industries in financial trouble,” said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee, a customer experience analytics firm that partners with ACSI to evaluate the social media companies.

But social media companies are for the most part thriving, as users continue to spend time on the websites and advertisers are increasingly willing to pay to gain access to their attention.

Company ratings, too, were unpegged to broad user bases or robust monetization strategies.

Google+ tied with Wikipedia to lead the companies evaluated with a score of 78 out of 100. Just behind was another Google property, YouTube. Pinterest rounded out those meeting or exceeding the lackluster industry average of 69.

Facebook fared worst of all, though it barely edged out LinkedIn and Twitter.

“They’re in a near monopoly situation: That’s where everybody is and there’s really no other game in town. Yet consumers are pretty dissatisfied with Facebook,” Freed said.

User discontent stems from three problems, Freed said: privacy and security concerns, the frequent changes that Facebook makes, which are particularly disruptive for casual users, and the introduction of advertising.

Consumers initially saw Facebook as free, “but now you’re paying for it be being advertised to. The change from no monetization strategy to a pretty aggressive monetization strategy has driven that statistic to a low level,” Freed said.

Lack of advertising helped account for the relatively favorable ratings of Google+, Wikipedia and Pinterest, he said. Goolge+ also benefits from having a smaller constituency that it serves, and both it and YouTube probably also benefit from a halo effect of Google’s overall offerings.

But as social platforms grow, they have to appeal to the general public. Twitter’s sub-par satisfaction ratings largely reflect its failure to sell casual users on its value, according to Freed.

While the company sees higher satisfaction among its core users, its overall rating as it expands its user base matters, too.

“If you asked me, what’s the future of Twitter as a mass market product, I would say it has a long way to go,” Freed said.

The social media industry results were first published in July. The economy-wide survey results were released in December.

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