How I Used Social Media to Build the HBO of Adult Entertainment
I’ve met many smart, talented, and good people struggling with social media and keeping up with current branding trends. They’ve got a great message or a great product, but they don’t have the following they should. They try, fail, get weak results, and then get discouraged—or, even worse, start doubting themselves, their message, or their product. Social media will fuck with your head if you let it—so, don’t.
My wife Jennifer and I have built several multi-million-dollar brands in the adult business. Yes, some people call it porn, but we call it art. We’re proud of what we do, and the brands that we’ve built with Vixen, Tushy, and Blacked. We’re incredibly proud of the impact that we’ve had in our industry and the 100-plus jobs we’ve created. If what we do bothers you, that’s okay. It was never meant for everyone.
Along the way, we’ve created world famous brands with huge followings on social media, including one that Kanye West talked about on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Why does a guy in the adult business have anything to say about how to build a brand and increase social media reach? First, in less than five years, we built three brands with a combined 30 million unique visitors every month. Second, we got people to pay for something that is largely available for free. How many “social media experts” have to compete against free? Third, if you can promote adult brands, you can promote anything. For us, the doors are closed to marketing. That means no Google ads, no Facebook ads, and no Instagram ads. Still, we made it work.
In five years, we became the HBO of adult entertainment and have accumulated more paying customers in the U.S. than any other American adult company. We uplifted an entire industry when it was demoralized and decimated by piracy. We won the most prestigious awards, breaking industry records. We empower the artists that we work with by paying well above standard rates and by creating inspiring, cool, and beautiful projects that they’re proud to be a part of. And a large part of our audience is women and couples.
Today, our brands have a combined social media following of over 6.25 million, and I have over 500,000 social media followers. I’ve been featured in Rolling Stone, Forbes, Ad Age, Vice, El Mundo, GQ, Men’s Health, Jezebel, and many other publications. How did we do it?
Here’s what I learned on our path to success.
The 3 Most Important Rules of Social Media
DON’T outsource. Stop looking for that magic company or person that will get you that massive exposure you want. It‘s never going to happen. No one can do it for you. To be successful on social media, you must be the driving force behind it. Procter & Gamble has an advertising budget of $7 billion. Tide is one of their most popular brands, and it has only 8,909 followers on Instagram. Meanwhile, Fashion Nova has 16 million followers, and Kylie Jenner has 143 million followers. Ad agency spending won’t help you.
DO IT yourself. Once you understand the dynamics of social media and what good content is, you can do it yourself. If you’re too busy to get involved, it won’t work. If you have the budget and a team, you still need to lead them creatively. They can’t do that for you, and you can only lead them if you understand social media dynamics and what good content is.
BUILD your team. For those with a budget, the ideal team includes you as the leader, a videographer/photographer, an editor who can add graphics/words to your videos and create display thumbnails, and a writer/creative person. Three people is all you’ll ever need on your team, and sometimes some of those jobs can be combined.
Know Your Brand Identity
Your social media platform brand identity is the key to growing your brand and increasing your reach. Most brands fall into one of two categories:
Companies, Brands, Organizations, and Nonprofits
People, Coaches, Artists, and Influencers
If You’re a Company/Brand/Organization/Nonprofit …
Learn what GOOD content is. Good content can be word-based, like Wendy’s on Twitter, or image-based, like Fashion Nova on Instagram. Good content performs. No one wants to watch a sales pitch or an infomercial. From pictures of cappuccinos to big butts, memes to the Maldives, travel videos to inspirational videos, if people engage with it through likes and comments, it’s good content. In 2019, what gets talked about wins. Make sure your content is worth talking about.
Powerful content MOVES people. One of the best examples of the power of good content I’ve seen lately is Hope for Paws. I was introduced to them through Tony Robbins. They’re a local nonprofit animal rescue in Los Angeles with a small team, and they started with virtually no help. Now Hope for Paws has 4 million subscribers on YouTube. PETA has less than half a million. An international, multi-million-dollar organization with a huge media budget and major celebrity endorsements couldn’t get as many subscribers as a small local animal rescue organization. This isn’t about money or the size of your team. It’s about how committed you are. Eldad, the founder of Hope for Paws, wasn’t a filmmaker, but he was able to create videos that have brought tears to my eyes. It’s not polished, it’s not perfect, but it’s real. His videos make you feel something. Nothing Eldad did required film school training. Had he hired a professional crew, his videos would have not had the same emotional impact.
LOOKS matter. If Apple only thought like a tech company and disregarded aesthetic, they wouldn’t be where they are today. Neither would Airbnb. Aesthetic matters, no matter what you sell. This is why people enjoy posting pictures of their perfect cappuccinos, their Acai bowls, the views from their hotel rooms, and their luxury cars. Learn to think aesthetically first.
