The power of the internet to spread media at a rapid rate has become a critical tool for both individuals and businesses – something as inconsequential as a random picture can be spread across the world within minutes.
This is exactly what happened yesterday, at the 84th annual Academy Awards. Host Ellen Degeneres organised a photo with various nominees on the floor of the awards, and then implored everyone watching at home – 43 million people, the highest in a decade – to make the picture the most retweeted piece of content ever.
“We crashed and broke Twitter. We made history,” Degeneres said on the broadcast, referring to the downtime users experienced after more than 2.9 million users retweeted the photo, beating out the last record holder – a picture of US President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama.
On face value the tweet itself is a significant example of the power of social media and the ability to have a piece of artificially manufactured content go viral. (The picture was taken with a Samsung phone, with the company being one of the main sponsors of the event – it says the moment happened “organically”).
The picture also demonstrates the power of personality. When DeGeneres asked everyone to retweet the picture, they did so – mostly because DeGeneres is extremely liked and social media users are more willing to share content shared by people they perceive as likeable, even if it’s completely constructed.
But the significance of the moment isn’t found in the power of social media but rather the intersection of a traditional medium – broadcast television – and the new.
There is an assumption that new platforms including social will erase the old, that working entirely online will provide a full range of possibilities. But it’s no surprise retail companies have discovered this isn’t true, with online operations such as Shoes of Prey breaking deals with David Jones to include booths within bricks and mortar stores to show off their product.
This also plays the opposite way – Nielsen introduced social media metrics for tracking viewership last year as a more accurate way to rate cultural penetration of a particular program, even when the traditional broadcast numbers for that show are low.
We saw this yesterday. Even with 43 million people watching on television, there were 14.7 million tweets related to the Oscars, and the now-famous selfie received another 1.7 million likes on Facebook.
(It’s worth pointing out most of the more popular tweets were selfies – increasingly encapsulating the medium as the most popular form of self-expression. On the marketing side, much of the Academy’s own viral content relied on taking fairly candid pictures of celebrities – adding to the likelihood they would go viral.)
But it was only because that moment happened on live television, where focus was still pointed towards one particular event, that the tweet became as popular as it did. And also because DeGeneres actually asked for users to retweet as well – this was by no means an organic sharing experience.
While social media was clearly the catalyst for the tweet, it also demonstrated the power of live television – to direct viwers’ focus towards a specific event, for a specific message. Success, then, lies in marrying the two worlds while still accompanying the audience of either.
The same is true for any enterprise operating in a digital environment. Embracing the new platforms while still integrating the old, and using them in new ways, is the most likely path for success.