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How OnlyFans grew to over 100 million users (11 min read)

OnlyFans.com – a social media platform where influencers can monetize their audience by offering content hidden behind a paywall–mostly a subscription.

Popular with fitness trainers and models, celebrities, and adult movie stars, it witnessed a rapid growth since its inception and a heavy boost in popularity in 2020

?Strategy & Tools

OnlyFans History Timeline


  • July 1, 2016 – OnlyFans was founded by 33-year-old British tech entrepreneur and investor Timothy Stokely headquartered in London, United Kingdom. 
  • July 20, 2016 – It reached first 1000 paying subscribers
  • September 8, 2016 – First 10,000 users
  • July 2018 – Fenix International Limited acquired 70% of the share and currently it is owned by  Fenix International Limited, and Timothy Stokely is the CEO. 
  • January 9, 2017 – It reached first 100,000 users.
  • February 27, 2017– First $1 million creator payouts.
  • October 5, 2017– First $10 million creator payouts.
  • September 14, 2017 – First million users.
  • December 26, 2018-– First $100 million creator payouts.
  • January 2019 –7 million registered users and over 60,000 content creators. 
  • July 4, 2019 – It reached first 10 million users.
  • January 2020 – Beyonce name-dropped OnlyFans on the “Savage Remix”. That translated to a 15% traffic growth and a significant boost to the platform’s fanbase.
  • May 14, 2020– First $1 billion creator payout.
  • May 25, 2020 – a 75% increase in sign-ups since March 2020
  • Aug 12, 2020 – Cardi B joins the platform
  • Aug 25, 2020 – Bella Thorne, an American actress, said she earned over $2M on OnlyFans in less than a week from creating an account.
  • Jan 2021 – It reached first 100 million users.

OnlyFans marketing strategy – No Censorship

OnlyFans got so popular because of its loose censorship policy, which OnlyFans marketing strategy is based on. That was made on purpose, as Timothy Stokely had founded a few amateur porn sites prior to releasing OnlyFans. This policy brought many adult stars to the platform which could sell exclusive content to their fans but with them, many influencers from outside the adult industry–fitness trainers, models, etc.

OnlyFans business model – Monetizing the influence

The platform’s tagline is to ‘monetize your influence’. There are many influencers that could add onlyfans.com to their revenue streams, but there are also ones that sell and promote dozens of products just to maintain their lifestyle. OnlyFans is a promise to achieve that, which is why it is so attractive to people with large followings.

How do OnlyFans models make money – unique OnlyFans business model

OnlyFans charges 20% of the subscriptions, while the other 80% goes to the creators (models). That is much less compared to other sites that allow to sell paid content and by this design, it attracts more creators. Adding to a monthly subscription fee, OnlyFans also have many other features that allow creators to earn money from their content, such as pay per view feature.

OnlyFans Referral program

As it is in the OnlyFans business model, the platform also relies on its referral program, and it pays a 5% commission on all income earned by any creator who joins via their unique referral link, for up to 12 months or a max of $50,000. That’s a serious motivation to promote the platform on other channels and do the marketing for it.

Tim Stokely even said:“I worked on previous platforms prior to OnlyFans and one of the mistakes I made was to focus on building what I felt was a great marketplace. But I didn’t, through inexperience, give enough consideration to the growth plan: how was I going to get users onto this marketplace? [That problem was] solved, in the case of OnlyFans, by creating a referral programme, which incentivised third parties to bring creators onto the platform.”

The OnlyFans referral program was also clever enough to use explanatory OG images and descriptions in Twitter cards that communicated the benefits of the platform while being 100% SFW, portraying the platform in a more neutral light.

OnlyFans marketing strategy – Using Twitter Traffic

OnlyFans is wise enough not to compete with other social platforms. It allows for easy sharing to other platforms, such as Twitter integration, to boost the number of followers. The integration was seamless since day 1 of the platform as the founder knew from his previous experience that he won’t generate much traffic on his own.

The automatic integration with Twitter allowed creators to post referral links and in the early days of live streams, it could automatically post about the live stream happening. Then, when a fan saw the link, he was asked to register in order to watch it–that’s +1 for the platform.

Why Twitter? It had a less strict content policy, and the creators flooded Twitter with their adult (or not) content to drive traffic to their accounts on Only Fans, so it corresponds with the OnlyFans business model.

First creators

Some of the first creators came from previous projects of Stokely. One of them was Dani Hardwood, an adult actress. She first joined the platform and earned about $200 in 18 months. However, then she got creative with the content and involved in making it based on polls with her fans. Among those were Dare Dani Thursdays where she would do challenges such as ordering pizza and opening naked. She then started to make over $1.5M in revenues from her content and started an OnlyFans management agency at later point.

There could’ve been more similar cases to hers.

OnlyFans marketing strategy – Paid DMs

One of the most-used features are paid DMs. Users that subscribe to certain influencers can send them DMs and talk with them, or at least to become a priority in their inboxes. As an influencer, you can also add PPV messaging, which means that you can send someone a content that can be seen by an individual but only if he pays for it. 

There’s also a dark side to it. Even many of the influencers post X-rated content, their followers feel lonely and just want to have someone to talk. Loneliness was a big part of the lockdown in most parts of the world, which drove those feeling down to platform such as OnlyFans.

Making friends with celebrities

OnlyFans' followers join relatively small circles around their favorite influencers, which creates a more direct and intimate relationship, or at least a sense of it. This drives engagement as many people strive to know someone famous. Here, they can.

High-profile influencers

In 2020, many high-profile celebrities joined the platform – Cardi B and Beyoncé are just a few of them – which worked for both sides of the content creation. It brought more followers in but also more creators and that boosted the overall growth of the platform.

Beyoncé has featured the platform in „Savage Remix”.

Serving an underserved market

Although the platform’s idea wasn’t to attract sex workers and porn stars, this no-censorship policy served those whose content was too racy for Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. The adult industry is still huge, though, and OnlyFans became an online place to go for the creators–outside typical webcam sites or Pornhub. The platform witnessed a flood of amateur content creators since COVID-19 broke out in the US.

Headline Payouts

Reading about how much one can make on the platform is a motivation to start OnlyFans career. However, according to a study, around 10% of the creators account for 73% of the whole revenue. The top creators make between $30,000 to $50,000 a month, but most of the people there hardly make a hundred dollars. This could be a reason why the minimal amount for payout has been lowered from $500 to $200.

How did OnlyFans start – A pivot

What ended up to become Only Fans, started as Customs4U. It basically allowed ordering custom-made videos from porn stars and is often referred to as the Only Fans beta.

High engagement

With the OnlyFans business model, the platform ensures that the fan engagement is high. Posts are seen by well over 60% of the fans, and 80% of the DMs sent by creators are seen and opened.

How much revenue does OnlyFans?

OnlyFans has more than $2 billion in sales, and about $400 k only in 2020, and its popularity is still growing with more and more celebrities joining in

?Psychology

Exclusivity

The OnlyFans business model and marketing strategy work on exclusivity. Subscribers get content that can be found only on the platform and feel a part of a small circle around their favorite influencers. They also get access to them, which makes it even more ‘prestigious’.

Social proof

Even if from the outside, the platform might be often perceived as made for X-rated content, the number of users, as well as celebrity creators make it a justifiable decision to join the platform. Plus, social proof is always the reason why referrals work so well.

Naked therapists

Many of the users simply feel lonely and while paying the subscription, they can talk with the people they follow and like, even if they came for the adult content.

FOMO

The Fear of Missing Out often relates to the influencers and social media platforms. The biggest fans don’t want to miss any content from the people they follow, so they do that on multiple platforms.

Another aspect of this is the fact that on many Only Fans accounts, you can’t see anything besides the profile picture unless you pay. That means, you’ll eventually get counted as a subscriber if you want to know what is posted there.

Bandwagon effect

2020 was when the bandwagon effect came into play the most. With celebrities of such caliber as Cardi B and Beyoncé joining or mentioning the platform, less-known influencers learned about the platform and tried it out.

Motivating-Uncertainty Effect

New users can’t get to know what’s inside subscription-only channels, but that’s what motivates them to pay. People go crazy for uncertain rewards–look at the slots.

?Window of Opportunity

You could say that ‘sex sell’s, but Only Fans is actually way beyond that. Its success in 2020 wasn’t a part of any big campaign, rather than the outcome of random events – the pandemic, which boosted online content consumption and creation and being mentioned by high-profile celebrities.

What the Only Fans did right was to play around the fact of celebrities acknowledging the platform. They capitalized on that and ensured that enough people see the message. They also used the power of referrals, notice that the platform gets around 20% of the subscription but 5% of that can go to pay for a referral. That might be such aggressively priced to drive growth, but hey–that’s what we’re here for!

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