Celebs Taking Charge of Their Social Media Personas through WhoSay

6/11/14Follow @jpruth

It is not a question of if, but how celebrities will be part of the social media landscape.

Whether it is a sighting of a movie star on vacation or a singer dropping by a nightclub, photos and stories about celebs tend to flood social streams. While such content is often pushed by entertainment news, celebrities have started to take a more direct hand in their presence in social media—with an assist from WhoSay in New York.

The company’s website and app let stars be in charge of their own blitz, or trickle, of images, audio clips, and behind-the-scenes info from their lives. Through WhoSay, celebrities can choose where and when content they supply gets shared with the public watching Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook other outlets. Certain celebs can even submit material directly to People, a relationship WhoSay announced in March.

Part of the appeal for celebrities, says CEO Steve Ellis, is that they get a share of the advertising revenue the media world leverages off their likenesses. “Historically, the celebrities have never really gotten any direct benefit out of it,” he says. That includes print, television, and social streams that focus their efforts on stars and reap marketing and ad profits in the process. “There is a vast media business that generates billions of dollars of revenue,” Ellis says. “Our clients have never really participated in the value they help generate.”

WhoSay lets them get a slice of that action. In addition to letting stars manage their social media pots, Ellis says WhoSay runs brand campaigns in partnership with celebrities to drive ad revenue that they get a share of. “I see nothing wrong with my clients, who generate the content and have the fans, participating in the value they create,” Ellis says. “That seems like a perfectly fair economic relationship to me.”

Some 1,500 celebrities, including actresses Sofia Vergara and Jessica Biel, pro golfer Rory McIlroy, author Neil Gaiman, and singer Sarah McLachlan, have begun using the business side of WhoSay’s software, which is available only by private invitation. “Ninety-five percent of the posts that come through WhoSay now come from a mobile device by the celebrity themselves,” Ellis says. “We don’t post for the talent.”

Seeing celebrities use social media is not new. Ever since Ashton Kutcher broke the million-follower threshold on Twitter, there has been a stampede for attention on social channels among some stars. Ellis says WhoSay offers a central place where they can manage their social media activities across multiple networks.

Here’s how it works. When a celeb writes a message they want to share through WhoSay, they can add a photo, with an audio caption and copyright notice if they wish, and then choose the networks they want to feed. Ellis says stars will soon be able to submit to other mainstream media outlets, in addition to People.

The WhoSay app that fans use lets them pick which stars they get content from, letting them create a sort of digital magazine. Ellis says the fans who follow stars through WhoSay are typically more than casual consumers of entertainment. “They’re already following the celebrity, they want to see more,” he says. After they sign up for WhoSay, the company can send targeted media to the fans based on their preferences and interests.

Other fans will still see photos from celebs in their Twitter and other social feeds as well. If they want to learn more about a particular post, a link will take them back to the WhoSay website. “When you get to WhoSay, you’ll get related posts from that client and other things that are trending,” Ellis says.

Regardless of which social network fans find the images on, WhoSay aggregates their replies to the posts in one place for the celebs. Those responses are filtered by significance, Ellis says. “You might have a fan who’s got a lot of fans themselves,” he says. “We make it easy to reply to that person.”

There is also a private message feature, he says, that sends trending items or posts on charities to the celebrity to make it easier for them to share that content with their fans.

Ellis co-founded WhoSay in 2010 with talent agency Creative Artists Agency, which wanted to get its stable of actors, musicians, and other personalities more involved in the social conversations about them. Prior to WhoSay, British-native Ellis founded music licensing business Pump Audio.

Though it was birthed with CAA’s help, other talent agencies such as William Morris Endeavor and Wasserman Media Group now also use WhoSay to get their celebs more plugged into social media. Backers of WhoSay include Comcast Ventures, Amazon, Greylock Partners, and High Peak Ventures.

Ellis believes that social networks present a growing opportunity for celebrities to broaden their reach with fans—as long as they keep it real. “We’re not talking about just posting selfies,” he says. Stars have to remember their core fan base wants more authenticity. “When you think about [celebrities] today who have the most successful relationship with their fans,” Ellis says, “they’re people who built that relationship over the years.”

Giving celebrities a way to have a piece of the digital media business could seem like a bit of a money grab. Media outlets already spread the word about stars’ activities. Ellis says WhoSay is a way to get more original content from the celebrities across more networks, not hinder other sources.

He also says fans are savvy to blatant attempts to market to them, such as paid shills who ghostwrite on social media on behalf of stars. Ellis cited singer Bruce Springsteen and comedian Louis C.K. as examples of entertainers who have carefully cultivated a rapport with their core audiences. “These are people who have been honest with their fans for years,” he says. “When they speak to their fans, they never would do something that would jeopardize that relationship.”

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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