Facebook irritates US consumers more than the IRS

We all know that social media’s image has been tainted by issues such as personal data abuse, intrusive display advertising, and plagues of unsolicited demands from ‘friends’ to join mafia or pirate clans; but issues such as these have so irritated US consumers that they have rated Facebook as more annoying than many airlines, cable firms and even the IRS, according to research.

The study, conducted by ForeSee Results and the American Customer Satisfaction Index, covered thirty online media brands in categories including search engines, news and information sites and – for the first time in July 2010 – social media sites.

Overall, Facebook came in the bottom 5% of those private sector businesses measured – “in the same range as airlines and cable companies, two perennially low-scoring industries with terrible customer satisfaction”.

The research found that brands such as Facebook, MySpace, Wikipedia and YouTube achieved the worst “satisfaction” scores within the e-business group. However, this year’s survey did not include Twitter in its research.

According to a report on TechCrunch, ForeSee chief executive Larry Freed argues that social media’s betrayal of its roots has played a significant role in annoying consumers.

He makes the following point about Facebook: “Customer satisfaction is a combination of what you get and what you expect [from a website].

“The business model of starting out free and ad-free, then turning your site into something else over time works somewhere in tech, but from the average consumer standpoint it doesn’t work.”

In effect he is arguing that the more obtrusively commercial social media becomes, the more sceptical of it and disengaged from it people will become.

Companies were scored between nought and 100. Facebook scored just 64 points, Wikipedia toted 77, YouTube scored 73 and MySpace was awarded 63 points.

To be fair to Facebook – so often painted as arrogant and lofty – the site reacted to the research, giving TechCrunch the following statement: “We haven’t reviewed the survey methodology in detail, but clearly we have room to improve.

“Building a simple, useful service is the best way to earn and sustain the trust people put in us. That’s why we spend so much of our time and energy focused on improving the products we offer and introducing new ones.” It’s a statement that sidesteps the real concern, though – that Facebook is more interested in its advertisers than it is its members.

That said, Freed points out that (so far) user loyalty has remained largely unaffected – people aren’t leaving Facebook and going to newer social media sites. They may be using it less, but they’re not defecting.

He draws a parallel between Facebook and eBay. “[EBay] has all these buyers and sellers, a large dominant group,” he says. “If you want to sell, where are you going? Until consumers get a seriously viable alternative, they’re going nowhere.”

ForeSee said that next year it plans to add Twitter to the survey, explaining that it didn’t add the site to this year’s research because users access it through a variety of third-party applications, such as TweetDeck, giving people a mixed user-experience.

With Twitter in the ascendancy (although Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg would question this) and (so far) pursuing a less aggressive (and intrusive) commercial strategy than some rivals, it will be interesting to see a year from now where it scores on consumer satisfaction, compared with Facebook. Will Twitter’s attempts to drive revenues compromise its ideals enough to score it as low as its biggest rival?

The survey researched 223 online and offline companies. Only 10 of those scored below 65, including Facebook, MySpace, and airlines and cable providers. The full report is available freely.