Opinion: Why direct-to-consumer content is the next big influencer trend
A black and white picture of actor Ansel Elgort standing naked in the shower, his hand perfectly placed to prevent the shot from violating Instagram's Terms of Service, trended in April. It wasn’t so much the picture that had people talking but the caption: “OnlyFans link in bio.”
Elgort’s link in bio didn’t actually drive to OnlyFans, an adult-oriented subscription site, but to a COVID-19 charity supporting frontline workers. But the site benefited from the bait-and-switch and gained mainstream popularity.
OnlyFans is one of a handful of sites that link celebrities and creators directly with their audience—for a fee. And as brands cut back on spending and affiliate programs like Amazon cut commission rates, content creators are increasingly using subscription sites as part of a new revenue model: direct-to-consumer.
Notorious influencer Caroline Calloway started a real OnlyFans account in April, charging about $50 a month for access to her naked pictures. And Instagram "Twerk Queen" Lexy Panterra posted on Instagram that she makes $10,000 a day dancing fully clothed on OnlyFans, saying in her caption “The gram don’t pay so I...had to leave Bye Bye.”
The 'gram may soon start paying, though. Facebook-owned Instagram is looking into ways for users to pay creators directly, potentially as a feature that allows people to send tips during live broadcasts. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but the platform took a step in this direction with a new feature that lets creators raise money for nonprofits during Livestreams.
Cameo, a platform where people can pay actors and influencers to record personalized video shout-outs, has also gained popularity in the past year. Patreon continues to be an extremely popular creator subscription platform, especially among podcasters who earn money through member-only bonus episodes. And now that gyms are closed, some fitness instructors are launching private Instagram accounts or Zoom streams where passwords are shared only with paying clients.
This model has also existed for a while in the streaming space, especially on Twitch where fans often pay to support their favorite creators with subscriptions or a feature called “Bits” that acts as a micro-tip.
D-to-c influencer content bills at a small rate compared to the typical brand partnership, but creators with truly engaged fan bases are positioned to make bank. This also means that the days of buying fans may be limited; what good is a large audience of bots who won’t buy your work?
Influencers are in some ways defined by their relationship to brands, to a point where aspiring influencers will tag brands just for clout. But while the d-to-c trend is emerging, it could lead to an eventual shift away from a reliance on brand relationships.
If nothing else, this could make it easier for brands to identify influencer reach—it’s easy to buy followers but much harder to fake a following of paid subscribers. It could also eventually lead to more authenticity, with creators being more picky about the brands they work with and focusing instead on content that resonates with their audience. The trend is still emerging, but it’s definitely something for brands to keep an eye on.