A string of tweets this morning had critics across the country turning their cross hairs on The Onion, a media outlet focused on delivering satire. A scare that prompted response from officers on Capitol Hill now has social media marketers asking: How far is too far?
Let’s review. The Onion sent this message this morning via Twitter: Breaking: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.
These tweets from The Onion quickly followed:
Breaking: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by a group of armed congressmen.
Police helicopter just ordered to pull back after Rep. Trent Franks tried to take it down with a shotgun
Two chaperones are also being held, one of whom is said to be pregnant
Those were published a few hours ago. But the madness continued as I wrote this post. The latest tweets included: Arlington gun shop confirms Rep. [Eric Cantor] bought 6 semi-automatic handguns, 3 rifles & 600 clips of ammo last month
Though some familiar with The Onion’s quirky style knew the posts were a spoof, the first tweet was graphic and had Twitter users asking whether the publication got hacked.
Onion staffers quickly confirmed Thursday that the tweet was not the work of a hacker: “This is satire. That’s how it works,” The Onion told a blogger for the Washington Post.
But there was backlash from some Twitter users:
“Poor taste and the first tweet didn’t disclose any satire”
“Have a feeling The Onion is going to catch some flack for their latest stunt, plus it wasn’t even funny..a rare miss”
“[The Onion] did a bad tweet. No satire, just scare.”
By the time this post was finished, writers at the Washington Post, MSNBC, ABC News and Politico had commented on the scare. Most marketers hope their clients merely get mentioned in those publications.
So I asked staffers at PRMarketing.com whether the tweets crossed the line. One employee, who enjoys reading The Onion, said she expects nothing less from the controversial newspaper. But another felt that some topics should not be joked about in a post-9/11 world.
During the discussion, a guy in our office who had never read The Onion visited the website for the first time.
Now I ask you: was this a deft social media marketing strategy, or is there a line that should not be crossed as businesses compete for followers and fans?