Should Brands Engage on OnlyFans and Patreon?

Subscription-based social media sites have been gaining popularity. Thus far in 2021 Twitter has introduced Super Follows for example, which let users charge for access to additional content, and a Tip Jar that makes it easy for users to send money to posters. Patreon is a platform that provides influencers and creators with a way to generate income directly from fans or “patrons,” rather than via sponsored posts.

But perhaps the most notorious subscription-based platform is OnlyFans. OnlyFans launched in 2016 with the vision of developing a site where creators could monetize their content free of advertisers. Creators are able to set their monthly subscription price, and, unlike Instagram and YouTube, the platform allows sexually explicit content. OnlyFans grew steadily, then saw explosive growth when the pandemic hit in 2020, with the number of content creators more than doubling.

Edit 26.08.2021: The content subscription service OnlyFans announced plans last week to block sexually explicit photos and videos from October but promptly “suspended the planned 1 October policy change” after receiving backlash from the creators.

A Home for Sex Workers

OnlyFans is widely regarded as having been built specifically for sex workers to share X-rated content. San Francisco Chronicle wrote about people working in hospitality or entertainment whose jobs were entirely eliminated due to COVID-19 lockdowns and OnlyFans let them “monetize themselves.” One of the content creators interviewed stated, “I think OnlyFans has this huge appeal because it feels very authentic.”

The ability to generate income directly from followers provides influencers with flexibility, as opposed to needing to alter their content to adhere to brand or platform guidelines for sponsored posts.

Brands Use OF for Charitable Fundraising, While Connecting with Consumers

Many brands might be reluctant to have their content on a shared platform that also hosts pornography, but others recognize the opportunity and the benefits of positioning their brand as supportive of the OF hype and its content creators.

For example, Fly by Jing, makers of Sichuan chili sauce, opened an OF account, “to have a space to show you all the behind the scenes, answer your questions, and experiment with food and flavor. Less Not Safe For Instagram and more Not Right For Instagram.” In an admirable pun, the brand mentions sharing a, “bowl of noodz.”

The account is free to subscribe, and, for every subscriber, the brand will be donating $1 monthly to a grassroots organization supporting the rights and safety of sex workers.

Celebrities on OnlyFans

A recent Page Six article states, “OnlyFans isn’t only for porn stars.” The list of celebrities includes, in order of frequency:

  • Models
  • Rappers and singers
  • Reality stars
  • Actors, including former Disney actress Bella Thorne who earned $1 million after just 24 hours on the platform, briefly crashing the site
  • Wife of an NBA star
  • YouTube star
  • Winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Celebrities aren’t just opening OF accounts, but also talking about it. Megan Thee Stallion’s track, “Savage Remix (feat. Beyoncé)” includes Beyoncé’s rapping, “Hips TikTok when I dance/ On that Demon Time, she might start an OnlyFans.” OnlyFans tweeted a response appropriate to the enormity of being name-dropped by Beyoncé.

Some popular Swiss OF accounts include:

  • Singer Bastian Baker
  • ex-Bachelor candidate Bellydah Rivera
  • ex-Germany’s Next Top Model candidate Laura Baumgärtner
  • Bachelor winner Francesca Morgese

With the exception of Bastian Baker, all post explicit content.

Connecting with Consumers, Not Earning Revenue

NYC-based fast casual restaurant Sticky’s Finger Joint posted a YouTube video announcing they were on OnlyFans. The video implies the content is adult in nature and features more humans than chickens. The implication is repeated on their OnlyFans page, which states their objective is, “introducing you to a SAUCIER side of the brand!” Subscription is free, and tips unlock secret menu items, with all proceeds donated to ROAR, a relief fund helping restaurant workers affected by COVID-19. 

“Sticky’s founder Jon Sherman told Modern Retail the marketing decision was done to ‘reach hardcore fans’ in an out of the box fashion. ‘We think of ourselves as a fun and whimsical food brand,” Sherman said. “So we thought it was a fun platform for posting sillier content out there.’… He named millennial and Gen Z users, who tend to engage with ‘food porn,’ as a big demographic.”

