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Best Bad Marketing EVER

I thought I could resist jumping into the fray on this one, but this story just keeps getting better and better.

Have you ever heard of the service called Clinical Reader? Apparently it’s a new service that acts kind of like a feed reader, only they decide which feeds you read, and it’s aimed at the medical community. The salient facts here being: 1) it’s new, and 2) nobody had heard of it. Until this week.

This week they used twitter to threaten legal action against a blogger, explain that they’d overstepped and let some unknown junior colleague too close to the keyboard, argue with the blogger and her ever-growing posse, apologize to the blogger, and now send out bogus retweets.* (See the chronology below for the gory details.)

What fascinates me is how quickly (in the space of four days) hundreds of people have gone from knowing nothing about this service to being pretty sure that everyone at Clinical Reader is completely insane. The social web can be an incredibly rich marketing arena, but it has zero patience for companies that get stuff wrong, and it rather delights in calling out this kind of behavior. This is the flip-side of crowd-sourcing, and companies and libraries hoping to harness online social networks would do well to watch this real-life parable unfold.


The story is way more interesting if you see it unfolding, so here are the best places to get it in kind of chronological order. This blog-version of the summary is necessary because Twitter itself is kind of difficult to reconfigure in a way that makes sense after the fact, and because Clinical Reader has started deleting tweets. Oops.

  1. Nikki noticed some less than ethical aspects of Clinical Reader’s site (which now includes edits linking to the apology she received)
  2. Steve summarized day one of the saga
  3. Nikki gathered together links to a bunch of stuff that happened after Steve’s post.
  4. The RT shenanigans begin, but these need more space, and screenshots, so here we go…

Clinical Reader went wrong in two completely wrong ways with the retweeting. (By the way, read each of the screenshots from the bottom up, because I forgot I should reverse the order and don’t feel like fixing it now.)

First, they thanked people for retweets even if the people had never retweeted them.

Then they seem to have completely made up tweets to retweet.

Amazing. Pardon me while I go pop some popcorn and settle in for the amusing ride. You can follow along on FriendFeed if you want.

P.S. The founder of Clinical Reader now says: “I have taken control of this account & parted company with former acquaintances in Canada whose behaviour I can only describe as schoolboy” (cite), and he is now apologizing to people. [The following sentence is apparently no longer true… which is ironic, since I was poking fun at Clinical Reader for misunderstanding how it works: “The problem is, he doesn’t realize that if he starts with one person’s name, there’s no guarantee that everyone else will be able to see what he writes, since Twitter only lets you see messages directed at mutual friends.” Further testing reveals that the other people would be able to see this message if they clicked on their @[username] page but not in their main Twitter feed. So, still weird, but not as egregious.]

* For those who don’t use Twitter, RT means “retweet” and is a way to redistribute something somebody else said, complete with attribution. It’s very much like a cited quote in a paper, only with links. So if I say “Something Clever” on Twitter, somebody else could say “RT @ijastram – Something Clever” which means “retweeting Iris Jastram who said ‘Something Clever,'” and the “@ijastram” part automatically turns into a link to my tweets. Quotation and citation in 140 characters or less. Pretty slick.

Published inSocial Web


  1. amy amy

    sure sure, blame Canada.
    easy out.

  2. Iris Iris

    Good point, Luke! Thanks for adding that.

    And yeah, Amy, I thought that was one of those useless details that doesn't actually help any explanation or description.

  3. Allan Allan

    A very good summary have to say and a very interesting few days to say the least! For those who haven't seen an apology here it is 'Sorry' – hope thats everyone (but I doubt). Like to now focus on what's a great product for doctors and allied health professionals and build on all the positive feedback received. Thanks. (Co-Founder of Clinical Reader, AM)

  4. Martha Martha

    I blame the Russians. Or, ghosts. Or, Russian ghosts.

  5. Andrew Andrew

    Wow…'sorry' just feels so heartfelt and so well meant. Great post Iris.

  6. David David

    Blog posts, I have decided, need "Like" buttons.


  7. jenjen jenjen

    And yet, we're all very familiar with the product now, are we not?

  8. amy amy

    jenjen – i agree that we are familiar with it, but i won't be recommending it to anyone.

  9. Colleen Colleen

    Earned infamy is not the same as the sort of exposure that broadens your customer base. And if they don't understand how to use Twitter (but decided to jump into the fray anyway) nor how to properly attribute images (but they lie about it) and not fraudulently claim endorsements, *nor* how o properly coach and supervise the mysterious "junior employee," (breath for overlong sentence) – do you really want them pushing content at you, and is it a company you'd trust? Nope. EthicsFail all over the place. I'd offer them a tissue, but not my endorsement as an info pro.

  10. Iris Iris

    I think Nikki hit it on the head in her last post: As info pros, we are trained to evaluate web sites, and we teach others to do the same. One of the main things we look for is clear contact information that not only works well, but that places your organization somewhere in the physical world, and that names the people involved. Another way is to look at the way that they use information and see if it's done responsibly. At this point, I think Clinical Reader *may* be able to learn from mistakes and turn itself into a useful and reputable service for clinicians… but it'll take an awful lot of work and a new kind of attention to ethical/etiquette detail.

    Also, I'd just like to point out that Clinical Reader's Twitter account no longer exists. Possibly a good move on their part if they're hoping to reinvent themselves, to which I say again, "good luck because that'll be hard."

  11. Pam Pam

    Deleting their Twitter account is the first smart move they've made. Keeping your tongue in your mouth is a surefire way to avoid stepping on it. This should be a case study in what to avoid in Web 2.0.

  12. Iris Iris

    Hmmm… Apparently not deleted after all. Just changing enough that all links to old posts are broken. You can still find them at

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