Over the last two years, Jasmine Rice has amassed 98,000 Twitter followers with her warm, cheeky online persona. Rice’s profile boasts a marketable quirkiness — tweets include relatable quips, heartfelt reflections, crude humor, cute selfies, and self-deprecating thoughts (which are always immediately refuted by adoring followers) — what some might call “oversharing” and GenZennials understand as par for the course.

The 23 year-old built her following while studying at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. “I was a low income student and I really needed money,” Rice tells the Business of Business. “My mind was always around, ‘Okay, I have this platform, how can I monetize it?’”

She decided to join OnlyFans, a subscription-based platform largely associated with its sex-work-based transactions, where she is now among the top 1% of creators, earning between $1,000 and $40,000 a month. Rice mainly shares singing videos and non-nude photos. “I personally was never comfortable with nudity. I just wanted to share more personal stuff that people wanted to see, and a lot of people paid for it,” she says. “But there are a lot of pain points with existing monetization platforms. There's a lot of hate and stigma. Every week, I have people call me a whore, that I should die, that I should be raped.”

Rice saw an opportunity for herself and fellow popular Twitter users. Fresh off of graduation and in the midst of the pandemic, she reached out to two of her Twitter “mutuals” — Khoi Le and Jerry Meng — with an idea. Rice experimented with a private secondary Twitter account, charging $7 for a follow. She made $2,000 in two weeks. “We saw that there's definitely demand beyond sexual content, beyond other existing monetization platforms.” Rice, Le, and Meng launched Fanhouse in the fall. The platform currently counts 4,200 active users.

Nudity and "illegal activities" are prohibited on the app, establishing a PG-13 environment. "It's against our terms, and it's against Stripe's terms, which is our payment processor. If we see any of that content, we delete it. But other than that, whatever a creator wants to post, it's free rein."

Fanhouse joins a growing market of subscription-based platforms where people pay and get paid for original content. COVID presented a big growth opportunity for these companies as people sought out ways to stay financially afloat from home. By an official count, Substack has doubled its active writers since the start of the pandemic, NPR reports. OnlyFans and Substack saw their Twitter followings surge 62% and 82% over the last six months, respectively.

But, while Substack is known for newsletters and OnlyFans is known for nudes, Fanhouse relies on personalities, which can take on a variety of digital forms. The Fanhouse homepage calls the app a place for "Shower thoughts, felt-cute-might-delete-later selfies, and unfiltered sh*tposting from your favorite creators on the internet.” Fanhouse gives you the tools to monetize your internet persona, encouraging social media users with as little as 20 followers to build a lucrative personal brand. “Join as a creator today,” it beckons. “Connect directly with your fans and earn money by growing your exclusive, authentic community." 

While Fanhouse bears similarity to Patreon — which offers everything from podcasts to photography to blog posts — it operates more like a confessional social media channel, a public diary rather than a personal publication. The platform's users are “creators” in the most modern sense of the word. To be a creator, all you have to do is be yourself, and broadcast it. An artist can be a person who takes iPhone photos of debris. Writers can be people who write witty captions. “If you make Tweets that are funny, you are a creator. If you post pictures on Instagram that are very aesthetic, you're a creator. Anybody that creates content online is a creator to us,” Rice says. “Every personality online deserves to make money. We're making people laugh, giving people art, we're giving people images, ideas.”

Rice is not only a Fanhouse founder, she's the face of the operation and a high-earning creator on the platform, with 200 subscribers who collectively pay her around $5,000 a month for jokes, rants, musings, selfies, and personal messages. “I post whenever I feel like it. The point is that it's flexible, it's easy, it's not work,” Rice explains. “Sometimes it's just like, I'm really freaking cold and I need to tell somebody, so I put that on Fanhouse. Or I post, ‘I'm craving Taco Bell’ or ‘I just took a really nice bath,’ or if I look really cute I’ll post selfies. I have fans that tip me every day. The posts that do the best are pictures of myself. I've gotten $100 tips on my selfies.” Many of Rice's followers are male, she mentions, "but that's also true with my public platform. It's mainly people in their 20s to 40."

