The Onion – Peeling Back the Layers of their Social Media Dominance

The Onion - America’s favorite satirical news source - has set the standard for media outlets in the digital era. We peeled back The Onion’s layers to find the core of their unparalleled success at being one of the fastest-growing media companies on social that anyone has ever seen.

The Onion – Peeling Back the Layers of their Social Media Dominance

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The world’s finest editorial staff has shown the way forward through a unique storytelling approach that engages 12 trillion unique Fans across all social networks. This includes Mars’s 4D Video network “Crater Rater”, the Where’s Waldo Live-Action Roleplay Society, and the 19th Century London underbelly (just kidding, it’s nearly 100 million across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, which is still a whole lot).

The Onion’s headlines may have changed from the timeless (“Existence Disproven!”) to the sharply immediate, but there has never been a better time to be a funny journalist.

The Most Shareable Content Ever

Because its voice so perfectly skewers not just its news subjects, but also the forum on which they are being lampooned, The Onion has become one of the most-shared media networks on Facebook; more than 17% of its engagement comes from shares (that’s just below the New York Times’s 18%, Buzzfeed’s 20%, and Mashable’s 21%). Each post is shared with pithy awareness of how content is supposed to look and sound when it shows up on a Facebook user’s Timeline, whether it is recommended by a friend or there via paid promotion. That’s not even bringing up their other properties Clickhole and Starwipe, which were born to be shared, and the more serious A.V. Club and Onion Studios. Get a taste of some of the sassiness below:


The Onion’s profiles are all growing faster than ever. This year, their Instagram added about 40,000 new Followers in January – but grew at 112% that pace in February, 138% in March, and is on pace to grow by about 140% from January’s total in April.

That growth pattern is happening around all of their social pages – their Twitter account has added more than 210,000 new Followers this year, their Facebook page has picked up more than 250,000 new Fans, and their YouTube channel – despite posting only two new videos so far this year, as some branded video content migrates to Facebook – has still picked up 320,000 new Subscribers. It’s these kind of figures that put them alongside the top (real) media outlets, and one of the reasons we were so glad to hear them speak at Engage Prague 2016. 

News Outlets Gain Massive Organic Interactions

The Onion

 showed how they worked reactions into their KPIs at Engage 2016. You can always access our study on how media companies can get more out of social media through the use of competitive analytics and better content optimization strategies to drive interactions and site visits (crucial metrics for anyone involved in audience growth and development in the industry).

The Takeaway

The Onion has mastered social media by taking its signature style and using it to perfectly mimic news organizations voices on different social media. Just like a reader would know to expect a relevant quote with a New York Times article link on Facebook or Twitter, and interesting mini-documentaries from them on YouTube or stories told in individual pictures and series on Instagram, The Onion has tailored its already pitch-perfect mockery to different social networks without a hitch. 


At Engage 2016, The Onion spoke about their scientific study of “what people like” and how to craft branded content people actually enjoy interacting with. Attendees learned about how media and brand collaborations can ring in a sunny new day for their brand, and help reach Crater Rater’s million-eyed users, and millions of two-eyed human Facebook users.

Social Media Analyst

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