Fly by Jing, Rebecca Minkoff, and other creators are using OnlyFans. Should you?
In mid-August 2021, OnlyFans once again hit the news cycle—but this time it wasn’t because of what you might expect. The platform announced it was banning ‘explicit content’—causing an uproar on social media for days.
Why is this significant? You might even be thinking: isn't’ that what the platform is all about?
Well, yes and no.
Backlash was especially prominent from sex workers who had, in essence, played a major role in the building up the site’s massive growth and value during the pandemic, when creators found themselves at home and experiencing a sudden loss of income.
Going online allowed these creators in particular an opportunity to keep money coming in without risking health or safety by venturing out. And because their work was the reason why OnlyFans had gotten the attention it did, it was outrageous to think the platform could just ignore it and shut it down.
The platform rightfully reversed course a few days later.
This was just one of the many controversies OnlyFans has seen in recent years. Leaked content, celebrities using the platform, and accessibility concerns when it comes to children have all directed the spotlight on the site more than once.
But alongside the news and controversies, the platform is gaining traction for creators in other areas—namely mental health, fashion, food, and beauty.
What does this mean for creators and should OnlyFans be considered as part of a brand’s marketing strategy? Maybe.
Let’s dive in.
An OnlyFans origin story [the abridged version]
Founded in 2016 by entrepreneur Timothy Stokely, OnlyFans is a membership-based platform that allows creators to connect with fans (community) and share content behind a paywall.
The more popular the creator, the higher a monthly subscription might cost a fan, ranging from $5 to $50 per month. That doesn’t mean major brands are charging fans to access content -- because many don’t. More on this in a minute, though.
For independent creators, additional earnings outside of the monthly subscription fee come in the form of unsolicited tips (monetary), charging for direct messages, or requiring an extra fee to unlock certain photos or content.
And though OnlyFans can be lucrative to creators at the top, most profiles don’t make a living wage off the content they share.
What type of content is found on OnlyFans? It really depends on what the creator offers:
- Phone calls
- Group chat
- Direct message
According to data provided by the internal team at OnlyFans, there are 150 million registered users and a whopping 1.5 million creators. With that translating to 174 million visits each month and 5.5 million unique visitors on a daily basis, that’s a lot of eyeballs on content.
A good amount of that traffic was generated in part because of the global pandemic. In fact, during March and April of 2020—the early months of lockdowns and stay at home orders—OnlyFans experienced a monthly increase in users and new creator accounts of nearly 75 percent.
But isn’t OnlyFans associated with content of a sexual nature? Right now—yes but things could change as more creators hop on board. As for the current association, the brand is okay with it, but it should be noted that in the early days of the platform it was designed as a way for all creators to share content in a range of genres.
Because of the platform’s content policies, OnlyFans attracted mostly adult content creators. Some of that started to change in 2019.
What’s the motivation behind joining OnlyFans as a brand? Community.
In 2019, the popularity of OnlyFans expanded to the celebrity world.
Personalities such as Bella Thorne, Aaron Carter and Cardi B turned to the platform as a way to connect with fans and share content outside of the mainstream social media channels.
Despite the movement of more creators jumping onboard, brands like Rebecca Minkoff are playing into that association and getting cheeky with promoting it.
But why is a notable fashion brand like this dabbling with OnlyFans when there are so many other social platforms out there? It comes down to exposure and a direct sense of connecting with those who love the brand.
Minkoff describes OnlyFans as a way to create a more personal connection with those who are the “most diehard, most dedicated fans.”
There’s added value in what OnlyFans brings to brands, according to Minkoff. Through the growth of the platform—as it relates to brands and other content creators or celebrities – there’s an opportunity to empower and support other founders, especially women.
Minkoff’s goals for her OnlyFans page includes offering exclusive video series and the potential of 1:1 mentoring. When factoring in the small monthly rate of membership to unlock content, Minkoff feels that the tradeoff is available to female founders looking for guidance from a seasoned professional.
Food brands are looking to the platform, too.
Fly by Jing, a Sichuan sauce and spice brand created by Jing Gao, created a profile on OnlyFans membership rate to share “hot noods” with subscribers through exclusive video and photo content.
Gao says the platform offers an opportunity to connect and create a more personalized community instead of other networks that focus heavily on marketing and sales.
