5 Reasons Why The Ellen Tweet Worked (and 1 Key Question)

2,600,000 retweets can’t be wrong… or can they?


https://twitter.com/TheEllenShow/status/440322224407314432/photo/1

When Ellen took to a captive live TV audience of millions last night, took a “selfie” with 11 of Hollywood’s hottest celebrities, and put out a call to become the most tweeted tweet ever, not surprisingly, the world listened. The tweet, which at time of writing has more than 2.6 million retweets, (more than 3 times the previous record, Barack Obama’s first tweet after being re-elected for his second term).

But why did this work? How did it “beat” agency newsrooms filled with thousands of social media professionals, paid millions of dollars to create the next “Oreo cookie” or “Pharrell’s Hat”? And what does it really mean for the future of social media marketing?

Far be it from me to take a pedestal spot and claim I know all and see all, and speak for everyone, but I did want to offer a few observations in convenient list format. So, here we go.

https://twitter.com/Oreo/status/298246571718483968
  1. The tweet represented the end of an era of social media marketing. It represented the end to a lot of thinking about what’s truly possible in social media marketing by setting the bar so high for future content that it is literally impossible for anyone else to catch up. Previous “branded viral tweet” stalwart, “You can dunk in the dark” produced by Oreo and 360i and the arguable inventor of the “real-time marketing” era of social media got about 15,000 retweets, or 1/173rd the total of the Ellen tweet. The problem is that every brand now wants success, because it is indeed “possible”. Few realize the amount of work, timing, and, well, money that went into making this one iconic moment (and I’m sure we’ll read about that exact effort in the trade press in the next few days). It now either requires brands to level set with their strategy to something more realistic, or open up and pour out their pocket books to emulate the same success.
Just photo from the Ellen tweet

2. The tweet was about the photo, and not the brand. While, to the more trained eye, it was pretty obvious that Ellen was taking the selfie on a Samsung, well, thing (I’m still not sure which device it was, and I *own* a Galaxy S4) it wasn’t obvious in the photo that it was a Samsung device. Why does this matter? Because people don’t typically like to share blatant advertising. The creative itself, is the non threatening shot of a group of celebrities that most people like or admire at least one of, in a moment that is at once both unexpected and unique. It’s no less harmless to the average user than any other photo. And this is a big reason why it spread more quickly. No “catch”. No “gotchas”. No public shaming for most who shared this photo. And as Kasey Scala pointed out, most people probably don’t even care that it was Samsung. Samsung’s agency left it to the trade press to figure out their involvement, well, in addition to a little “humblebragging”:

https://twitter.com/SamsungMobileUS/status/440338449997262848

3. The tweet was sent to an already huge Twitter audience that just grew bigger as the buzz did. Ellen started the night with more than 25 million Twitter followers already, putting her in the top 15 worldwide anyway. This ensures that anything that plays to her audience would have done decently well, regardless of the circumstances. Amazingly, her account grew 1.5 million followers (hat tip to Eli Langer for that stat) in the day of and after the Oscars telecast giving her an even bigger audience to work with again.

4. Ellen has an audience that appeals to a broad demographic. Twitter has had trouble with growing, and reaching a mainstream audience, which has become more obvious since Twitter’s IPO last year. But in terms of audience that Twitter wants to reach and grow to, there’s really no better way to introduce Twitter to than to do it with Ellen DeGeneres, who can be an excellent guide to continually explain the product and how it works during her show. This education, of course, starts with getting people started with a simple example — retweeting and sharing a photo of celebrities that they love.

5. The call to action was simple but still required TV to execute the moment. As many folks in digital like to say, TV is over. But it’s not. TV is still remarkably big. The key with execution is recognizing that a live, captive audience really only exists for in two primary cases:

  • Major sports events
  • Major award shows

The inventory for these moments is now limited, as we live in a DVR and instant streaming society. The Oscars telecast represents as least as much if not more of a general audience than the Super Bowl (and considerably cheaper to buy as well.). But Samsung likely had to buy advertising on the Twitter end as well (imagine launching a server-crippling campaign on national TV without their support? Not likely). This is where the innovation is, and likely a point that will sit in Twitter sales pitches for the rest of time. Twitter makes engagement from live TV truly possible at amazing scale.


The key question, of course, is whether or not Samsung’s investment in the greatest “selfie” ever taken results in additional purchases of Samsung products. Or does it even matter? That’s up to them to decide.

Either way Samsung’s integration has clearly created a new case study in social media marketing. But, it’s just a matter of time before the next major brand tries to capture lightning in a bottle again.


PS. The Facebook post hasn’t done too badly either.

PPS. This post made Medium’s Top 100 for March 2014. Thanks for reading and sharing!