Scandal! Scandal! Scandal in the local ad world!
In a truly bizarre occurance, John Battelle, noticing that a months-old post on MerchantCircle was buzzing with disgruntled comments by small businesses claiming to have been harassed by an automated MerchantCircle voicemail alerting them to a negative review. He suggested it was the magestical nature of search and word of mouth, since that post was ranked number three in a Google search related to Merchant Circle.
Peter Krasilovsky, author of the excellent LocalOnliner blog, had also written about MerchantCircle in the past and received a similar inundation of comments claiming fraud. But he smelt a rat. All the comments are in a similar voice, referring to the word scam and always referencing previous comments. The IP addresses map to different ISPs, so if it were a false smear campaign, it was well enacted.
But were the automated calls even placed? Matt Mcgee, who authors a blog for small business marketers, puts an even more bizarre twist on the story. A company he works with, got one of the MerchantCircle automated voicemails saying their busniess had a negative review. Except they didn’t. No one had rated their business.
In Battelle’s latest post, the CEO of Merchant Circle Ben Smith all but admits to using the automated voicemails. “We have been experimenting with many different methods of informing merchants when their listing changes,” he says. Lamenting that “for a while the entire team of 9 personally contacted local merchants”.
So there you have it. Looks like automated technology went wrong, contacting too many businesses (a shame they didn’t screw up by telling people they had positive reviews) and then a strange comment spam/legitimate word of mouth merchant backlash.
And like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives…