Celebrities participating in the initial campaigns include Green Bay Packer Nick Barnett, Snoop Dogg, and actor and producer Donnie Wahlberg.
The system taps BAT's database of the brand affinities of celebrity and sports endorsers; it enables marketers and agencies to seamlessly incorporate their social media plugs as part of their broader marketing efforts.
BAT President-CEO Ryan Steelberg says the company's research shows that 55% of Americans who use Facebook or Twitter have "some sort of connection with or access to someone famous via online sources." He said @BAT was developed to tap into the "power" of those online fan communities.
During a presentation at MediaPost's Social Media Insider Summit in Key Biscayne, Florida, Steelberg and former NBA basketball star John Salley discussed the increasing role social media is playing in celebrity endorsements, and vice versa.
Ideally, Steelberg said, endorsers work with brands that are authentic extensions of their own celebrity brands.
"The people who follow John [Salley] are the top 1% of his fans, so he needs to make sure he takes care of those people," he explained to marketers and agency executives attending the summit. "We think of them as friends, but they are the top 1% of his fan base."
Salley concurred, noting that the money associated with social media endorsement deals was important, but that it was secondary to his overall goals of maintaining a strong connection with his fans, and utilizing social media to communicate to them. In particular, he said he only works with sponsors who are compatible with his own values and lifestyle, noting that he is a motivational speaker who supports wellness programs that have a social benefit.
"I am very particular," Salley told summit attendees. "I do like to get paid, but I'm not going to advertise myself just because."
He said he is working closely with BAT, and using their research to help identify and nurture his social media base around his core fans, Everything he does with social media is a natural extension of his own reputation and media.
"They say all publicity is good publicity. That's not true," Salley said, adding: "I would not want the publicity that O.J. Simpson has."
Without singling out any particular celebrities, Salley and Steelberg implied that some of the more notorious ones may simply be cashing in on social media endorsements without regard for their own reputations or those of the brands they are plugging.
Endorsements aside, Salley said that social media has empowered celebrities to take more control of their own reputations, and to offset inaccurate portrayals from mainstream media. In particular, Salley singled out ESPN, which is the juggernaut of sports media, and can make or break the reputations of professional athletes.
"When somebody hears a story that comes from your side, you can make [ESPN] liars every single time. You can make [your story] the truth if you tweet about it," he said.