If Facebook doesn't stop walking over its users, it risks having them leave for social networks that do a better job of keeping them satisfied - particularly Google+. That's the message in the latest survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), which lists several ways in which Facebook continues to alienate its user base.
While Google+ topped the survey's social media category, Facebook was dead last. Users are angry over the way it handles just about everything they care about: privacy, advertising and the way they interact on the social network. The survey suggests that if Facebook doesn't dramatically improve customer happiness, people could leave when given an alternative. "We know that consumers go where they're satisfied," said Larry Freed, president and chief executive of ForeSee, which partnered with the ACSI in releasing the survey.
Facebook's bottom-of-the-barrel ACSI score of 61, 17 points below Google+, indicates that Facebook has done a dismal job of coddling users during the many changes the site has gone through while trying to build a business around advertising.
"A reasonable person would say Facebook at some point has to make money, but users aren't always reasonable," Freed said.
Facebook's Latest Stumble
How a company handles change plays a big part in determining whether customers stay or head for a competitor. Facebook's latest flub came with Timeline, the user interface introduced in January that transformed users' bulletin-board-like profile into a visual scrapbook of their lives. The ACSI found that the switch to Timeline was users' most common complaint.
Many people were shell-shocked when the switch to Timeline became permanent. Facebook could have helped users with the transition by letting them switch back and forth between the two interfaces for a much longer period of time.
"You want to make changes, you want to make improvements, and yet, if you make them too drastically, consumers struggle," Freed said.
Other Reasons to Hate
The ACSI survey also found that users don't trust the company to ensure their privacy. This skittishness continues despite Facebook's efforts to give users more privacy controls. People also remain concerned about their data being sold to advertisers and whether it is sufficiently secure.
Another user concern is control of their own experience. This month, for example, Facebook caused an uproar on the site by switching users' default email addresses to @facebook.com without notification.
Increased advertising on the site also bothers users. Many see Facebook ads as intrusive and as having no relevance to them. Facebook will have to find a balance to avoid alienating people further.
"Satisfaction is a combination of what you get and what you expect," Freed explained. "The expectations over the years have been not a lot of ads, if any, and now either Facebook will have to adjust or consumers will have to adjust."
Google+ as Competitor?
For now, there's still no place for disgruntled Facebook users to turn to as an alternative. Google claims that 150 million people log into its Google+ social network at least once a month, with half of those signing in daily. That's a mere fraction of the more than 900 million "monthly active users" claimed by Facebook. But Google+ is only about a year old. It could still grow into a viable alternative to Facebook, particularly if it continues to satisfy its users. Google+ made its debut on the ACSI with a score of 78, tied for number one with Wikipedia.
As things stand, Google+ doesn't have the heft to encourage people to leave Facebook. Instead, Google highlights things it claims the service does better, such as tracking topics people care about and acting as the social glue across Google's other products, including YouTube, Blogger and Gmail. But Freed predicted that could change over time: "As they grow that network, at some point, it may be big enough to be a direct competitor."