Another incentive to using OnlyFans is to provide a sense of community and direct interaction between Fly by Jing and the customers who support the brand.
While adding OnlyFans to the brand’s marketing channel to create community was key for Gao in taking this next step, she wanted to make it clear to fans that she acknowledged how important the platform was to other creators who used it as a source of income.
Additionally, though the subscription for Fly by Jing’s page was free, Gao explained that every subscriber who signed up would equal a $1 donation to various grassroots movements that supported the rights and safety of sex workers.
Even fast-casual food is getting in on the OnlyFans action.
Sticky’s Finger Joint, a chicken chain based in New Jersey and New York, created an account to share exclusive content directly to fans. Here, subscribers could access features like rewards, secret menu items, and partake in polls. Planned content also includes account takeovers from influencers and comedians.
Offering a free subscription, any tips donated to the company were given to ROAR or Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants, a fund dedicated to offering hospitality relief in the New York City area.
Founder Jon Sherman shared with Modern Retail the reasoning behind joining the platform. “We think of ourselves as a fun and whimsical food brand, so we thought it was a fun platform for posting sillier content out there.”
For Sticky’s Finger Joint, adding OnlyFans to the marketing strategy makes sense because the platform allows edgier content than what might be permitted on, say, Instagram or Facebook.
Even with over 68,000 fans cumulatively on Instagram and Facebook, Sticky’s is looking to target a different audience than the ones found on those social networks. Since millennials and Gen Z are more likely to use newer platforms like TikTok and OnlyFans, it could be an effective option for brands looking to connect with those markets specifically.
OnlyFans as a marketing channel? Ehhh.
Should brands consider using OnlyFans as a marketing channel to reach new customers or foster community?
It makes sense to do so if it’s the right fit for the brand. With the three mentioned earlier, it’s a way to draw in a younger, more engaged market.
Creators are also interested in using OnlyFans more because of the ability to branch out with different content to different platforms. With a diverse range of interests, creators have the option of sharing content with OnlyFans that they might not with a more professional-based account on Instagram.
Another interesting point is this: creators are not as willing to create ongoing content for free anymore, especially as we start nearing the end of the pandemic.
Though creators and brands still expect to post on mainstream platforms, they’re more likely to create personalized, behind-the-scenes content on platforms like OnlyFans, which can be monetized and unlocked through a subscription model.
OnlyFans isn’t designed to replace other social media channels but rather an extension of them. Also, because it’s currently still associated with adult content, that factor could play into whether or not a brand jumps in.
There are challenges to using OnlyFans—particularly with the algorithm that’s currently in place.
There’s no discover, or recommendation options for the platform, meaning creators and brands alike will find it hard to get noticed the way they would on Instagram, for example. Brands wanting to connect with fans will need to direct them onto their profile page through a third party like Linktree if they hope to connect websites or social media profiles with OnlyFans.
OnlyFans takes 20 percent of the revenue from a brand or creator, making the site a little less appealing for those who attract a smaller audience.
While adding a paywall helps creators charge for access, it creates a barrier for those who might be unsure if they want to subscribe, especially when a brand or creator is new.
For brands who want to use it to build brand awareness, OnlyFans could be a step in the right direction.
Some considerations to make include:
- Does OnlyFans fit in with the brand’s perception? Is the target market open-minded enough, or are they more willing to tap into newer platforms to connect with the brand?
- What are the reasons for wanting to try OnlyFans? Every brand mentioned has a different motivation for wanting to get in on the platform—whether it’s connecting on a deeper level with customers or looking for fun, unique ways to create content that might not be as creatively done with other restrictions in place.
- How is the brand managing other social platforms? It still needs to make sense where creators or brands share content between new social media channels and platforms. Suppose the brand is already struggling with creating ongoing, consistent content. In that case, it’s a great time to consider paring down channels and focusing on one or two or make the leap to a platform like OnlyFans and TikTok entirely (if that’s where your target audience is!).
Because of the fees, OnlyFans takes—20%—the tradeoff needs to be there for creators to feel like they’re being adequately compensated for time and creativity.
For brands like Fly by Jing and Rebecca Minkoff, the potential to cultivate community while giving back to organizations or founders that need it is a benefit worth trying.
Is OnlyFans something to consider as part of a marketing strategy? It depends.
For brands with niche, regional content or creators who want more freedom to get creative, OnlyFans could be a great way to build recognition and community within a network.