For marketers, the highlight of the 2014 Academy Awards wasn't actor Matthew McConaughey's big win or actress Lupita Nyong'o's eloquent acceptance speech.
It was the most popular tweet of all time: Ellen DeGeneres's selfie, taken with sponsor Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 smartphone.
The post is the most retweeted ever—by a landslide.
The record was previously held by US president Obama's "Four more years" tweet after winning his re-election in November 2012. The president's tweet got 778,000 retweets.
DeGeneres's currently has nearly 3.3 million retweets—and counting.
"We crashed Twitter, and they fixed it with duct tape," DeGeneres joked on her live show the following day. She also announced that Samsung is donating $1 to charity for each retweet. The number of retweets is expected to climb even higher.
That obviously is big for Samsung's branding. The donation for every retweet is a great way to capitalize on the post's social media success.
So, what does it all mean for marketers?
Perhaps the most impressive and effective part is that the record-breaking tweet was seemingly "organic." Samsung sponsored the Oscars, but it's unclear whether the selfie was a paid stunt that Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong'o, and Angelina Jolie were in on or a spontaneous moment that went viral.
Either way, in a social media world where paid ads are taking over and brands are turning to advertisements to get their pages or posts noticed, Samsung didn't go that route. As it turns out, it didn't need to.
The fact that social media buzz from the Oscars didn't come from a Promoted Tweet proves that organic social media marketing, when done right, is still most powerful.
Marketers will now be trying to capture important moments, especially because Ellen's tweet proved to be so valuable. Over time, however, doing so will start to seem unauthentic and done merely for show, so the tweets will not have the same value. Ellen's Oscar tweet appeared to be spontaneous, which gave it a cool factor, and it helped to have a group of Hollywood's biggest celebrities in that image. But people will lose interest over time if that idea continues to be replicated.
Another thing that marketers can learn from the most popular tweet of all time is how important images have become for social media success. Not too long ago, Twitter became much more visual when it updated and enlarged photo and video previews in users' timelines. As a result, images are more important than ever for engagement and clicks.
Here are the major takeaways from Ellen's tweet.
Ads aren't everything. Ads have their place in social media marketing, but they aren't always the most effective tactic, and they cannot stand alone as your only one. Having a balance of paid, earned, and owned media is important to any digital marketing campaign.
Act natural. Samsung sponsored the Oscars and paid for the placement of its smartphone throughout the ceremony, but the fact that there's a debate about whether the now-famous selfie was planned means the company did a great job at acting natural. Marketers should start being more spontaneous if they want to get similar results.
Use images. Chances are you will not have a group of A-list celebrities handy like Ellen did, but the point here is that marketers incorporate images into their campaigns. If you want images to share well, make sure they're helpful or relatable to your target audience. People are drawn to visual content, so create infographics or text-based images to visually represent branding and messaging.
Don't be a copycat. The public can be critical when marketers or public relations managers use obvious stunts to sell something or get some press out of it. Overt copycats of the Oscar selfie will not likely be well-received, so brands must put their own spin on it if they decide to ride Samsung's wave.
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