In a recent customer satisfaction report popular sites like Facebook and YouTube fared worse than Wikipedia even though the majority of respondents admitted visiting the other social sites more often. Twitter was notably absent from the data, but (just a guess) may have been included in the “all others” category outside of those sites named directly.
For some perspective on the lack of consumer satisfaction, Facebook beat out MySpace by only one point, 64 to 63, on a 100-point scale. The study, conducted by Foresee Results, scored social sites according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which is used to measure customer satisfaction on everything from athletic shoes to pet food and credit unions. The aggregate social media site score placed it between airlines and property/casualty insurance.
While I think there may be a lot missing in how satisfaction is calculated on the web, since a site’s popularity has to do with the fact that the people are there. If all my friends left Facebook I would have no reason to visit the site ever again.
Flipping the Switch from Free to Commercial
One major theme found in the dissatisfaction of social sites is that the strategy of moving from a free site without advertising to a commercial site WITH advertising is a tricky maneuver.
Commercialization of social media sites may be impacting satisfaction. The strategy of starting out as a free service with no advertising or revenue source is an effective way to build traffic and loyalty, as is evidenced across all of these sites. However, starting out that way also trained customers to expect an experience on these sites that is relatively unencumbered by advertising and commercialization. As most of these sites have transitioned to generating revenue, the resulting commercialization has brought severe downward pressure on customer satisfaction, which opens the door for challengers.
Finding the right balance between making money through intrusive advertising and satisfying customers is critical, especially in the social media sphere. We expect to see ads on a news web- site like CNN.com, but our expectations on a social media site are for far less intrusive marketing and commercialization. Wikipedia’s non-profit model has allowed it to avoid the path of com- mercialization, and it is no coincidence that it has the highest satisfaction in this category. Of course sites like Facebook and MySpace need to make money, but the evolution from free content to a revenue model needs to be planned very carefully and executed flawlessly, while keeping in mind consumer expectations and needs at every turn. A big part of meeting those expectations is managing them from very early on in the maturity of the business model.
Francois Gossieaux has been saying this for years — flipping the switch from a social relationship to a transactional relationship, and vice versa, is nearly impossible; human beings seem to be hard-wired against making that move.
It’s About the People, Stupid
The question I can’t help but ask is, if people are unsatisfied with the site, but the site remains popular, how important is customer satisfaction? How important are social sites if they’re just the box we play in to connect with others? YouTube may be the exception here since the primary focus for most users is to share content, or host content so they can share it elsewhere.
What Does it Mean to be Satisfied?
I really wish studies like this provided access to the battery of questions or actual transcripts of interviews. I can’t help but think that satisfaction with the site isn’t colored with other feelings of guilt for spending too much time on the site, fear over the privacy issues touted in the media, a misunderstanding of what the site is supposed to provide… I just can’t help but think that satisfaction with a site I use to connect with other humans might be measured differently than my level of satisfaction with a pair of running shoes.
Since I was stymied by the results of this survey, I decided to ask others on Twitter:
— this quote was brought to you by quoteurl
What are We Looking For?
I contemplate these things because as someone who tries to help businesses and individuals make sense of how to connect online, I often wonder if anyone really knows what they want.
Are people in social networks really unsatisfied with the sites themselves, or with each other?
Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds
Disclosure: My employer is a customer of Foresee Results.
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