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OnlyFans’ switch to generic: A social media cautionary tale

by | Sep 21, 2021 | Public Relations

Early this year, we wrote about OnlyFans and how its popularity represented a new path for social platforms, one grounded in creator control and against censorship. In the last few weeks, however, the company has thrown this narrative out the window. They announced that the site would no longer support explicit content, followed by a groundswell of public backlash.

Almost all of the digital dissent centered on the absolute disregard for the sex worker creators who made OnlyFans so popular—as well as how, without them, the site would cease to be relevant. The company soon backtracked and announced that the porn ban was off. Now, after ruining their public image, losing the faith of their core creators, and causing other direct-to-fan sites to publicly announce their support of explicit content creators, it’s uncertain whether OnlyFans will survive.

This shakeup in the social media sphere is only the latest demonstration of how platforms go generic. The trajectory looks something like this: a new social media site starts out with a clear purpose that other sites are not fulfilling in its most grand capacity.

As the new app grows in popularity and takes more of a presence in the market, other sites begin adopting elements of the new app in an attempt to dampen their popularity. This in turn leads to users becoming less distinguishing in what content they post on which platform.

Becoming echo chambers

They become echo chambers for each other. As the new app establishes its relevance, it too begins to stray away from its original function in order to stay competitive, adding elements of other sites to become a one-stop-shop for social networking. Copying the competition is the go-to strategy for survival.

Instagram has begun displaying a similar sort of approach. This summer, IG chief officer Adam Mosseri announced that the platform would “no longer be a photo sharing app”  and begin leaning into entertainment and video. The news comes after a long list of actions to take the app beyond a social network, such as introducing Reels and redesigning the homespace for Instagram Shopping. Of course, this is to compete with the rising popularity of other apps, namely TikTok and Depop.

For creators producing still imagery and primarily aesthetically content, this could be a concerning move. It’s also a bit confusing, considering that those making entertainment and comedy content are primarily producing for TikTok and Youtube and merely using IG as an amplification tool. It’s uncertain whether Instagram has the cultural power to reorient that course.

What should marketers do?

As digital marketers, what should we make of this homogenization of platforms? An effective strategy could be prioritizing the quality of the content, ensuring that it represents your brand messaging and celebrates creativity before appealing to passing trends. Putting the identity of a brand first before diving into social media is a strategic way to ensure what your brand is saying cuts through the noise—and sometimes, the most attention-catching move is not saying anything at all. When Bottega Veneta suddenly deleted their social media accounts, it seriously was disruptive. It was also effective, because it aligned with their brand identity of exclusivity.

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Douglas Schowengerdt
Douglas Schowengerdt is Cultural Correspondent at New Moon.

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