The majority of Fanhouse creators, however, are just collecting a little extra pocket money. Out of the 138 users making money on the platform, the average creator makes $785 a month. “There are people making a lot, but it's a pretty big range,” Rice clarifies. Fanhouse takes 10% of earnings, the same fee as Patreon and Substack. OnlyFans keeps 20%. 

Haley OC, who goes by @milfweed on social media, joined Fanhouse on New Year’s Day. She had been considering membership platforms like Patreon for a few months after getting laid off in 2020. “Prior to the pandemic, I was working full-time in Cannabis to support myself financially and using all of my spare time to write, act and do comedy. Fanhouse has given me the opportunity to not worry about money for the moment and just create,” she says. “I am still looking for full-time jobs to support me, as I don't know that Fanhouse would provide enough income to survive in Los Angeles.” So far, Haley has made about $1,000. “Some of my content is funny and for entertainment. Sometimes it's a safe space for me to post flirty pictures that would otherwise bring upon harassment on Twitter.”

The app has proven useful for young people pursuing arts and entertainment — a place to foster a following and showcase your talents and personality as a kind of micro-celebrity — as a career in the industry becomes increasingly unsustainable. Sherry Li charges $3 a month for access to @sherrysworld, which she describes as “a journal for all my thoughts about my life, my musings about writing, twitter, relationships.” The 24 year-old Toronto native is currently writing a novel and has made $80 in one month. 

Yamini, a 22 year-old LA-based comedian, has made $1,000 in two months on Fanhouse. “It helps me supplement the additional cost of creating things like my podcast or getting video equipment to make comedy stuff,” she says. “I joined because a lot of my fellow creators were using it to connect with their audiences in a more personal way. I post my unfiltered thoughts and pictures/videos I wouldn’t want to post on my large Twitter platform. The people who follow me are mostly loyal Twitter followers who want to engage with me more. They’re mostly men, but our relationship is pretty one-sided so I don’t know much more about them.”

Fanhouse prioritizes intimacy and a peek into creators’ lives. Users aren’t selling their work, per se, they’re selling parasocial relationships with their unfiltered (well, less filtered) online selves. This is why messaging is a big part of the app’s appeal. Subscribers can pay to unlock hidden messages and exchange private DMs with creators. “More of my content comes in the DMs than the main fanwall,” Yamini explains. About one-third of Jasmine Rice’s monthly revenue comes from these messages, as well. “Sometimes people ask me personal questions about my life and I’ll charge like $5 to answer,” she says. “If people want to know, ‘Can you tell me about your last relationship?’ I'm not just going to go tell you about my last relationship for free, but yeah for $5, I'll answer that.”

“On Fanhouse, top fans that want to buy a lot of content from you,” Rice continues. “They want to get a lot of attention from you, they want to be able to support you a lot.”

It’s a well-worn point that if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. We’re all unpaid employees of Twitter and Instagram, “branding” ourselves and generating free content for Big Tech and their advertisers. The potential upside of membership platforms like Fanhouse is how they compensate users for their content creation, still operating under the people-as-products model, but with an added sense of humanity.

Still, Fanhouse won’t replace Twitter. As it stands, Fanhouse can’t live without it. “There does need to be a public place where people find and get to know you for free first. I do think some content should be free and that's why I have a Twitter myself,” Rice acknowledges. “I want Fanhouse to be kind of a second home for all creators. You have a second place for all of your other thoughts that you're not posting on main.”

It’s not hard to imagine a world in which Twitter and Instagram roll out paid profiles. In July, Jack Dorsey revealed that Twitter is in the early stages of exploring a subscription model. But, if we learned anything from Spotify’s half-penny-per-stream average artist payouts, these major social networks probably won’t pay its creators anything close to a living wage, and they will grow more powerful because of it. In this scenario, Fanhouse could become the Bandcamp of “indie” content creators and influencers.

“I really believe every creator online should be making money for their content,” Rice says. “I'd love to envision a future where Fanhouse becomes that place for all creators to make money.”

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