Back in July, we caught wind of a stealthy startup called theAudience, which purported to be on a mission to help busy celebrities navigate the world of social media. Fittingly, the startup was a product of its own A-list roots, the result of a partnership between Napster, Plaxo and Airtime co-founder and founding president of Facebook, Sean Parker, and Hollywood superagent and William Morris co-CEO Ari Emanuel.
Led by acting CEO Oliver Luckett, a serial founder and former senior VP at Disney, the company manages the social media accounts of 300 celebrities, who collectively reach over 800 million fans. The startup’s client list, according to the New York Times, includes names like Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Eddie Murphy and Jack Black.
And now, TechCrunch has learned, theAudience has found a nice chunk of change to support its growing social media content network, as the company confirmed today that it has closed a $20 million round of series A funding. The round’s investors include Founders Fund, Guggenheim Partners, Participant Media, Capricorn Investment Group and Intertainment Media.
This comes on top of the “significant seed financing” the company raised from William Morris Endeavor to preceding its launch back in April 2011, the company said. As a result of the round, Sean Parker and an unnamed representative from Guggenheim will be joining the startup’s board of directors, which already includes Emanuel and Luckett.
The funding will help theAudience expand its already-sizable network and grease the wheels for courting sponsors and building out its staff. With the world fast-adopting social media, fans are eager to connect with and follow their favorite celebrities and, for the most part, A-listers have been happy to oblige. Of course, many celebrities have found themselves on the receiving end of ire or unfavorable publicity after a social media gaffe or an errant tweet.
Many turn to ghost writers or assistants to help them manage their personal brand and avoid social media missteps. But theAudience wants to beyond simply managing tweets and Facebook posts for its celebrity clients, as Luckett says that the company is not only looking to protect these celebrities from bad, automated marketing forced on them by studios, but also to help them make more out of their often sizable social media footprints.
theAudience developed software to help track the success of wall posts and tweets, to measure the level of fan engagement with particular posts, the length of time fans stay engaged, what times of day are best for posting certain types of content and so on. Luckett has some experience with managing social media accounts for big properties, helping Disney bring its characters to Facebook to the tune of 150 million likes and over 500 million monthly impressions after his company, DigiSynd, was acquired by Disney in 2008.
theAudience also works directly with record labels, movie marketers and promoters, including, most recently, the Obama campaign. Luckett tells us that the company partnered with Obama for America in the fall of 2011 to help “reinvigorate the campaign’s social media and empower fans to get the word out” by creating a networked social architecture that focused on creating sharable content, infographics and so on, and launching Facebook Pages targeted key constituency groups.
Using what he calls an “affinity cluster” approach, which emphasized a network of pages based on states, constituencies and so on, the company programmed content across the network, tweaking the type of content based on feedback and engagement from fans. The meme and infographic-based content gained a reach of over 261 million people per week with an average virality rate above 11 percent, Luckett says.
It’s this kind of increased engagement that has opened the door for theAudience to charge a premium for its services — a monthly fee starting at around $5,000, according to the New York Times. Increasingly, celebrities are having this charge included in their contracts with studios and labels, who are understandably less than thrilled about having to stomach these added fees when they want their stars to promote their content on their social media channels.
In terms of authenticity, while celebrities working with theAudience aren’t necessarily creating their own content on a regular basis, the company does get the approval of its clients before blasting out their optimized tweets and status updates — and allows them to personalize the messages before they drop. The idea being that, even if it isn’t written by Celebrity X or Y themselves, it’s still more appealing than some dry, standard marketing message about their latest movie and it gives celebrities control over their reach, along with, ideally, a better relationship with their fans.
Whether this is a better system than the alternative, with Parker and Emanuel on board, theAudience is at least assured a shot at its 15 minutes in the limelight.