dog on Facebook

Uh oh, online news providers: It looks like you're losing the fight for customer satisfaction.

Perhaps even worse, you're losing it to social media — a category that one year ago ranked worst among the industries measured by American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI).

ACSI has released its latest scores and the turnaround by the social media is significant, even dramatic.

What Happened?

To be clear, the fact that social media as a category improved was not a surprise, ACSI Director David VanAmburg told CMSWire. It was the rate of the improvement that turned heads a bit at the benchmark provider.

Here's the math:

The social media category, after a 4.2 percent year-over-year climb, now has a score of 74 on ACSI's 100-point scale.

Internet news and opinion websites, for their part, dropped 1.4 percent during the same time to a score of 73.

Perhaps the most dramatic marker of this shift: Facebook improved its score considerably, reaching 75 on the ACSI scale. People like it more, if you will, than the general category of online news.

For diehard journalists, ACSI does have a peace offering. The New York Times also improved its score and is one-percentage point higher than Facebook. Still, though, the general news category is facing an uphill climb.

Why, Oh Why?

Now here's the explanation, per ACSI reckoning.

There are a few reasons how this shift happened, VanAmburg said. Over the course of the last year social media become more respectful of its users' feelings about privacy and their wish to be left alone — for the most part, that is — from advertisers.

Now, they didn't actually let users play on the sites unmolested by companies hoping to sell them on a product or service.

Rather, social media's targeting capabilities became refined enough that the ads that were displayed to users were actually ones the users wanted to see.

"A lot of the social media sites, Facebook in particular, have been working hard to develop more targeted advertising," he said. "What has happened is that advertising on these sites have actually increased, but users have not noticed that."

Instead they are being served ads that truly resonate with what they are interested in — and thus do not resent the ads.

"The perception of advertising is that it now fits better with the personal needs of users," he said.

Another factor is that social media has become far more adept with mobile, while the news organizations have not made similar strides. As more people shift to using their smartphones and tablets as their primary screens, clunky mobile apps and news sites that are not mobilized for readers are repelling traffic.

Fortunately for news sites, social media users freely share news articles of interest to them, VanAmburg said.

"More and more people are using social media as a gateway to sharing news stories now. There is a lot to be said for this trend — clearly social media is no longer just about networking or staying in touch with friends but also is an important conduit for sharing information about products and news events."

A Deeper Dive into the Data

  • Facebook registered the most improvement out of the social media companies measured, rising 12 percent to an ACSI score of 75, one percentage point higher than the industry average.
  • The leading company in terms of customer satisfaction, however, was Pinterest — a title it has claimed two years in a row now. After a 3 percent increase it reached an ACSI score of 78. Instagram made its first appearance in the Index with a score of 76.
  • YouTube jumped 4 percent to 76, and viewing time is up 60 percent.
  • Another Google property, Google Plus, is up 6 percent to 75.
  • In this survey Twitter reached its highest ACSI score to date, rising 3 percent to 71.
  • Trailing behind — at 71 — are Reddit and Snapchat, which dropped 3 percent over the past 12 months.
  • Microblogging platform Tumblr posted its first ACSI score at 69. LinkedIn remains at the bottom despite a 1 percent uptick to 68.

NYT vs. FoxNews.com

In the news and opinion website category, ACSI reports the New York Times jumped 4 percent to a score of 76 following a major website redesign.

The increase brings the site on part with FoxNews.com, which stayed the same at 76. USA Today's website dropped 4 percentage points to 74, and is now tied with ABCNews.com.

MSNBC.com is up 3 percent to 75, while CNN.com gained 4 percent to match the industry average of 73. The aggregate score of all other, smaller outlets dropped an eyebrow-raising 6 percent to 72, losing its edge from a year ago.

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