This Oscars season was rife with controversy surrounding the lack of diversity in the nominations and the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag campaign took on a life of its own. Brands hoping to engage social users on Oscar night were smart to follow the conversation closely to avoid stepping in anything.

To help, we created some LIVE Pulses to monitor and analyze consumer sentiment leading up to and during the broadcast.

When you listen, you learn not to ignore the issue

With racially diverse actors out of the running for major awards, there was a lot of negative sentiment surrounding this Oscars. This snapshot shows the social insights for the Oscars overall prior to the broadcast, compared against the #OscarsSoWhite movement:


About a week before the show, #OscarsSoWhite accounted for more than a quarter of overall Oscar mentions, with a Passion Intensity score of 80. People obviously felt strongly about the issue. The rumblings of discontent were visible even looking at our general Oscars LIVE Pulse.

At the time we grabbed this image, there were three emerging topics all relevant to #OscarsSoWhite:

  • Black actors
  • Hattie McDaniel
  • Black women

As well as a tweet reminding us that only 13 other black actors have won the Academy Award since McDaniel took home the statue in 1940. That’s definitely a problem, and it extends to all minorities.

The bigger problem for the Academy, however, is that this could have been avoided if someone was really listening on social media last year, when #OscarsSoWhite initially emerged. It was a big deal then in certain enclaves of social, where influencers discussed the lack of diversity at the Oscars and what steps the Academy should take to remedy it.

It’s not enough to see the sentiment – you have to know how to use it

Sadly, the Academy wasn’t paying attention – or chose not to be swayed by the criticism. Their risk management error was immediately clear when the nominations were announced for the 2016 season, and almost instantly the hashtag began circulating again. As a brand, the Academy Awards needed to confront the issue this year – and during the broadcast, they did. Chris Rock’s monologue didn’t pull any punches, and there were plenty of bits in between that further drove the point home: Diversity is needed in Hollywood.

Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs stated that the Academy recognizes the need for change, and is committed to making it happen.

Whether in response to these efforts made to acknowledge the issue during the show, or simply due to an uptick in other conversation topics, #OscarsSoWhite fell to fifth place in mentions on Oscars Sunday.

It had been second only to #Oscars2016 for the week leading up to the broadcast, leaving brands and marketers to weigh how they’d enter the Oscars conversation.

To engage or not to engage

Though consumer sentiment for the Oscars was down leading up to the show, use of #OscarsSoWhite wasn’t definitively negative. It was also a sign of solidarity, a form of non-violent protest, and a call to effect social change – that’s why social listening is a multi-layered process. It takes more than one metric to tell consumers’ stories.

Forgetting this fact is what leads to tone-deaf missteps by brands who aren’t listening and monitoring the conversation properly in these types of situations. With complex issues like #OscarsSoWhite, it’s always best to tread lightly.

Ignoring a major trend like #OscarsSoWhite can cause backlash among such a passionate audience, but so could any engagement with the hashtag that doesn’t seem authentic. Brands should only act on clear insights – and never on assumptions.

Don’t just listen – take action

Heading into the Oscars, things were complicated, for sure – especially when you compared our general Oscars LIVE Pulse leaderboard to our #OscarsSoWhite LIVE Pulse leaderboard. A week later, the conversation continues, with tweets about J.J. Abrams’ commitment to the cause and Halle Berry’s broken heart among others.

The Academy may have dropped the ball last year, but this year they wisely acknowledged the views of their audience. We won’t know ’til next year if they’ve really taken things to heart enough to effect change, but for the moment, the Oscars are out of the negative spotlight. With all those social insights at their disposal, it’s the Academy’s choice whether or not they stay there.

Want to set up your own LIVE Pulse for an upcoming event? Reach out and we’ll make it happen!

Image from Robert Couse-Baker

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