OnlyFans: It’s not just a DIY porn platform
A view from Sophy Vanner Critoph

OnlyFans: It’s not just a DIY porn platform

It would be short-sighted to dismiss OnlyFans as an irrelevant DIY porn platform, because its principles have valuable lessons for brands.

Over the past few months, OnlyFans has blasted into mainstream culture with rocketing user rates. Since the beginning of March, OnlyFans registered more than 3.5 million new accounts, according to Forbes.

What began as a creator-first platform for people like comedians and fitness gurus to monetise their specialities has become infamous for uncensored adult content that’s created at home. And OnlyFans’ pornification doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

But, setting aside all the negative headlines, it would be short-sighted to dismiss OnlyFans as an irrelevant DIY porn platform, because its principles have valuable lessons to teach us about deep engagement, compelling content creation and new entrepreneurial models.

Often cited as the “Patreon for porn”, the evolution of OnlyFans’ original creator-first purpose into a moneymaker for R-rated entrepreneurs is one worth examining. The global pandemic has inevitably contributed to its growth as people seek alternative sources of income, using their skills to make money while working from home. OnlyFans’ porn growth can also be attributed to the locked-down world’s increased desire for human connection through digital alternatives when IRL experiences are limited.

Nevertheless, OnlyFans’ business model and immense popularity among its community are indicative of a wider change in behaviour. The growth of the platform – and the young entrepreneurs it is creating –  signals an accelerated shift from DTC to DTF (direct-to-fan). And this provides a level of intimacy, fan engagement and micro-targeting that brands can only dream of. 

The DTF model offers unique opportunities for brands: a way to work directly with superfans and source invaluable insight to increase product sales or brand love. Its method fully involves consumers and their preferences to direct brand strategy from the very beginning.

Chinese phone brand OnePlus was created with the DTF model at its core, using fan assessment to guide its product development and invite investment. And many other brands – such as Nike, Walkers and Cadbury – already use their communities to create limited-edition products by letting fans design and then vote for favourites.

Similarly, Asos uses its community to model new products and beauty brand Billie recently promoted self-love through a campaign featuring fans as the stars. But DTF via OnlyFans evolves this model into fully democratised social commerce and audience monetisation. In short, OnlyFans is like Shopify for influencers, entertainers and creators. 

With OnlyFans, consumers sign up to profiles to gain exclusive access to content that’s unavailable elsewhere. Creators set the price of the basic subscription and can then add extra content at a further cost. It’s hardly surprising that a platform which offers this element of privacy and creator-controlled censorship has experienced an explosion in adult content. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of the old school pay-to-play TV porn channel.

But there’s a core difference: the creator/fan ecosystem works as one to decide what content is most alluring. While creators have the power to determine the value of their product, take full control of their revenue and gain clear feedback from a dedicated community, fans are given a more personalised experience and the ability to influence what comes next. The two work hand-in-hand to produce the most compelling and engaging content. 

OnlyFans has evolved beyond the existing “social plug-in” and DIY methods that creators otherwise use to directly monetise fan bases. Unlike existing models – which tend to rely on fan contributions more akin to donations and not always easy to convert to non-digital currency (such as TikTok coins) or unofficial DIY options (like being added to Instagram “close friends”) – OnlyFans content is accessed and rated via direct payment. This emphasis on financial reward is creating yet another self-service, empowering tool in the growing DIY kit and digital arsenal of self-determined influencers and creators turned entrepreneurs. 

As a forward-looking industry, we need to see beyond the lurid headlines about OnlyFans being an amateur porn outlet. Instead, we need to understand that OnlyFans is a premium example of how to monetise content with consumers driving the output, and we need to recognise that it could just be the ultimate platform for nurturing micro-communities and razor sharp fan engagement. 

Sophy Vanner Critoph is head of strategy at Amplify