The Social Media Experience: Dislike

With no end in sight to the social media explosion, high-profile players in the industry are counting their user bases—and their revenue streams—looking for a ways to increase both. ACSI’s July 2012 results show that the industry as a whole is missing the boat on one critical factor: the customer experience.

Social media earns an ACSI score of 69 in 2012—the lowest score among three e-business categories and near the bottom of the Index overall. In contrast, user satisfaction with portals & search engines is 79, while the news & information category scores 73.

Generally speaking, the road to higher user satisfaction for social media may never be that smooth considering challenges like privacy concerns or the sheer volume of advertising that comes with the territory for these sites. But ACSI data reveal just how poorly social media websites perform when it comes to their user interfaces.

The ACSI model for e-business includes a measure of “homepage” that is based on questions about completeness, accessibility, and organization. The three e-business categories line up in the same order as they do for user satisfaction, with portals & search engines showing a strong advantage over social media. While reducing advertising may not always be an option, improving user interfaces certainly would help make social media more appealing in the long run.

In the ACSI model, perceived quality is the key driver of customer satisfaction for most industries. Quality includes a measure of customization, which is how well the product or service meets an individual’s needs, and reliability, or how often things go wrong.

No surprises here: social media rates lowest in e-business for both customization and reliability. The sharpest contrast is for customization—an area where portals & search engines clearly excel with a score of 83 (compared to 72 for social media and 77 for news & information).

The happier users are with their online experiences, the more likely it is that they will continue to visit a particular site or recommend it to a friend. But simply adding more and more users is not necessarily the formula for success in social media, as Facebook’s weak IPO—and its stock’s failure to rebound in the weeks following—has shown. If a social media site could meet the needs of its users at the same level as the portal and search engine business does now, it would likely garner much greater user satisfaction as well.