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Facebook Has Half a Billion Members but Few Real Friends

Facebook Has Half a Billion Members but Few Real Friends

Facebook is crowing over reaching its latest milestone -- 500 million members and counting -- even though a great many of those members have expressed dissatisfaction with the company, resulting in an embarrassingly low ranking in the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index. Consumers like Facebook about as much as they like airlines and cable companies -- and that's even less than they like the IRS.

By Erika Morphy
07/21/10 11:17 AM PT

Facebook, one of the most popular sites on the Web -- now claiming 500 million users -- also has the dubious distinction of being one of the lowest-ranked in terms of customer satisfaction. Facebook scored a paltry 64 on the 100-point scale of the 2010 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Business Report. That puts it in the bottom 5 percent of all measured private sector companies, drawing the same level of consumer scorn as airline and cable companies. Indeed, its ranking is so low, even the IRS scored higher, the survey said.

This was the first survey in which ACSI measured consumer satisfaction with social media websites such as Facebook, MySpace, Wikipedia and YouTube. Twitter was not included in the social media category because a disproportionate number of users access Twitter through third-party applications, ACSI explained. Wikipedia leads the category at 77, followed by YouTube at 73, Facebook at 64 and MySpace at 63.

Facebook's low ranking came as a surprise, said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, which produced the survey in partnership with ACSI.

"It is an incredibly popular site with great growth," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Usually when scores are this low, customers begin looking for an alternative."

Of course, in this case, there are no other alternatives, he added. "It really is the only viable game in town for people who want to network online."

Changing Expectations

There are three main reasons customers seem to be unhappy with Facebook, Freed said. "The user experience changes a lot, which people don't like. They also don't like the monetization or commercialization schemes."

That is unfair to Facebook, he noted, as the site does have to earn revenue. Unfortunately for Facebook, customers had the expectation that there wouldn't be any -- or much -- marketing aimed at them when the site first launched.

The third reason for the discontent, Freed speculated, is widespread concern over privacy. Facebook already has taken steps to address that issue, but it is an open question whether its steps -- which included simplifying privacy controls -- have been sufficient to silence the critics.

One Facebook watcher who did not bat an eye when he saw its dismal ranking is Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC.

"Of course they would be that low," he told the E-Commerce Times. "I don't think Facebook appreciates how much of a concern the collection and use of their data is for users. It's another reason Congress and FTC should look more closely at Facebook's business practices."

Daily Utility

"The reality is that Facebook continually stumbles over itself by putting the consumer last and marketers first in this area," said David Binkowski, EVP of digital marketing at Lippe Taylor. Yet Facebook apparently "feels that people are okay with their current handling -- or mishandling -- of user privacy."

A related issue is that people are often bombarded with annoying emails resulting from their Facebook accounts that they don't know how to turn off, Binkowski told the E-Commerce Times.

"A Facebook birthday is both rewarding and extremely frustrating due to the notifications that are automatically filling up your in-box. And let's not get started on 'Farmville,' 'Wheel of Fortune' and 'Mafia Wars' pleas that make it into one's daily feed."

The crux of the issue, though, said Binkowski, is that Facebook has become a daily utility for most people. So "when it doesn't work properly, people become dissatisfied."

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