Platforms like Patreon, OnlyFans, Substack, and Linktree allow creators to make money directly from their followers
The age of the unattainable influencer is over. Instead, the rise of platforms like Patreon, Substack, and OnlyFans are making it profitable for digital creators to maintain close relationships with their followers. In 2021, anyone with a following can turn the personal content they are making for their audience into valid revenue streams through the help of new online tools.
In many ways, this is long overdue. Cultivating a community and maintaining online relationships is something influencers have been doing for free for over a decade. But now, more and more are charging directly for the content they know their followers are actually interested in, like exclusive videos, advice, and merch—and it’s paying off. Brand deals and sponsorships aren’t the only way to monetize anymore.
Last year, creator income on Patreon doubled, with platform users making a combined one billion dollars with video and podcast creators leading the charge. Over on OnlyFans, the platform says it’s paid out a total of three billion dollars to its creators, with Influencer Marketing Hub reporting that the average creator makes around $180 a month. And Linktree recently introduced commerce links, which allow users to directly collect money for their services, donations to charity, or cash tips to support their work.
“Your follower goes through this journey of knowing you, liking you, and then trusting you,” Lissette Calveiro, an influencer coach, tells me over the phone. “What do they actually trust you on? And that’s what I would consider monetizing.”
While Substack has garnered a reputation for wooing traditional big-name writers like Patti Smith and Roxane Gay, influencer LaTonya Yvette recently transferred her newsletter to the platform. Yvette has been writing about lifestyle and motherhood for ten years as a blogger and Instagram creator with over 86,000 followers, but saw the value in talking more deeply with her community via newsletter during the pandemic. On Substack, she charges $5 USD/month or $50 USD/year for access to subscriber-only posts about community, culture, and interviews, and also allows subscribers to pay even more if they choose, earning them the title of “Rooftop Riders” and the knowledge that they’re one of their favorite creator’s biggest supporters.
Generosity from followers is what’s driving several platforms to incorporate tipping on social networks. Twitter recently introduced the Tip Jar option to send money to creators for their content. Jazmine Renato Moreira accepts tips on OnlyFans for providing free makeup tutorials and fashion inspiration. Similarly, musician Madi Rindge uses a Linktree commerce link to solicit donations from fans looking to support her work beyond streaming and downloading.
Other creators are monetizing by charging for specific content. Katy Bellotte, a YouTuber with over 474,000 subscribers, uses graphic design and illustrations to help her video thumbnails stand out. She monetizes those same skills on Patreon, charging her almost 1,600 patrons as little as one dollar a month for original desktop background designs, or up to five dollars a month for social media assets and resume templates.
Similarly, women’s rights advocate Shaheen Pathan uses Linktree to allow clients to book one-on-one life coaching sessions, whereas personal trainer Jono Castano charges OnlyFans subscribers $9.99 a month for access to fitness tips and diet advice.
A physical product is an effective way to incentivize an audience to pay. Those giving $100/month to writer Baratunde Thurston on Patreon receive two signed copies of his book, How To Be Black, and patrons of illustrator Cheyenne Barton paying $15/month receive a discount on her online store, as well as a monthly postcard and sticker.
The rise in monetization tools may explain why Forbes reports that more than 50 million creators exist on Youtube, Instagram, Twitch, TikTok, and other social media platforms combined, with two million of those creators earning a full-time living from their work. The digital content industry is no longer a phenomenon, but a tried-and-true career path that continues to grow. With the power to make money directly from their supporters, creators are paving a new, more sustainable career path for the industry.
About the author: Kathryn Lindsay is freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn, New York. Find out more at www.kathrynfionalindsay.com.