There is a well known story of Henry Ford once saying that, if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse. Not only do consumers often struggle to see beyond the familiar (even free flowing online idea generation communities rarely turn up anything more than small, incremental innovations), they are also dependably bad about describing their own feelings and wishes.
Today, the ACSI (American Consumer Satisfaction Index) released their latest eBusiness report which ranked consumer satisfaction with a variety of Internet sites including search engines, content portals, news sites, and social media. According to the survey, 30% of consumers are unhappy with their social media experience, and Facebook in particular. That puts Facebook down near the bottom of all things consumers are most unhappy about (including even airlines, banks, etc.).
I will be the first to admit that Facebook does not satisfy my every wish. However, with 700M members, half of whom access the site every single day, it’s hard to believe that consumers are that dissatisfied with the experience.
One plausible explanation, however, is that consumers simply have no idea what they what or what makes them happy. The best web designers and user experience architects have known this for years. If you really want a website that outperforms, you have to be brilliant in crafting the information architecture, design, layout, user flow, etc. Then, you have to study the analytics that represent your visitors’ subconscious behavior on the site to optimize. If you rely on users’ self reported preferences you will arrive at all kinds of wrong answers about what you should do differently.
Wether you are at Facebook reading this or just thinking about how you balance Analytics with self reported information from your audiences, it’s probably best to take these kind of studies with a grain of salt. When users are real unhappy, they have no problem leaving (MySpace, NetFlix, etc.)