OnlyFans: Has brand perception overshadowed a real opportunity?

A brand is built on perception. They rely on their consumers and fans to build their brand within the brand vision.

What happens when you think of Nike, Tesla or Amazon? You know what these brands represent, what they stand for, and what they do. They’ve had years to build trust and shape their perception with their audience, whereas new brands don’t have the luxury of time. Especially in the social age.

I’m sure the majority have heard of a platform called OnlyFans. Since lockdown, this platform has entered the mainstream of social and media, with over 50 million registered accounts. But throughout this time, it has hit the headlines and become known for being an X-rated subscription service. 

So it got me thinking. Without a clear brand message, the real purpose behind them can get lost, or even misconstrued. Branding is one of the most important things for a business; it defines you, it’s who you are, but more importantly, it’s who your audience think you are. This is a valuable lesson to those on the outside who only know the brand from its current state, and not what it was originally made for. OnlyFans is the perfect case study of the modern era that signifies the importance of brand perception, and what happens when misconceptions occur. So let’s take a deep dive into the platform. 

What is OnlyFans?

OnlyFans is a subscription-based service released in 2016 for creators to post a variety of exclusive content and connect with their fans. Unlike most platforms, it puts the creator in control of their distribution. To gain access to their pages, users need to pay a monthly subscription for core content – with further paywalls to access more ‘premium’ options.

There are also options to tip the creator through direct messages for more personalised requests. If you think about it, it’s the platform that influencers have wanted for years – a network that guarantees income on their terms and not reliant on brand deals. Although the platform does take 20% of each creators’ revenue, leaving 80% to the creators themselves. A little cheeky, but they do need to make money. 

Having been around since 2016, OnlyFans hasn’t really been spoken about until late 2019. But in 2020, the platform has taken unprecedented strides into mainstream media.

Additional revenue streams

The global pandemic has caused millions in the UK and around the world to look for new forms of income, and what better place to make money than the comfort of your own home. This is also prevalent across other social platforms with both brands and influencers adapting to the new norm. However, signing up to OnlyFans does not mean you are guaranteed to make money; you still need fans or subscribers. But that’s the difference between doing it for an income, and actually doing it to connect with people that are there for you or your brand. 

The pandemic has affected mental health and taken away real-life human connections – leading people to look for different forms of human interaction; particularly online. OnlyFans gives you that through being able to talk directly with who you’re subscribed to; albeit for a bit of money. 

Since their release in 2016, OnlyFans has always been inclusive of all creators, from personal trainers to chefs and beyond. But if you type OnlyFans into Google and look at the headlines on the news page, you would probably think it’s just an adult entertainment site. Social and mainstream media has narrowed the perception of the platform down into one lane. When in reality, as the platform says itself, there are many lanes you can take. 

Take their counterpart, Patreon, for example. Almost identical platforms. Different perceptions. Patreon is seen as a place for all creators to harness a community and provide real value for their fans. But with OnlyFans, the perception that the platform is mainly porn-related has evolved, and been continuously reported on by the media in that vain; it’s no wonder the masses can’t see it in any other way. It’s like someone telling you that Colgate started out selling soap and candles, you wouldn’t believe it.

So let me put the question to you. What do you think of when I say OnlyFans? It’s only when you look further into the platform, you can start to see the bigger picture.

What can I share on OnlyFans?

Say I create an OnlyFans. The common assumption is that I’ve created an explicit adult page – when in reality I’ve created a page to post copywriting tips, host talks or connect with aspiring writers for a small monthly fee. You see my point? 

When Cardi B released WAP, she ticked off every marketing checklist you can probably write. Even the one with OnlyFans on it. Fans of the artist flocked to the platform probably expecting something a bit more explicit – I know, WAP was pretty explicit. When in reality she took this advantage to promote behind the scenes shoots and give a more in-depth look that the real fans might care about. Other celebrities also propelled the brand further. Bella Thorne joined the platform to challenge the stigma of sex work, but hit the headlines when she made $1 million in a day. Beyoncé name dropped the platform on the Savage remix. All of these things drove a spike in traffic and drew attention to the brand. 

But the core members on the platform are also creating content that pushes followers to sign up. Musicians have taken to the site to give fans exclusive music, unreleased tracks. Fitness gurus are selling meal plans, workout tips and videos. MUNCHIES has also launched on the platform, making them the first verified food publisher on OnlyFans, providing users with bespoke content made for their subscribers. 

But what else could you do? Yoga classes, masterclasses, gaming tips, beauty tips, giveaways, you could even make a page specifically to raise money for good causes. The list goes on. The point I’m making is that it’s so much more than the explicit X-rated website it’s portrayed to be. OnlyFans knows that. But the world doesn’t.

Are brands and influencers missing out on an opportunity?

One word that stands out is stigma. There’s a clear barrier to entry because of how the platform is perceived. We’re allowing the stigma of OnlyFans to blind us to the reality and potential of what the site is made for. But why? Why are we letting this overshadow the exciting opportunities the platform offers, and why does it even matter? 

Yes, it’s similar to other social networks, but is Kim Kardashian really going to reply to your Insta DM? No chance. OnlyFans is built for those personal moments, with the fans that care the most. We talk about Facebook groups for mega fans, but how many of them would pay to be in that group? If they’re willing to pay for the content, it shows how passionate they are for what you do. Create content that’s compelling to them, unique for them. Content that they won’t see anywhere else. Make them the premium. Yes, there is a paywall. But this should be an incentive to create some incredible content for the people that care, not just another revenue stream. This site could be a new level of affinity between you and your consumer while defining real fans from followers. 

Jack Watkins