The wide reach of social media is giving celebrities and the causes they're passionate about unprecedented exposure and awareness.

That's the finding behind a new study published in the August issue of PLOS One, which examined the social impact of Leonardo DiCaprio's Best Actor acceptance speech at the 2016 Academy Awards. The star of "The Revenant" used the moment — about three minutes — to speak out about the growing impact of climate change.

"Making ‘The Revenant’ was about man's relationship to the natural world," he said. "A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating."

By analyzing a wide range of social media analytics following the speech, researchers from the University of California San Diego, the Santa Fe Institute, and other institutions were able to show the breadth of its reach. Their conclusion? DiCaprio's soap box appeal moved the social needle on climate change more than any other moment in 2015 — including Earth Day and the Paris Climate Conference.

In fact, the researchers revealed, it was the single largest engagement on the issue ever.

For those who love numbers, here are the overall figures recorded by the study:

"In practical terms the 'DiCaprio effect' surpassed the daily average effect of the 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP) and the Earth Day effect by a factor of 3.2 and 5.3, respectively. At the same time, Google searches for 'climate change' or 'global warming' increased 261% (95%CI, 186–335) and 210% (95%CI 149–272) the day DiCaprio spoke and remained higher for 4 more days, representing 104,190 and 216,490 searches."

Findings such as these are important for understanding how the media is evolving, as well as how best to use change makers to influence awareness on an issue or cause. The "organic advocacy" of social media appears to have a much larger impact that traditional communication strategies.

"Top-down frameworks are useful but communication strategies should be adapted to include a greater emphasis on bottom-up approaches where experts dedicate more resources to listening, dialoguing, and empowering the public who themselves can become advocates for change," the researchers recommend in the study.

So the next time someone you know rolls their eyes at a notable voice using their moment in the spotlight to drive change, point them towards this study. The celebrity messenger now has more power than ever to induce global awareness on issues of vital importance.

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Leonardo DiCaprio's Oscar speech moved the needle on climate change
Researchers analyzing social media after the speech discovered the actor's words started the largest engagement on climate change ever.