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Facebook Launches iPhone App Exclusively for Famous People

New app aimed at challenging Twitter for celebrity status by letting public figures more easily interact with fans

Facebook, vying in a social-media popularity contest among celebrities with Twitter, has released an iPhone app with a velvet rope wrapped around it.

The new Facebook Mentions app is currently only available on Apple iPhones for celebs, athletes, politicians and other public figures with “verified” pages in the U.S. It’s designed to encourage famous folk to post more content to Facebook — and interact directly with their followers.

Unlike the regular Facebook app available to the hoi polloi, Mentions gives high-profile individuals a filtered view of notifications about fan activity, including mentions from other influencers or the media. Other features include the ability to host a live Q&A on their pages from an iPhone, and suggestions on other popular figures to follow.

According to Facebook, there are “tens of thousands” of public figures on the social service. Nearly 800 million of Facebook’s users follow celebs and other public figures on the site, and engage in more than 1 billion interactions each week (which includes posts, comments, likes and shares).

“With so many people connected to public figures, it’s really hard to manage those interactions,” Facebook product manager Allison Swope said. “We realized we could create a way to make that easier.”

Swope added that Facebook has implemented a two-step authentication process for Mentions, to reduce the risk a celeb’s page could be hijacked by hackers.

Facebook has trailed Twitter in wooing celebs. Twitter introduced its “verified account” program in 2009, while Facebook bowed the similar “verified” initiative to vet identities of high-profile users in May 2013.

Celebs who have tested the Mentions app include pop diva Mariah Carey (20.7 million Facebook followers), singer Austin Mahone (11.3 million), musician Ed Sheeran (7.1 million), Arianna Huffington (1.3 million), Whoopi Goldberg (719,000) and Mike Rowe (1.4 million), host of CNN’s upcoming series “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” and former host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs.”

“My fans are so important to me,” Mahone said in a statement. “They’re the reason why I make music, and I love sharing my life with them. (Facebook) Mentions has made it even easier to keep my fans updated on what’s going on in my world, and to respond directly to their posts.”

According to Facebook, celebs who have used Mentions produce more than twice as much content per day and interact with other famous people on the site more than twice as much (compared with before they started using the app). Of course, those metrics could partly be because of the novelty factor.

While the app is currently available only in the U.S., Facebook plans to roll it out to more countries in the coming months.

Another player in the celebrity social sphere is New York-based startup WhoSay, incubated by CAA, which claims it is used by 1,600 celebrities to post content to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tencent and Google+ as well directly on Time Inc.’s People.com.

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