Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie was the most buzzed-about moment of last year’s Oscars — reaching a level of popularity so quickly that it managed to break Twitter. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that shot was actually the second selfie she took during the show.
For Josh Spector, managing director of digital media for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, the night-and-day difference between the two shots was a victory. DeGeneres taking a selfie, of course, was planned well in advance of the show’s start. But when the first one didn’t take off, Spector and his team adjusted plans for the second — and in doing so, they managed to capture lightning in a bottle.
“Things we saw on the fly after the first influenced the setup and approach of the second, which helped the second be bigger,” Spector says. “You don’t set out to break Twitter. What we do is try to create an environment that allows things to happen, and that’s what we did last year.”
Social media has been increasingly important to the Academy for some years, but while it’s those big moments like last year’s that capture headlines, Spector says the draw for fans on Facebook, Twitter and other social outlets for the rest of the year is the behind-the-scenes peek they get by following.
Three years ago, just 400,000 people were tracking the Academy on the major social platforms. By the time the Oscars begins airing this year, that number will hit 7 million; and by the end of the show, Spector expects it to top 8 million.
While he won’t talk about specific plans for this year’s awards ceremony, Spector notes that one advantage the Academy has with the event is it’s not just a one- or two-hour window. Oscar coverage begins early in the day on channels such as E!
That gives the 10 people in the digital media department (and the dozens more borrowed from other departments as the show draws near) time to adapt in ways other live events can’t.
“We’re trying to create fun moments and expand on some of those moments and give fans a chance to get involved,” he says. “If a social conversation is building throughout the pre-show, you have another few hours for that to build and pay off. … You have a long period of time to tell stories, to build attention and to build conversation.”
It doesn’t hurt that the Oscar hosts of the past two years have been Twitter superstars. Both DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris have tremendous social followings, as opposed to Billy Crystal, who wasn’t active in social media in 2013.
But Spector says the real key to success has been weaving social-media services into everything the Academy does, rather than just using them as digital flacks.
“Some people view social media as this separate thing you do,” he says. “We view social media as a thing that’s threaded through and connected to everything we do. We don’t approach it as a separate bucket. All media and all TV are inherently social today. Even if we did nothing, people are still going to be talking about our show. The question for us is how do we guide and amplify that conversion? And how do we come up with things that are fun for them to talk about?”