Kim Kardashian Selfie

Facebook today announced the release of an experimental mobile application that allows celebrities to interact with their fans, hang out with other “influencers,” and see what the media is saying about them. The app is called Mentions, and it’s available only to Facebook users in the United States with verified pages dedicated to all of their comings and goings.

Mentions is the latest example of Facebook’s attempts to respond to Twitter, which has long catered to celebrities with a service that allows them to share things with the world without requiring them to pretend to care about what the world might be sharing in return. Facebook is desperate to expand from its personal roots to public conversations, and celebrities are key.

Pando’s resident social media whatever, David Holmes, wrote about Twitter’s monopoly on celebrity social networking — at least so far as it involves the public — after the selfie with Ellen DeGeneres and other celebrities became the talk of this year’s Oscars event:

Had Ellen Instagrammed her selfie, it would have been a symbolic victory for Facebook’s inroads into TV, pop culture, and celebrity. I mean, the company has only spent some $20 billion trying to hijack the cool, mobile, real time conversation– not to mention it’s own failed internal efforts to ape Twitter, Foursquare, Snapchat or any other service that gets hot.

As is, Twitter still owns celebrity and TV. The most telling moment may have been when Meryl Streep gleefully said the selfie was her first tweet. A lot in Hollywood simply aren’t early adopters. Inertia is strong: While, say, the Kardashians may have moved onto Instagram and Twitter, Meryl Streep isn’t yet on Twitter. There’s still growth here, and this game is Twitter’s to screw up.

That’s been true almost since Twitter’s founding. A fair portion of Nick Bilton’s fantastical-slash-hagiographical account of the social network’s rise to success is devoted to celebrities. They visited the company’s offices, used the service to announce new projects, and made it the preferred social network for hanging out with the unwashed masses and building a #brand.

Facebook hasn’t been able to court celebrities nearly as well as its avian counterpart, and it’s also struggled at its larger goal of encouraging public conversations on its service. As I wrote when the company announced that new users would no longer have their profiles made public when they sign up for the service as it admitted that many users want to keep their profiles private:

Twitter users are comfortable with the service’s public nature. Most know that their tweets can be seen by anyone, and many are starting to learn that things posted to the service can be grabbed by any writer looking for some story fodder. Using Twitter is like standing in front of an open window and doing jumping jacks in an open kimono, and its users are fine with that.

Using Facebook is like doing those jumping jacks with the blinds down. Some people — and Facebook itself — are able to peek inside, but as long as Facebook’s users have control over who can see through the cracks, they accept that as a risk of doing those jumping jacks in front of a window instead of somewhere a little more private. Facebook changed that when it made new profiles public by default, and now that people have noticed that their dangly bits were in full view of anyone passing by their digital window, the company has had to close the blinds again.

Mentions might be able to convince celebrities to use the service more than they are now, which could in turn make ordinary Facebook users embrace the social network’s new focus on public conversations. It might also be a fair-weather application launched whenever people are saying nice things about a celebrity and shunned whenever a controversy seizes the news.

Facebook might be able to pull that off, but it’s not anywhere near as good at copying Twitter as Twitter is at copying it. If the past is any indicator, trying to appeal to celebrities won’t change that.

[Image via Stylist.com]