MerchantCircle is a brand new social networking site geared specifically towards small businesses that likes to fancy itself as the MySpace for business.
Designed from the ground up to be search engine friendly, MerchantCircle is targeted at the small business owner (Realtors and brokers included) and gives you a very easy way to have a presence on the Web.
In fact, in all likelihood, you already do. The site is pre-populated with the names and contact info of 14 million businesses across the US – so all you have to do is jump on the site and claim your company if you're in their database. (I haven't figured out exactly how MerchantCircle polices this though – when I claimed our listing, I didn't have to prove any affiliation with my company.)
For the business owner, MerchantCircle allows you to maintain a network of business contacts. Just like MySpace, or Linkedin for that matter, you can invite local businesses to become part of your network. Once they're in your network, you can create coupons, email newsletters and advertising campaigns for distribution throughout it. In this sense, MerchantCircle functions as a bare bones CRM platform.
For an additional monthly subscription fee, you have access to a couple of premium features (like being able to create a map to your location) and you can even expand the reach of your advertising campaigns onto Google and Yahoo's search engines. But what's really nice about MerchantCircle is that they don't cripple their entry-level account. You get to play with most of the site's features even at the free level.
I really like the idea of extending social networking online into the small business space. It's a concept that is already well-established in the offline world (chambers of commerce, trade associations etc.) and one that can easily be made more efficient and more effective on the Internet. It just makes sense.
The bottom line is that MerchantCircle makes it easy for almost anybody to put together a web presence and begin to connect with other businesses online. At the very least, it's probably in your interest to stake out your own territory before someone else does.
Greg Sterling has a far more comprehensive post on MerchantCircle's features here
More from SearchEngineLowdown.com as well.