Six months after launch, thousands of celebrities and public figures, including a group of bona fide A-listers, are using Facebook’s exclusive Mentions app. But some social media professionals who work with stars think the app is a bit player.

Facebook launched Mentions last July, hoping to make it the go-to app for actors, musicians, and athletes who want to more closely control their interactions with fans. The obvious agenda: to undercut Twitter as the tool celebs use for rich interactions with fans.

Is it working? To big names like Tom Brady, Jennifer Lopez, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson, Ellen Degeneres, and others who use it regularly, definitely.

Others aren’t so sure. To several social media managers who oversee celebrities’ social activities that spoke to VentureBeat, the last thing already busy stars need is another tool. Indeed, some say Mentions hasn’t made even the slightest ripple with their clients.

Oprah Mentions

Above: When a celebrity posts something from the Mentions app, the update reflects that.

Creative Labs app, similar to other Facebook stand-alone mobile tools, like Rooms, Paper, and others, Mentions is available only to verified users who also have a public-facing Facebook Page. In other words, public figures.

Mentions provides celebrities, who collectively get a billion fan interactions a week on Facebook, a set of dedicated tools for managing their social media interactions. That includes things like seeing and diving into popular fan posts that mention them, inviting fans into Q&As, and seeing filtered posts about them from other influencers. This is, in theory, a powerful set of real-time interaction features that exceeds even what Twitter offers. Facebook designed it as a back-pocket app for celebrities who want an active hand in their public-facing social media activity.

If successful, that would be big win for Facebook, as it would undermine Twitter’s reputation as the best way for stars to communicate directly with fans.

Huge stakes

The stakes are huge as celebrities look for the best way to increase their reach, but also to filter out the noise amidst the overwhelming number of interactions they generate with their social media posts.

And indeed, by some measures, Facebook is already a far more potent platform for stars than Twitter is.

According to Socialbakers, a firm that measures activity on leading social networks, over the last month, the top ten most popular celebrities on Facebook get a staggering number of interactions: nearly 446,000 likes, comments, and shares per post. By comparison, the top ten celebs on Twitter got an average of just under 30,000 favorites, replies, and retweets per tweet. Those numbers illustrate the scope of the flood of interactions celebs generate with their posts, and how essential it is for those who want to control their message to have a way to both filter the noise, and communicate directly with fans.

Giving celebrities a rationale for choosing Facebook over Twitter when they want to jump into conversations with fans can only help with that, due to their broad influence with everyday users.

“I’m sure they want to capture everybody,” said Gartner analyst Brian Blau, “and use [Facebook] exclusively, because in reality, that’s going to drive Facebook users back to the site.”

Celebrities, of course, have plenty of tools available to them already, some from Facebook or Twitter and some from other companies, that can push their social activity to the maximum number of fans. And that’s key for them: To be active across each of the biggest social networks, be it Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), or YouTube.

Among the tools available are Bumebox, which lets personalities conduct Reddit-style Q&As and push them onto Twitter and Facebook. There’s also WhoSay, which makes an app used by celebs like Tom Hanks, Matthew McConaughey, Jeremy Renner, George Lopez, and others to broadcast photos and personal updates to many social networks — including Twitter and Facebook.

“For any kind of public person these days,” Blau said, “having access to your fans or your followers is extremely important…. The reality is, when you’re a big star, you have to have a multi-pronged approach when it comes to technology.”

‘Exceeded our initial expectations’

Asked by VentureBeat to characterize Mentions’ performance so far, Facebook product manager Allison Swope said it has “exceeded our initial expectations” for sign-ups and retention, and its usage rate has grown steadily.

Yet it’s difficult to see exactly how celebrities are using Mentions, so its success is hard to judge. It’s possible to see when someone uses Mentions to post something, but not any other kind of activity. There’s no questioning the value to Facebook of stars like Brady, Winfrey, Lopez, and others, but it’s also hard to ignore perspectives on the app like that of Laura Roeder, a social media expert and the founder of MeetEdgar, a social media scheduling tool.

JLo and Mentions

“I had forgotten all about” Mentions, said Roeder, “and it seems that celebrities feel the same way…. I couldn’t find one who had even heard of the app, much less used it.”

Roeder’s not the only one who’s skeptical. So is Steve Ellis, the CEO of WhoSay. “We’ve not seen [our clients] flocking to Mentions in any meaningful way,” Ellis told VentureBeat, “or heard a great deal of chatter related to the app.”

Then there’s this comment, from a manager at an agency that oversees influencers’ social media activities: Mentions “fell flat because celebs are really busy and are already using Twitter, and to a certain extent Snapchat and Instagram, to communicate with their fans.” The agency manager spoke on the condition of anonymity because his superiors wouldn’t authorize him to be named publicly.

To Facebook’s Swope, it’s no surprise that social media managers dismiss Mentions’ value. After all, she argued, many of those professionals use Facebook’s Pages Manager app, or Facebook on the web, to promote their clients’ social activities.

“We actually built Mentions specifically for the talent,” Swope said, “to make it really easy for public figures to connect with their fans and each other.”

In other words, Mentions is for the stars themselves, not for their social media managers.

Still, the professionals think that Mentions doesn’t actually do all that much to help stars.

“It’s really just a simplified version of the Facebook app,” said the manager at the social media agency. “The amount of times celebrities are mentioned is huge, so the app does little to help sort any of the noise surrounding any particular client.”

Continuing to develop

Today, none of the top 10 most popular personalities on Facebook — stars like Katy Perry, Shakira, Eminem, and Lionel Messi — have used Mentions, at least not to post anything, save for a smattering of Justin Bieber updates last fall. Facebook is justifiably proud that celebrities like Oprah and J-Lo are using Mentions, but the company would no doubt like to see even more adoption.

Now, Swope’s team is continuing to take feedback and plans ongoing marketing, support, and development of the app. “In the coming months,” Swope said, “we plan to roll out new features and to continue to drive adoption with public figures.”

That makes sense to WhoSay’s Ellis, who said that despite little evidence of Mentions’ impact, he expects Facebook’s “great, crack team [that] caters to the needs of celebrities” to evolve Mentions to be more useful.

But it has a long way to go, argues Roeder, who believes the ubiquity of hashtags and @-handles on TV and in advertising reflects Twitter’s dominance over Facebook in mainstream media integration.

“I think Facebook launched Mentions as a way to try and keep up [with Twitter] and keep celebrities closely tied to Facebook,” she said. “But they made the mistake of looking at how fans would like celebrities to engage with them — but not how celebrities would like to engage with fans.”

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