Customer satisfaction with news, social media slides despite surge in traffic

ANN ARBOR—When the COVID-19 pandemic ramped up in the United States in March, visits to general news websites skyrocketed and social media usage surged. Yet, even before the pandemic sent traffic soaring across the e-business segment, customer satisfaction overall was weakening.

Customer satisfaction in all three e-business categories—social media, search engines and information, and news and opinion—has faltered over the past year, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Business Report 2019-2020.

“The pandemic merely amplified the downward trend that was already evident in the social media and internet news and opinion industries,” says David VanAmburg, managing director at the ACSI. “The spike in user numbers did nothing to improve satisfaction in these categories. In fact, both experienced additional small dips during the latter part of the ACSI interview period, which coincided with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.”

Pinterest’s social media lead shrinks; YouTube’s tumble opens door for Wikipedia

Social media continued its slow but persistent downward satisfaction trend, falling 2.8 percent overall to an ACSI score of 70 (out of 100). Once again, the category places in the bottom five among 46 ACSI industries. User satisfaction varies widely across individual platforms, with a 13-point gap separating the top from the bottom.

After two years of stability, Pinterest retreated 4 percent to a score of 77. While it remains the social media standard, ACSI data show that Pinterest’s overall site performance has eroded compared to last year.

Like Pinterest, YouTube suffered a 4 percent drop but stayed in second place at 75, leaving it in a three-way tie with Wikipedia (up 1 percent) and the smaller group of social media sites (up 1 percent), which includes Reddit and TikTok.

Snapchat (up 1 percent to 72) and Instagram (down 1 percent to 71) swapped places. For Instagram, this year marks its lowest level of satisfaction since its first ACSI measure in 2015.

The remaining sites all score below the industry average of 70. Twitter dipped 1 percent to 68, while LinkedIn slid 3 percent to 67. Tumblr climbed 3 percent to 66 but ranks worst in class for site navigation. Despite inching up 2 percent to 64, Facebook remains anchored to the industry’s bottom.

Online news faces perception and trust issues

After hitting a high point in 2019, user satisfaction with news and opinion websites slumped 3.9 percent to an ACSI score of 74. The decline is widespread, with nearly all online news outlets losing ground regardless of the political leanings of their audiences. ACSI data show that reader expectations overall have fallen significantly this year, dropping to the lowest level in six years.

While the group of smaller news and opinion sites tops the industry, it’s less appealing to readers this year, with satisfaction plummeting 5 percent to 76. FOXNews.com holds its lead among individually measured sites, yet fell 4 percent to a record-low score of 75.

ABCNews.com and NBCNews.com followed suit, both slipping 1 percent to 72. USAToday.com experienced a steeper slide, plunging 4 percent to 71.

NYTimes.com suffered the largest decline across all three e-business categories, with user satisfaction plummeting 8 percent to 70. For NYTimes.com, loyalty is at its lowest point in 15 years.

CNN.com is the only news site to buck the trend of declining satisfaction, moving up 1 percent to tie NYTimes.com. While CNN.com improved for the second year, satisfaction remains below its historic average.

HuffPost finishes in last place after inching back 1 percent to 69. Despite minor improvement, readers find advertising on HuffPost more intrusive than on other news sites.

Google maintains lead, while Yahoo! rises from the ashes

User satisfaction with search engines and information sites continued to fall, sliding 1.3 percent to an ACSI score of 76.

After a 4 percent drop last year, Google remained atop the industry with a steady score of 79. The group of smaller search engines places second, down 1 percent to 76.

Unlike the rest of the industry—and much of the e-business segment overall—Yahoo! moved in a positive direction, rising 3 percent to 72. Following last year’s last-place showing, Yahoo! is the only search engine to post a gain.

Several search and information sites clustered together with scores of 71, and all showed downturns in user satisfaction. AOL plunged the most, down 4 percent, while Ask.com retreats 3 percent. The two Microsoft sites, Bing and MSN, each dipped 1 percent. Answers.com finished in last place with a 1 percent slip to 70.

The ACSI E-Business Report 2019-2020 on internet social media, search engines and information, and news and opinion is based on interviews with 16,487 customers between July 2019 and June 2020. Download the full report, and follow the ACSI on LinkedIn and Twitter at @theACSI.

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