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This image released by Ellen DeGeneres shows actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyong’o Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong’o and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a "selfie" portrait on a cellphone during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday, March 2, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Ellen DeGeneres/AP)
This image released by Ellen DeGeneres shows actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyong’o Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong’o and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a "selfie" portrait on a cellphone during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday, March 2, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Ellen DeGeneres/AP)

Battle for the stars: With new app, Facebook takes on Twitter Add to ...

Facebook Inc. has released a new app as part of its war with Twitter to attract VIPs and celebrities to its social network, with the goal of making its platform the best way for fans to gain access to their heroes.

Nearly 800 million of Facebook’s 1.32 billion users have made a connection with a public figure, and according to Facebook the new Mentions app is just for those high-profile “actors, athletes, musicians and other influencers.” The company claims fans leaving comments or liking stuff posted by those shiny people leads to more than a billion interactions a week.

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The iPhone-only app combines and simplifies a number of social-media posting, commenting and audience measurement features that are currently spread across several existing Web and app platforms. The goal is to make it easier for social-media-savvy influential people to join trending topics, or spread their message faster.

Even though Facebook rival Twitter is the smaller social network, its ability to create a social media moment in real time has long been a key draw for these power users.

“It also seems like it’s much easier for celebrities to interact on Twitter,” says Martin Beck, the social media reporter at Third Door Media’s Marketing Land. “When it happens on a celebrity’s Facebook page it happens in public, but sort of in a silo.”

“[Facebook] wants to play up the fact that there’s a huge volume of chatter about celebrities on the platform … And if fans see that their favourite performer is connecting more on a personal level, then they probably will be more apt to stick around Facebook longer and come back more often.”

The new app’s ability to track trending topics and engage in live Q&A sessions with fans would be of interest to brand pages or corporate and media accounts, but for now Facebook is limiting access to “Verified” personalities.

Both Facebook and Twitter have an opaque and invitation-only verification feature, identified by a blue checkmark on the pages of people such as federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, rapper Buck 65 and Toronto Maple Leaf Joffrey Lupul.

Anyone can download Mentions, but only a Verified account can access its features. Facebook Canada spokeswoman Meg Sinclair wouldn’t break down the number of Verified Canadian users, only saying “there are tens of thousands of verified public figures on Facebook globally,” and “we don’t want every page Verified, we want to make sure these are actual public figures.”

What’s not clear is why any celebrity would need Mentions. Transplanted Canadian William Shatner, of Star Trek fame, griped about the app on his Tumblr blog, pointing out that some, but not all, of the audience metric features overlap with existing apps and that having multiple apps running made a mess of his notifications.

“If this app is for celebrities then WHY force them to follow another celebrity in order to set up this app?” Mr. Shatner also wrote. “The first person on the list I was given was George Takei (rolling my eyes). I ended up choosing Robert Downey Jr. to follow and then I hid his posts (sorry Robert!)”

The new app is “very much geared to public figures based on feedback we have received from them,” said Ms. Sinclair.

Facebook also has “partnership” teams that help train the new Verified people, spread between L.A., New York and Washington. They also run training sessions in Ottawa for Canadian politicos interested in their social brand management.

“Celebrities used to get tonnes and tonnes of fan mail,” said Ms. Sinclair. “Think of Mentions as a vehicle to modernize the way that celebrities communicate with fans.”

Follow on Twitter: @shanedingman

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