Marketing Seth Godin recently announced a new service called “Brands in Public.” This is causing a bit of an uproar because of how silly the idea is. According to Seth’s blog (which really is great):

You can’t control what people are saying about you. What you can do is organize that speech. You can organize it by highlighting the good stuff and rationally responding to the not-so-good stuff. You can organize it by embracing the people who love your brand and challenging them to speak up and share the good word. And you can respond to it in a thoughtful way, leaving a trail that stands up over time.

While this is well written, the idea sounds a lot like a very useless site called merchantcircle.com.  Merchant Circle is a borderline spam site because, from a consumer’s standpoint, it hardly useful. According to Merchant Circle businesses are signing up for the following reasons:

Promote your business on the web in minutes
Create a great-looking listing for your business — include a blog, coupons, newsletter, customer ratings — and add photos and videos to personalize it.
Be more visible in search engine results
Every element you add to your MerchantCircle listing increases your placement and visiblity in search engine rankings.
Track what’s being said about your business online
Manage, monitor, and control your business’ online reputation including contact information and reviews written about your company.
Easily advertise on Google, Yahoo! and more
Our intuitive Ad Wizard helps you create an ad and have it published on your MerchantCircle network as well as on ad networks like Google and Yahoo!
Get local customer referrals
Link with other businesses on MerchantCircle to create your own trusted referral network and use that network to gain new customers.

These aren’t compelling business propositions from an online marketing perspective. I won’t get into it because Sugarrae does an excellent job bashing Merchant Circle. Here are the problems I see with both Merchant Circle and Brands in Public:

Conflict of Interest

It is very difficult to charge businesses for a business listing and create a platform for an authentic conversation about businesses to take place. Businesses want to filter the conversation and consumers want to hear the real deal. It’s very hard to have it both ways. This is the reason that I think Seth Godin is breaking so many hearts with this business model. He knows better.

Nobody Cares

The biggest problem is that the only people who care about sites like Merchant Circle and Brands in Public are the people who work for the companies. Just look at the search volume for “home depot brand” or “home depot buzz” on Google…nada.  People care about conversations around products and services, but they don’t care about conversations around a brand.

Comments

  1. Hey Ryan,

    I’d love the chance to chat with you about some of the thing you assert in your blog. Most importantly, MC doesn’t charge for profile listings. More than 95% of our members pay us nothing and choose to use our free publishing features to promote their local businesses. The 5% who do pay us are buying PPC on google, yahoo!, bing, etc.

    And, I have to respectfully disagree with your assertion that “nobody cares” about MerchantCircle. In fact, nearly 65% of our members use MerchantCircle as their only web presence. We are proud to help local business owners compete online.

    Please feel free to contact me anytime at darren [at] merchant circle dot com. I look forward to hearing from you.

    -DW

    Darren W
    09/25/09 at 6:08 pm
  2. [...] post was written in response to a comment left by DW from Merchant Circle.  The main problem with Merchant Circle isn’t whether [...]

    What is merchant Circle? Is it a consumer review site, an online advertising channel or neither?
    09/29/09 at 1:59 pm
  3. DW,
    I appreciate your comments and have updated the blog post to reflect the fact that you don’t have to pay to create a Merchant Circle listing and have written another post in response to your comment. Of course if this were a profile on Merchant Circle I would have just deleted it :)

    Ryan
    09/29/09 at 2:10 pm
  4. Ryan — I’m still waiting for you email to discuss :)

    Darren W
    09/30/09 at 5:00 pm

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