From #Hashtag to #Selfie: What the #Oscars learned in 3 short years

At the 2011 Oscars, co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco employed Twitter to “appeal to a younger demographic.” Many viewers sighed and rolled their eyes. The resulting tweets were generally negative, mocking the hosts and the winners. Broadcast producers, perhaps miffed by the negativity of viewer tweets, stopped advertising the #Oscars hashtag midway through the broadcast. Strangely, I was the only person who noticed (or cared).*

When Ellen DeGeneres took the stage just three years later, the #selfie was the social media fad of choice, and the vehicle – Twitter.

Ellen corralled willing stars around 18-time Oscar nominee Meryl Streep for a selfie. Bradley Cooper ended up taking the selfie which (besides himself, DeGeneres, and Streep) included celebrities Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Spacey, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong’o, and half of Jared Leto. The tweet from @TheEllenShow commanded Twitter’s bandwidth for the next half hour.

Yes, I retweeted it. Thank you very much.

Ellen’s goal: to celebrate Streep’s record-breaking nomination by setting a record for the most retweeted photo in history. At the time I write this, the 3.2 million retweets of the selfie (or ussie) seems like a record-breaker. Congratulations Meryl.

Based on the #Oscars selfie, here are three things I think the Oscars learned about social media over the last three years:

  1. #Hashtag is a content connector, not a brand mark. The 2011 #Oscars wanted to control the chatter on its branded hashtag. This is simply impossible if any buzz is expected.
  2. Content needs a face. The Academy tweeted at the 2011 awards from a social media center on its own account rather than from an identifiable person. In 2014, Ellen’s tweets were from her own account, but they led #Oscars coverage.
  3. Integrated and extra content perform better than repeated content. In 2011, the hashtag was used to announce the winners. By 2014, the hashtag offered behind-the-scenes photos, host commentary, and less-than-controlled messages.

Since the broadcast, the famous selfie has been under fire from marketing experts who argue that the product placement of Ellen’s Samsung Galaxy Note was less than improvised. The Wall Street Journal reported that the selfie idea was attributed fully to host Ellen, but the use of a Samsung device to tweet it was a paid promotion. Whether it was pre-planned or not, Ellen’s selfie turned out to be a marketing win for her, the Oscars, Samsung, Liza Minelli, and (most importantly) the two fellows in the picture whose names you don’t know.

Product integration into live television can be a highly uncertain yet highly rewarding venture for corporations. Kudos to Samsung for seeing the potential and lobbying for the visual integration.

All I have to say is that Samsung is lucky it’s not 2011.

*This statement may or may not be true, but I haven’t seen too many other articles about Twitter at the 2011 Oscars besides this one.

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