When Rihanna, Keith Urban, Demi Lovato or "Glee" star Darren Criss tweets a photo, the link will likely point to a site called WhoSay, rather than to more widely-used photo sharing sites like TwitPic, Yfrog and Plixi. Where the photo is being shared makes little difference to the musicians' fans, but it makes a big difference to the stars themselves.
WhoSay was founded in March 2010 by Steve Ellis, with a goal of returning ownership of celebrity content back to the stars. The service is by invitation only, authenticating the identity of every of every celebrity on the site.
"Celebrity clients in general provide value by definition of who they are with their content in the digital space. But in many cases that value is not returned to the client, to the celebrity -- it's leveraged by other folks for their own benefit," said Ellis, who started Pump Audio, now owned by Getty Images, after his own recording contract ended a decade ago.
"The idea was that maybe there was a way of helping our clients manage the constantly changing new and mainstream media environment," he continued. "And so what it turned into then was really how best to give our clients a set of tools that would help them manage, for the long term, this relationship with their fans through all media outlets."
Soon after Ellis left his job at Getty, he was contacted by associates from Creative Artists Agency in California. "CAA were the folks who called me essentially looking for a solution to the sort of overall issue of digital," said Ellis. CAA were hoping that, given Ellis's background in music, photo sharing and copyright, he could solve the problems that famous clients were having on social networks. Many celebrities were losing the rights to their own photos and videos, giving the licenses away for free to sites like Twitpic as soon as they uploaded content.
Despite CAA's minority stake in the company, "We are in no way exclusive to any agency," said Ellis. "We have many clients who are not CAA clients and we service our clients in the foremost manner across any management firm, any agency, any publicist, any service and any label.
"WhoSay is now owned in part by CAA, Amazon.com and an independent venture firm.
With WhoSay, celebrities can share their text updates, photos or videos via a website or a mobile application, and have the choice of sending it to any or all of their social media platforms. The copyright of this content belongs to the celebrity, and an individual copyright claim is stamped at the bottom of each photo put on the site.
"It's important for us to establish this connection for our clients to their fans because we do anticipate this content moving beyond purely what we consider the internet screen now," Ellis said, explaining that all web content will soon be available, "with internet-enabled televisions and everything else, very easily on every screen."
The one thing that WhoSay is not is a new social network. There are no search features and it is difficult to even access a celebrity's account unless you are directed there from one of their other social pages. Ellis said that consumers have enough social media choices, and the WhoSay team has no intention of ever allowing consumers to make accounts on WhoSay.
"Frankly they don't really need the services that we provide," he explained, "and there are a lot of very specific features built into our service that really only benefit someone who is of a high profile."
The small company has only 18 employees, stationed in New York, Los Angeles and London, but because WhoSay works with Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, its pages are seen by millions of people every day.
"At the moment, our clients are connected to over 550 million social media fans," Ellis said. "They have a great deal of reach and a great deal of influence."
And at the moment, WhoSay has not yet monetized that influence, but that may change in the future.
"There is no fee for our service and at the current time," Ellis explained. "We are not engaged in commercial activity. There will be some announcements coming that will talk about the options we will be providing our clients. . . . Those kinds of opportunities will be around brand and advertising integration and around commerce."
Ellis said that the company would soon be expanding the options available to their celebrity and musician clients, connecting to additional international and mainstream social media platforms.