Crisis Management 101: What is #OscarsSoWhite Doing to the Academy?

It’s not a good time to be a little gold statue. This year, all twenty Oscar nominees in the acting categories were white. The Academy members who determine nominations are 95% white, while 1 out of 10 Americans is African-American and 3 of 10 are people of colour.

How did social media users react to all-white nominations? #OscarsSoWhite is a trending topic on Twitter for the second year in a row and its impact cannot be underestimated.

Should the Academy be held responsible for the lack of diversity? In the escalating conversation around the nominations on social media, some pointed to deeply rooted diversity issues that start in the writing room, while others blamed the Academy for overlooking deserving minority stars (like David Oyelowo and Michael B. Jordan). After #OscarsSoWhite went viral for the second year in a row, Spike Lee, Will Smith, and Jada Pinkett Smith have boycotted the show. On Twitter, Pinkett asked: “Should people of color refrain from participating all together?”


With the big show just days away, how is the Academy handling the onslaught of criticism online?

The Big Lull (Again)

Though Oscar nominations and wins overall roughly match the African American proportion of the population, movie fans have found two all-white years untenable. Much like they did in 2015 — as well as 1995, 1997, and every year between 1975 and 1980 — when all the acting nominees were white.


The all-white nomination years indicate that the makeup of the Academy, not the audience, determines nominations.

In 2015, #OscarsSoWhite also damaged the Academy on Twitter. Crowdbabble’s analytics engine shows that the engagement rate was unusually low in the month leading up to the organization’s namesake event.


After announcing the nominations, @TheAcademy had an engagement rate averaged 0% from January 1 to Oscar night. This year, engagement has bene much higher since the nominations at 24.8%. Twitter users have been more likely to favourite, comment on, or retweet @TheAcademy. But is that good news for the Academy?

The Crowdbabble visualization below shows a lull in favourites, retweets, replies, and mentions for the Academy after January 14.


The jump in engagement this year is almost entirely due to the nomination tweets on January 14, when @TheAcademy received more than 200,000 favourites and retweets. With 114,186 retweets and 89,347 favourites, the 2016 all-white acting nominations attracted much higher engagement — and controversy — than those of 2015. Tweeting once per nomination, @TheAcademy racked up many more likes and comments than it did in 2015.

But with the most retweets for the Best Actor (12,026) and Best Actress (8,433) nomination announcement tweets, the attention probably wasn’t all positive. The 2016 acting nominee tweets from @TheAcademy went viral just as #OscarsSoWhite became a trending topic (again).

In the second year of all-white acting nominations (almost all-white nominations in other categories), what was the damage for @TheAcademy?


Unflattering Spotlight

The few that have rushed to the Academy’s defence have largely made the brand’s situation worse on social media.


The type of support pouring in isn’t the sort the Academy is looking for. As with IBM’s #hackahairdryer defenders, it has become politically incorrect to side with #OscarsNotSoWhiteAfterAll’s self-nominated spokespeople. Stars who aren’t sure about diversity’s role in Hollywood — who some might call racist, or at least privileged and out of touch — have publicly sided with the Academy, making the Academy look racist or out of touch by proxy.

Best Actress nominee Charlotte Rampling called #OscarsSoWhite “racist to whites” on January 22. That day, tweets from the Academy had 0 replies.

Rampling’s defence of the Academy killed engagement with it on Twitter. Fear of being out of touch by proxy — of aligning themselves with Academy defenders like Rampling — might explain declining interaction with @TheAcademy since the nominations were announced January 14. Replies to tweets from @TheAcademy are down, as shown in the Crowdbabble chart below. For an account with 1.3 million followers, having fewer than 4 replies on most posts is abysmal.


Since #OscarsSoWhite and, social media users want to talk about the Academy, not with it.

No Longer Revenant

@TheAcademy’s Twitter growth has stagnated over the past two months. With 1.28 million followers, the lead up to the Oscars should offer a huge opportunity for follower gain. The Crowdbabble visualization below shows recent follower growth for @TheAcademy. A gain of 17,000 followers for such a huge follower base is almost a plateau.


Academy president Cheryl Isaac’s reforms of membership rules to diversity the people who control the nominations may have kept @TheAcademy’s follower growth from dipping into the negatives.

The Academy has tried to drum up excitement for the Oscars by posting frequently over the past month, but it has failed to attract many new followers. The visualization below shows the number of posts by the Academy against its engagement rate. Total tweets, represented by the bars, show the Academy’s efforts leading up to the 28th. Engagement, represented by the black line, shows its Twitter following’s response.


Photos, videos, and exclusive links about Hollywood’s biggest movies and stars? The Academy’s Twitter following isn’t having it, even just before the Oscars. Even with the new measures to improve diversity announced by the Academy, social media users seem to be backing away from the organization.

Fury Road

#OscarsSoWhite might have a larger audience than the Academy Awards itself. 36.6 million people watched the Oscars last year. How many people have read an #OscarsSoWhite tweet? Or a news story about it?

According to Hashbabble, a hashtag tracking tool, #OscarsSoWhite has a total of 11,665 mentions on Instagram in 2016. On Twitter, the impact of the hashtag has been much greater. A sample of just 85 #OscarsSoWhite tweets on Twitter (the 85 most recent as of February 25 2016) had a collossal number of impressions, or number of times the tweets were seen by Twitter users. And the most conservative estimate would extrapolate that #OscarsSoWhite in 2016 has at least five times that number of total impressions.

One of the 85 most recent tweets was from @NYTimes, which has 24.9 million followers. The total impressions of just those 85 #OscarsSoWhite tweets — out of the thousands of times the hashtag has been used this year — is 52,093,523.


52 million impressions or not, the show must go on. Chris Rock is scheduled to take the stage at 8 PM EST this Sunday night between a rock (made of comedic gold) and a hard place.


About 40 million people will watch Chris Rock gleefully terrorize the nominees this Sunday, but at least 50 million have already experienced #OscarsSoWhite. People angry about the lack of diversity in the nominations have made #OscarsSoWhite a huge media event and discussion online by sharing it with their followers. Bigger, even, than the show itself.

As shown by the engagement and response rate metrics, everyone is in on the conversation but the Academy.

The Twitter hashtag has dampened follower growth, engagement, and conversation for @TheAcademy. Overall, #OscarsSoWhite has bludgeoned the organization into a chastened pulp on social media. The brand that should be bold and glamorous strutting  up the red carpet to February 28, instead seems remorseful and embarrassed. Can the Academy recover during the Academy Awards? Twitter users will give their verdict on Sunday — and many of them will be watching their feeds, not the show.