The Risks of Brands Offering Paid Subscription

Some brands are charging subscription fees. For example, American fashion brand Rebecca Minkoff streamed its A/W 21 show on the platform. Fans of the brand could pay between $5-25 to access exclusive content and even converse with Minkoff herself.

There has been backlash that celebrities take subscribers away from sex workers who depend on the platform as their only reliable source of income. Fly by Jing also acknowledged this problem and stated, “I want to be respectful of the people who use this platform to sustain their living. So, you don’t need to cut back on your other subscriptions to join ours.”

Low Reach, High Engagement on OnlyFans

OnlyFans boasts “the strongest engagement stats on social media! When a creator posts, over 60% of their fans see and interact with the content. Over 80% of direct messages sent by creators are seen and opened.” 

Indeed, those engagement percentages are impressive, but overall volume is low, relative to other platforms. For expensive products and services with high revenue per customer, high customer acquisition costs are sustainable and reasonable. But this may not be a fit for many products, such as Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG).

Influencer Marketing on OnlyFans?

Influencer marketing on OnlyFans is a green field. However, fans are paying for exclusive, ad-free content, and we should therefore expect them to be more resistant to obvious sales pitches. While that doesn’t mean OF is off-limits, it does mean that a careful approach is needed. After all, consumers paid for “cable” TV years ago, which promised to be ad-free, unlike broadcast network TV. Commercials made there way in eventually and were accepted. Working with an agency like Kingfluencers can help you maximize the success of your campaigns, while avoiding pitfalls.

More Ways for Content Creators to Earn

A Patreon blog describes 6 business models to use, but the focus is on content creators. For example, the first is “Community Model, defined as: Access to a community curated and moderated by the creator.” Others include educational and gated content, and the “fan relationship model,” defined as increased interaction with, access to, or recognition by the creator.

Patreon co-founder and CEO Jack Conte said, “This is such a great time to be a creative person. Creators have incredible leverage now that they haven’t had for many years because these platforms were so focused on driving content production instead of getting creators paid…. We’re hyper-focused on providing the business infrastructure to allow creators to be successful in growing and running their businesses.”

Competition for content creators remains fierce. Patreon offers content creators a means of collecting payments directly from their fans. As such, Patreon faces threats from a variety of other technology platforms and services that could begin to offer competitive solutions. According to TechCrunch, “A range of B2B software companies, blockchain projects, or even Hollywood agencies could decide to target Patreon’s core creator customer.”

Growth for All

The growth of ways for content creators to earn money should, in turn, contribute to additional growth in quantity of influencers and overall amount of content. And this will also benefit brands with a broader array of influencers to select from to effectively reach their target audiences.

Pros and Cons for Brands to Engage on OnlyFans

Unlike Instagram and YouTube, OF allows sexually explicit content.

  • Pro: Brands may benefit from positioning themselves as supportive of sex-workers. Some brands have taken a creative approach, discussing sharing “bowl of noodz” (noodles), and “introducing you to a SAUCIER side of the brand!”
  • Con: Some brands are reluctant to have their content on a platform shared with pornography.

The thorny issue of charging subscription fees.

  • Pros: Brands can charge a fee for access to exclusive content and the chance to connect with influencers.
    • Brands could donate funds generated through OF to charity
    • Finally, brands can create an OF and post content without charging any fees.
  • Con: Audiences might perceive brands charging fees as taking revenue from sex workers who depend on the platform as their only reliable source of income, a backlash faced by Bella Thorne.
    • Audiences will have high expectations for paid-subscriptions, potentially requiring brands to invest more in their content creation initiatives.

Engagement is high and the platform feels authentic.

  • Pro: Both excellent attributes.
  • Con: Overall volume is low, relative to other platforms.
    • Could be damaged by the expansion of brands and paid-promotions.

Few brands are already on OF.

  • Pro: Brand campaigns and influencer marketing on OnlyFans is a green field.
  • Con: Since fans are paying for exclusive content, we should expect them to be more resistant to obvious sales pitches.

Author: Megan Bozman, Owner @Boz Content Marketing