If You’re a Person/Coach/Artist/Influencer …
GIVE a piece of yourself. Be vulnerable—at least some of the time. The social media gods demand sacrifice out of you. It’s about talking directly with your audience. Sometimes being vulnerable and imperfect is what gets you the best engagement rate and the most followers—not polished, overly professional content. You’re the artist, and this can never be outsourced. Makeup coaching with Huda Kattan: 38.5 million followers. Business coaching with Gary Vee: 6.4 million followers. Funny videos with Lele Pons: 36 million followers. Lifestyle with Dan Bilzerian: 27.8 million followers. Fitness and diet with Jen Selter: 12.8 million followers. Short videos with Casey Neistat: 11 million YouTube subscribers. Love them or hate them, it doesn’t matter. All of them have given a piece of themselves to social media, and all of them understand good content. If you sound like a corporate infomercial, it’ll never work. People want to see and feel something real, not some polished, fake bullshit. Give us something raw, something real, something imperfect. If you’re tired, say it. If you’re mad, inspired, sad, in love, share it with your audience, but it must be in line with your core message.
So, What’s Good Content?
It should feel like YOU created it. To be successful, you must learn how to produce and create good content yourself. You can’t direct others until you’ve learned to do it yourself. A company might be able to temporarily get away with outsourcing their social media to a creative team, but a person can never do this. Outsourcing is social media suicide.
Keep it SHORT and SWEET. On Instagram, good content is short and sweet. Create bite-size videos of one minute or less, so people can watch on the go. These add value quickly. If they’re good, your audience will let you know, and you’ll see increased engagement. If they suck, you will know real quick, too—and that’s okay, because you will get better at it.
Be your followers’ FRIEND. Add subtitles and/or a strong title above your video with black letters on a white background bar, like we see with memes. Go strong and relatable on your titles. No sales pitch. Don’t do: “Find the best mortgage for you.” This is boring, weak, and sounds like a sales pitch. Do: “Don’t get tricked by BS mortgages.” This sounds like the way you would talk to your friend. If you want these people to add you as a friend or follow you, talk to them like they’re your friend. Don’t talk to them like you’re a giant corporation.
Make it VERTICAL. Keep your videos vertical. Don’t try to be perfect. Be real. Some imperfections will make the video feel more authentic, and that’s what you want. If you’re mad, tell me. If you’re happy, tell me, but show me something real. You’ve got to be willing to give that piece of yourself and some vulnerability if you want to win at social media.
Do it DAILIY. If you can do videos every day, you will grow faster. The more often, the better. That’s the only way you’ll master this game, and how you’ll create a bond with your audience.
Create a VALUE-ADD. Give them the gold, NOW. Add value right away. You should be able to help, entertain, or add value to someone with that video/post in one minute or less. Give the best stuff away, right away. If it’s good, people will be touched and sign up or buy.
Keep it LOOSE. Never do overly professional videos. It kills the authenticity and will look like an infomercial—unless you’re Scorsese.
SIMPLE is best. You can mix it up in terms of shooting content, but, whenever you can, hold the phone yourself in your hand. Give your followers the real deal, and they will respond.
Get yourself an EDITOR. A good editor can add subtitles, make display thumbnail images, and add text to videos. You can easily find people on Upwork or learn how to do it yourself.
DON’T BUY followers. Never, ever buy followers, likes, or anything like that on social media. Just learn how to create good content, and that effort will grow your audience.
STAY AWAY from stock images. Don’t buy or use stock images. This is like committing branding suicide. Don’t do it on your website, don’t do it on social media, don’t do it for anything. The only reason to use stock photography is if you plan to create funny memes.
Be ORIGINAL. Don’t post motivational quotes from other people on cheesy backgrounds. This makes your account lose credibility. If you post motivational quotes, make sure they’re your own and post them over an image that you created. Just take an iPhone photo and use one of the many apps that let you add text or that generate a meme template for you.
EXCLUSIVE content gets engagement. Your content must be exclusive. This means the only place I see that picture, video, or text is on your page. Do not re-purpose other people’s content, unless that’s the only thing you do. If it’s not, don’t recycle other people’s content.
Tap into your NETWORK. Find millennials to talk to and see what they think is cool or lame about your social media presence. Even if your audience isn’t based on millennials, it won’t hurt to get their perspective and use their input to keep your brand fresh.
IMAGES are everything. Take a photography class. All you need are the basic rules of photography and practice. Don’t be intimidated if you’ve never picked up a camera in your life. The goal is for you to be able to use your iPhone in ways you didn’t know were possible.
Make it POP. The rules of great images are simple. 1. Good lighting is key. 2. The brighter your videos/photos are, the better they perform. 3. Learn how to frame for the best shot. 4. Whenever you can, put both MOTION and EMOTION in your videos.
Once you get momentum, push yourself to innovate! Find your own flavor of weirdness, or beauty, or inspiration, or fun. Overcome your fear of being judged and share your gift with the world. If you try to please everyone, you will touch no one. Aim for a specific, passionate, small group of people. If you resonate with them, they will do the promoting for you. Love yourself, love others, and enjoy the journey.