Startup Aims to Make Social Media Easier for Superstars
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When Tom Hanks tweets or posts a photo on Facebook, chances are he's not using one of those social media management platforms built for the unwashed masses. Instead, celebs like Hanks, Steven Tyler and Sofia Vergara have been granted free access to the insider world of WhoSay, an easy-to-use management tool that integrates access to a variety of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and YouTube, allowing celebs to share their innermost thoughts with their fans--without having to put too much thought into the process.
The gatekeeper of this tony world is Steven Ellis, the founder of music licensing agency Pump Audio. Ellis says the Los Angeles-based Creative Artists Agency (CAA) came to him when it realized it needed a centralized way to harness the power of the social media content its clients were generating. In March 2010, the agency tapped him to design the platform and provided seed funding. WhoSay launched in September of that year with a steady stream of users referred by CAA. WhoSay also serves celebrities who are not affiliated with the agency, such as Kevin Bacon and Gwyneth Paltrow.
"We view media as valuable and our clients as capable of producing great media," Ellis says. "We try and make it possible for them to publish and broadcast optimally wherever and however they want."
Each post made through WhoSay's simple interface is tagged with a shortened URL that drives fans back to a website with the celebrity's photos, videos and text. The sites are optimized and controlled by WhoSay. Unlike similar platforms such as HootSuite and TweetDeck, WhoSay is actively working on publicizing its clients' content to be picked up on sites like ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, "so you would stumble across a great picture from someone like [Miami Heat basketball star] Dwayne Wade on the ESPN site like you would if you were following him on Facebook," Ellis explains. WhoSay also has international options, including distribution through Chinese social media.
The cadre of more than 900 celebrity users--folks who have passed the velvet rope in a vetting process that consists of Ellis deciding if they're influential enough--has investors a little star-struck. Despite the lack of a revenue model, the company has managed to raise $7 million in Series A and B funding from Amazon.com and High Peaks Venture Partners, a Troy, N.Y.-based venture capital firm, among others. In October, Greylock Partners, the Menlo Park, Calif., venture firm that funded Facebook, LinkedIn, Pandora and others, invested an undisclosed amount as part of the Series B funding round. Greylock partner David Sze sees revenue potential down the line, if WhoSay becomes the go-to source for self-created celeb content.
"In the long run, there could be any number [of revenue options]: advertising, value-added services, product-based offerings," Sze says.
Indeed, as the mantra seems to be "create celebrity content, and the money will follow," WhoSay is focused on getting the infrastructure right, which requires a slew of publishing permissions and working with agents, managers and publicists, in addition to making it easy for stars to program, schedule and publish content.
"We're kind of working backwards," Ellis says. "Make it simple for the client engagement to occur. Make it easy for the fans to discover this great content that our clients are now capable of creating. Then, optimize that engagement wherever it might occur."