Oscars: Academy Digital Guru on Prepping for the Unexpected, Topping Ellen's Selfie

Josh Spector, managing director of digital media for the Academy, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about how the Academy's social audience has grown to 7 million and why 2014 host Ellen DeGeneres' selfie broke records.

It was the selfie that launched 3 million retweets. Ellen DeGeneres’ celebrity-packed photo during the 2014 Oscar telecast crashed Twitter and broke a record for the most-retweeted photo of all time. Josh Spector, managing director of digital media for the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, was behind the scenes that Sunday evening in March watching the social media activity around the photo skyrocket. 

Oscars night might be the biggest night of the year in Hollywood, but Spector’s duties expand to year-round digital and social media strategy for the Academy, which boasts 900,000 Twitter followers and 1.5 million “likes” on Facebook. He recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his plans for Sunday, how he keeps the Oscar conversation going all year and whether the show can create Twitter magic once again.

Has the second-screen experience on social media impacted the Oscar broadcast?
Even if we did nothing, people are going to be talking about the show. It’s live, everyone is watching at the same time. People want to talk about what they’re seeing. Our job is to guide that conversation and create opportunity for them to have more fun with the show.

How do you help the Academy’s voice stand out above all the noise on social media?
We have access that nobody else has. That enables us to find and show things that no one else can. That in and of itself is a huge advantage. It allows us to not only be very relevant and stand out from the crowd but to lead that conversation and lead the story of the show and of the day. The other thing is that we do this on a year-round basis. When I started here three years ago we had about 400,000 followers across all our platforms. We’ll probably be over 7 million by the time the show ends. That is not the result of the Oscar Sunday. That is a result of an ongoing commitment and relationship we have built with our fans.

How do you prepare for the live element of the broadcast?
The unexpected is part of what makes this so fun for people. It’s why people tune in and watch live. It’s why there is so much social engagement on the day of the show. What we try to do is create an environment that allows amazing things to happen. We work closely with the show producers, so we’re aware of what they’re planning to do during the show and we have a team in place ready to adapt to whatever is happening on the fly. The one thing we know is that there are going to be surprises. Those are usually the things that will really pop.

What role did your team play in the Oscar selfie?
A lot of people don’t remember that that wasn’t the only selfie in the show. It was actually the second one. We were monitoring what was going on with it, and it was seeing an insane amount of retweets. During the show we’re constantly in contact with the show producers and with the host and we’re giving them feedback from what we’re seeing online throughout the show. After that first one, we gave feedback that partially informed the setup for the second selfie where Ellen did a brilliant job of encouraging people to retweet it and break a record. When the second one posted, we were following everything online and we could see it just skyrocket, even compared to the first one. Then Twitter crashed and I told them, ‘hey I’m pretty sure we just did this.’ We took a screen shot of the Twitter crash screen and posted it from the Academy account, “sorry, our bad.” All of that happened on the fly, but there was a lot of planning going into it that allowed it to happen.

How far in advance do you plan for the Oscars?
My first conversations with the platforms about what we could do this year probably started six months ago. They certainly ramp up as we get closer. We really put an emphasis on doing things that are new and different.

Do you worry about topping the selfie this year?
I don’t think it’s a concern. That’s not our goal. Our goal is to communicate with fans and create opportunities to have more fun with the show. We’ll do that again this year.

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