Last week, Rapper Cardi B announced her entrance to the platform to give fans behind-the-scenes content from her recent "WAP" music video with Megan Thee Stallion, for $4.99 a month.
In recent years, OnlyFans has become the preeminent platform for people looking to make money off selfies — particularly risque ones. The platform's rise in popularity during the pandemic has helped it enter the mainstream and provide an additional source of income for strippers and sex workers. OnlyFans reported 3.5 million new signups in March, a 75% increase from previous months.
Now with personalities like Cardi B and Blac Chyna on the platform, it's another venue for celebrities to monetize their massive followings and promote their latest work. YouTubers, influencers, and reality TV stars have also found success marketing uncensored content on OnlyFans.
Due to the site's lack of content restrictions, creators can upload photos and videos containing nudity. Users then place this content behind a paywall and charge subscriptions for access, keeping 80% of the revenue. As a result, the site has been hailed as a key resource for these sex influencers looking to capitalize directly on their fanbase.
However, OnlyFans entrepreneurs face several challenges promoting their work because the content policies of most websites and social media platforms restrict the sharing of not-safe-for-work content. The architecture of the OnlyFans website also presents challenges because it lacks a "Discover" feature or recommendation system, meaning users can have trouble finding new creators to follow.
And, because users are unable to see an account's content until after they subscribe, it's challenging to convince a user to pay unless they already know the creator. This catch-22 inhibits growth, as it forces OnlyFans creators to rely on other social media sites — many of which are hostile to sex workers — to build their fanbase and then direct it to their OnlyFans.
Despite these obstacles, OnlyFans sex workers have successfully built massive paying audiences, with some top workers even making six figures from their accounts. The website has soared in popularity during the pandemic, and Beyoncé recently name-dropped OnlyFans on Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage."
Business Insider spoke with five of OnlyFans' top entrepreneurs to find out how they built their followings from scratch, then converted them into a lucrative business.
While most entrepreneurs are unlikely to replicate the kind of NSFW content available on sex workers' pages, the techniques that they use for building audiences, creating unique content, and retaining subscribers can be applied to any industry that relies on user-generated revenue.
Unique content is the key when you're trying to convince users to pay for it. If your material is so standard that a user can find it elsewhere for free, chances are they will.
King Noire, a sex worker on OnlyFans who specializes in kink and BDSM, says that finding and developing a niche should be a creator's first priority.
"People subscribe to me because my content is unique," said Noire. "There might be other people who do something similar, but they don't do it with my expertise or flavor."
Because OnlyFans generates revenue for its creators through subscriptions, the key is identifying and catering to an overlooked niche rather than branding yourself as a lowest-common-denominator creator. In the world of subscriptions, depth, not breadth, is key.
OnlyFans sex workers agree: the NSFW content attracts users, but the connection keeps them. "What other platform allows you to text with the people you watch online?" says OnlyFans creator Erica North, who doesn't identify as a sex worker but whose account is in the top .17% of creators and has netted her more than $250,000 in 2020.
North, in particular, doubles down on the sense of intimacy that the site affords. Rather than use OnlyFans primarily for sharing nude content, she turned to the platform as a way to monetize the lines of communication she had established with fans across the country.
"I tell people, 'My favorite feature on OnlyFans is talking to people,'" said North. "I really mean it when I tell them that I'm there for them, I want to talk to them, and that doing so is the best part of my day."
King Noire agrees, especially since word-of-mouth recommendations can be the most helpful channel for getting new fans.
"Despite how technologically advanced we get, nothing will give your profile a better boost than a fan who feels like you're in their corner," said Noire.
Spend more time sharing your content than making it
High-quality content is the most critical factor in a channel's success, but for every minute you spend working on your offering, OnlyFans entrepreneurs recommend spending twice as much time promoting it. Especially on a site like OnlyFans, where built-in restrictions limit the number of people who will discover your content, a concerted effort to push material out is critical.
OnlyFans entrepreneur Miss Henley, a sex worker in the top .5% of the OnlyFans community whose page has generated $100,000 in revenue in the last 12 months, says she splits her efforts about 70-30, with the majority of her time going to promotion.
"If you're not being your own biggest billboard, then you're doing a disservice to yourself."
Leverage your network
The OnlyFans community is intensely cooperative. Creators plug each other on social media callouts or on their channels to help make up for OnlyFans' lack of an automated recommendation system. Sex workers will also recommend each other directly to their clients using discreet communication apps like Telegram, Signal, or Discord.
On social media, OnlyFans creators employ an unofficial payment scheme when promoting one another, said Amber Killion, a sex worker whose gross revenue has already topped $100,000 this year.
If both parties have similarly sized audiences, they often simply tout one another for free. If one has a larger fanbase, they might charge between $35-$70 for a promotion, says Killion. Many creators, though, will simply plug the work of others they admire without any prearranged agreement.
"I feel like association with other NSFW creators is the biggest asset that you could have as far as promotion," said Miss Henley. "I've never heard of anybody successful that doesn't associate with accounts outside of themselves."