ACSI Commentary July 2012

ACSI Expands Coverage of Social Media

Commentary on Internet News & Information, Internet Portals & Search Engines, and Internet Social Media

July 17, 2012

Social Media Websites

This year, the ACSI more than doubles the number of websites covered in the social media category, adding Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter.com. The lackluster customer satisfaction of several of these sites, coupled with a steep decline for Facebook, results in a 1.4% drop for the overall category to an ACSI score of 69—one of the lowest of all industries (only airlines, subscription TV, and newspapers fare worse).

Because social media so frequently involves the sharing of personal information, privacy remains a major concern for users. The sheer volume of advertising on these sites is another contributor to low satisfaction. Many users are uneasy about how their personal information is used and often do not see value in the advertising messages that are targeted to them.

Wikipedia leads for a third straight year among social media sites, unchanged at an ACSI score of 78. This time, however, the user-generated information site has company: Google+ makes a strong debut at 78, tying Wikipedia. Meanwhile, social network rival Facebook plunges 8% to a category low of 61, one of the weakest customer satisfaction scores in the entire Index.

Facebook’s drop coincides with the release of its Timeline profile, a significant change to the look and organization of its pages. Users complain that they cannot opt out of the new profile design. The big drop in user satisfaction—coming on the heels of Facebook’s somewhat disorderly IPO—doesn’t bode well for reversing the company’s sliding stock price.

It may seem odd that a company with more users than any other company in the world has such a low, and falling, level of customer satisfaction. But, paradoxically, Facebook’s enormous user base also has created a certain degree of monopoly power. There are currently no alternatives in scope and size to Facebook. Many users have invested significant time in creating their individual social networking spaces from the vast array of friends and connections available through Facebook. As such, switching costs in time and inconvenience are so high that many users continue to accept something with which they are not all that satisfied rather than start over on another social network.

Google+, however, has grown to 250 million users in about a year and appears to benefit from a mobile app that is well liked, along with its ability to integrate other Google services like search, YouTube, and mail via the Google+ platform. In addition, the Google+ social network is not inundated with the kind of advertising that seems to irritate many Facebook and other social media users.

The Google-owned, video-sharing site YouTube is well behind Wikipedia and Google+, but still beats the category average with its ACSI score of 73 (-1%). The photo-sharing site Pinterest is next in line and ties the category average at 69. Far behind Pinterest and joining Facebook near the bottom are Twitter.com and the professional networking site LinkedIn, making their first appearances in the ACSI at 64 and 63, respectively. Monetizing schemes appear to be at the core of user dissatisfaction with both sites—from Twitter’s “Promoted Tweets” to LinkedIn’s “Recruiter” product that provides corporate subscribers access to account information for mass recruitment emails.

News & Information Websites

User satisfaction with websites that provide news, information, and opinion hasn’t changed much over the past decade, hovering within a narrow ACSI score range of 73 to 75. This year, the category is flat at 73. Historically, news and information sites fall somewhat below the mean for all goods and services (national ACSI is 75.9 as of Q1 2012). These websites tend to score low relative to other Internet services too. Among the six categories of websites covered by the ACSI, only social media ranks lower. Still, news and information sites do much better in customer satisfaction than newspapers, whose score of 64 is the lowest industry score in the Index.

FOXNews.com tops all news and information sites for a third straight year, gaining 2% to an ACSI score of 84. Most of the other sites cluster in the low- to mid-70s. ABCNEWS.com scores 76 following a 1% drop, with CNN.com (+1%) and USATODAY.com (-1%) next at 75. NYTimes.com (+1%) and MSNBC.com (-1%) swap places at 74 and 73, respectively, followed closely by the aggregate of smaller news and information websites (which includes other national and local newspaper sites), unchanged at 72.

Only Huffington Post lags the entire category by a significant margin, unchanged at 69. Traffic continues to grow following HuffPo’s acquisition by AOL, which has given the site more prominent exposure via the AOL portal. However, users continue to complain about confusing site navigation and slow loading of content. HuffPo also seems to suffer from more diffuse targeting. The site began as an opinionated liberal news commentary, but has evolved into a more general news and information site since its acquisition by AOL. Fox News is the opposite. It does very well in terms of customer satisfaction by catering to a conservative audience via a blend of news and conservative commentary.

Portals & Search Engines

Customer satisfaction with portals and search engines weakens by 1.3% to an ACSI score of 79, but they remain the highest ACSI-scoring among the e-business categories. Google drops 1% to 82, but hangs onto first place, narrowly edging out Microsoft’s search engine Bing, which slips 1% to 81. Over the past three years, Bing has doubled its share of the search market to 15%, but this remains small compared with Google, which has 65% of the market. Bing is trying to make inroads by integrating recommendations from social networking, in particular via Microsoft’s relationships with Facebook and Twitter. It will be interesting to see how this works out, especially since Google does not have access to much of the Facebook and Twitter data that Bing might be able to leverage for greater user satisfaction.

The question-and-answer search engine Ask.com is, by comparison, a niche player in the search business, but its user satisfaction is nearly as high as that of Google and Bing. Ask earns an unchanged ACSI score of 80 from its smaller, but highly loyal, visitor base. Ask ties the aggregate of smaller search engines and portal sites (such as Lycos.com and About.com), which slips 1% to 80.

Next in line, MSN (unchanged) and Yahoo! (-1%) are tied at 78. Down 1% to 74, AOL alone lags the category average and the rest of the field by a wide margin, just as its acquisition The Huffington Post does among news and information sites. With its membership down to around 3 million from a past high of 30 million, AOL no longer has a business model that is primarily about subscription-based Internet access. Nevertheless, even AOL’s free public portal does not compare well with its competitors.


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