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Massive Twitter traffic barely moves viewer needle

There was a feeling of nostalgia at this year's Oscars. It started with the announcement that safe bet and perennial favourite Billy Crystal would return to host after James Franco and Anne Hathaway failed to impress last year.

A black-and-white silent movie took home the night's big award and Meryl Streep was back in the best actress winner circle after a string of 11 unsuccessful nominations. With his Order of Canada pin proudly displayed, 82-year-old Christopher Plummer finally won his first Oscar, 47 years after The Sound of Music.

It wasn't all a throwback: social media played a big role as well. While the ladies from Bridesmaids joked about taking a drink every time Martin Scorsese was mentioned, viewers would have had similar results whenever one of the hosts said "trending on Twitter."

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When Sasha Baron Cohen, as his latest alter ego from The Dictator, dumped the urn of pancake batter 'ashes' on Ryan Seacrest, one of Giuliana Rancic's first comments was, "this is going to be trending worldwide in about one second." She was right.

There were more than two million tweets about the show, one-and-a-half times more than last year. By the morning after the show, joke Twitter account @AngiesRightLeg had amassed more than 10,000 followers based on her memorable pose (almost 40,000 as of Feb. 29).

TweetReach created a special Academy Awards Twitter Explorer to allow people to dive a little deeper into the buzz in real time to see which movies, actors and directors people were talking about the most.

Ove rall, they found that the highest traffic moment came during the Cirque du Soleil performance, which generated 18,718 tweets in one minute. Although it sounds high, it was only a drop in the bucket compared with Beyonce's 8,868 tweets-per-second during the MTV Video Music Awards. Honourable mentions also go to Michelle Williams, whose dress got people talking, and The Artist for being the most-mentioned movie.

The Academy itself got in on the social media action by creating its own second-screen experience during the show on and the Oscar Backstage iOS app. Viewers had a chance to customize their Oscar experience by picking their own camera angles, viewing exclusive interviews, and keeping an eye on the Oscar buzz through a Twitter round-up featured prominently on the home page.

The real question is: "Does all this online buzz convert into viewers?"

It's hard to say definitively what drives new viewers to tune in, but a study by found that social media does play a role.

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A majority (71 per cent) of respondents had seen mentions of a show on social media and 17 per cent said they started watching a program because of those mentions. A clear winner for the buzz argument is that 13 per cent of respondents were influenced by social media just because they "like to watch what others watch."

If there is a direct correlation, this year's Oscars make it apparent that you have to seriously move the needle on social to get people to tune in: It took a 62-per-cent increase in Twitter traffic to contribute to a mere 4-per-cent increase in viewers. But for entertainment shows such as the Oscars, the social media strategy is less about getting more viewers, and more about enhancing the experience and providing opportunities for viewers to engage with friends all over the world.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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