Ratings lag on social sites

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As more advertisers use social media, consumers' taste for it is waning, according to a new survey.

Sites such as Facebook and MySpace rated surprisingly low in customer satisfaction indices compiled for the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The survey, created by the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, compiled data from 70,000 consumers.

“It comes down to expectations,” said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, which carried out the survey. “When we move things from a free model to an ad-driven model, consumers are exposed to ads in places they are not used to seeing them....It starts to impact our experience.”

He said Facebook, which rated 64 on a 0-100 scale, is a good example of a site that has lost favor as it tries to monetize its audience. The site vows it will stay free to subscribers, but it is possible some would pay for it, if they could avoid the ads and add-ons, he added.

Among the social media sites, the highest scores went to Wikipedia (77) and YouTube (73); MySpace came in behind Facebook, with a score of 63.

An excess of advertising also seems to be hurting users' satisfaction with search engines. Overall satisfaction with portals and search engines was down 7.2% and all the major portals were down, except AOL, which was up 5.7%.

Google, which has been the leader in user rankings for all but one year since ASCI started ranking it in 2002, lost 7% of its customer satisfaction score, its lowest score ever. It dropped to second place behind the “All Other” category covering niche sites such as Dogpile. Bing, the new portal launched by Microsoft, was the third most popular portal, followed by Yahoo.

This customer unease can be a problem at a time when marketers are rushing to figure out how to work social media into their plans.

“When you talk to those CMOs who are utilizing social media, their comment is, ‘This is a good thing to do but they still don't understand the value of this tool,'” said Freed. He noted ForeSee is launching a value calculation tool that helps measure dollars driven by social media.

Right now, Facebook and Google dominate their segments, but that consumer dissatisfaction opens the door a crack for competitors to arise, said Freed. “They need to address the consumer, or when they have an alternative, they will go there. You need to monetize things to survive, but if you go too far, the customers will react,” he added.

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