MOLI Fails at Internet Bingo

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Please join me in a BINGO adventure as we score MOLI.com on their PR ability, commitment to transparency, crisis management rating, and customer service skills.

Believe me, even I am getting a bit bored with how shit they are at all of this, and I regret that this post will only be of interest to venture capitalists, DEMO attendees, TechCrunch readers, Valleywag whores, users of Wikipedia, members of social networks, people in PR, people in marketing, people in communications, and those who want to see how MOLI.com finally responded to being caught astroturfing. A small audience, in other words.

Due to the fact that MOLI has racked up quite a few chits on their Bingo card, it’s a bit long. So in honor of Valleywag, who covered this story last night, “more after the jump.”

From an uncomplimentary but hardly scathing review of a social network to discovering an employee astroturfing to Valleywag in 24 hours isn’t bad. Unless, of course, you’re MOLI.com.

The sad thing is that this could all have been avoided if someone from Moli – say, their Director of Customer Services, for example – had left me a comment or sent me an email and simply said:

Hey Sabrina, sorry that happened to you. Drop me a line or give me a call and I’ll be happy to give you a MOLI tour and show you around your privacy setting options. We want your MOLI.com experience to be a good one!

Instead, the person who’s job it is to take care of my issues, who is paid to provide customer service, opted to lie. He pretended to be an average user who wanted me to know he thought MOLI was awesome.

That is not customer care. That is deceit. Points awarded: -1

When busted, Dan still did not come clean. He vaguely acknowledged working there, but did not make anything approaching a full disclosure. We had to track down his identity, name him, drop his trousers and spank him in another post. -1

Dan then fesses up, suddenly discovers the ability to spell, punctuate and capitalize, and posts a comment in his official capacity, apologising and giving his official email address. +1. He also states that his Hawk5721 posts were just an “informal” attempt to correct my “mis-information.” -2.

At this point, MOLI.com has a big problem. A key employee has been caught red-handed, named and shamed for repeatedly doing something the internet does not like on the day of MOLI.com’s public launch and DEMO pitch. What’s a start-up to do?

What they did was nothing. I busted Dan DiFiore at 1:15 AM my time. By the next morning his time, traffic was pouring in from nat0.hq.moli.com. I saw quite a lot of Moli.com, I just didn’t hear anything from them. -1.

I found this quite annoying. I decided to pass the time by sharing my astroturfing experience in the comments section of a few of their top Google results, at a rate of about one per hour.

Unfortunately for MOLI, it wasn’t until 23 hours later that I heard anything from them. -1. This is a PR failure of the highest order. The internet does not close down while you sleep. The internet eats your kittens for breakfast while you sit around holding strategy meetings.

At about midnight my time, right around the time Valleywag was emailing to ask if I had the now-removed photo of Dan doing Jello shots, I finally got an email from Judy Balint, President and COO at Moli.com. +1! Printing Judy’s email to me would be a violation of her privacy, but I can tell you that it is almost identical to her comment at TechCrunch UK.

Almost.

Shockingly, in her email to me, Judy leaves out the part about how I’m “an Irish blog that unintentionally mis-represented how privacy works on MOLI.” Right, Judy, like I wasn’t going to see that. -1.

Given that this whole thing kicked off because of the misrepresentation of one of her employees, her choice of words here is pure comedy gold.

My blog post was a factual account of my brief but spammy user experience at MOLI.com, complete with a screenshot. Judy’s TechCrunch post, however, is a little less fulsome:

I want to extend my personal apology to all your readers for our associate not identifying themselves appropriately as being from our company

Danl DeFiore is not a distant “associate” but Moli.com’s Director of Customer Service. He didn’t fail to identify himself appropriately; he intentionally concealed his identity by setting up an internet alias used almost exclusively for astroturfing.

when they responded to a post on an Irish blog

How about when he “responded” to posts as Hawk5721 on other sites, including a post on TechCrunch in which he shilled for Moli.com? Where is the acknowledgment and apology for that? -1.

As a result, we have issued a policy to all of our associates worldwide to ensure that they include their name and title in all posts about company information going forward to ensure absolute transparency.

Great! Well done, Judy; +1 for that. I’d like to see that policy. In the interests of “absolute transparency” please publish it online so I can evaluate it. Let me know when you do that so I can update your scorecard accordingly.

And for the record, Judy, while there is mis-representation going on here, it isn’t mine and it isn’t unintentional.

Daniel DiFiore’s actions were calculated and long term; his comments began appearing as early as July. The fact that Dan is still employed at MOLI.com (at least according to his Moli profile) makes me wonder what exactly one has to do there to meet the standard for gross misconduct. If for nothing else, Dan should be canned for providing the worst example of Customer Service I’ve ever encountered. And while I’m not a conspriacy theorist, I have to say that I’m beginning to wonder if the reason Dan is still in position is because they can’t fire him. Because they…

Nah.

Still, in light of MOLI’s renewed dedication to absolute transparency and full disclosure, I’d like to know what MOLI.com is doing about Dan. As a MOLI.com member who was targeted for his deceit, I have a vested interest. In fact, I have a very valid customer complaint, and I’d like Customer Service to let me know what actions they are taking to sanction the employee who engaged in deceptive practices while answering a customer experience complaint. I think that’s an entirely reasonable request.

The bigger problem for Moli.com is that the internet is not a 24 hours newscycle. Buzz around their funding and launch will fade very quickly, sure. But Valleywag will live forever. Google searches for Daniel DiFiore are not getting any more flattering. The Wikipedia article on Astroturfing is not getting less popular. Technorati isn’t getting smaller. The Chancer isn’t getting any kinder.

And, from where I’m sitting, MOLI.com’s credibility isn’t getting any better.

Final score: Moli.com fails at internet.