The strategies that experts have used to share information about social causes have historically been top-down, meaning the most influential messages are believed to come from planned events and campaigns. However, more people are independently engaging with social causes today than ever before, in part because online platforms allow them to instantaneously seek, create, and share information. In some cases this “organic advocacy” may rival or even eclipse top-down strategies. Big data analytics make it possible to rapidly detect public engagement with social causes by analyzing the same platforms from which organic advocacy spreads. To demonstrate this claim we evaluated how Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2016 Oscar acceptance speech citing climate change motivated global English language news (Bloomberg Terminal news archives), social media (Twitter postings) and information seeking (Google searches) about climate change. Despite an insignificant increase in traditional news coverage (54%; 95%CI: -144 to 247), tweets including the terms “climate change” or “global warming” reached record highs, increasing 636% (95%CI: 573–699) with more than 250,000 tweets the day DiCaprio spoke. 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. This increase was 3.8 and 4.3 times larger than the increases observed during COP’s daily average or on Earth Day. Searches were closely linked to content from Dicaprio’s speech (e.g., “hottest year”), as unmentioned content did not have search increases (e.g., “electric car”). Because these data are freely available in real time our analytical strategy provides substantial lead time for experts to detect and participate in organic advocacy while an issue is salient. Our study demonstrates new opportunities to detect and aid agents of change and advances our understanding of communication in the 21st century media landscape.