This article contains sexually explicit material.
With the possible exception of pro wrestlers, no other group of people is better on Twitter than the porn community. In fact, it’s pretty much the only community I regularly follow on social media. While Music Twitter is generally uninteresting and inundated with promotional material, and Weird Twitter too inconsistent to truly engage with fans, porn stars like Stoya and James Deen and websites like Pornhub are entertaining, smart, funny, and bold, saying things we wish we had the courage to say IRL.Part of the reason why Porn Twitter is so great is because of how much porn stars interact with fans. You’d be hard-pressed to find a community that loves, seduces, angers, or engages their fans more, and we love them right back. There’s also an undeniable voyeuristic appeal. The tweets of a Stoya or a Kayden Kross or a James Deen give us a glimpse into a life that we can barely understand, that most of us are too scared to engage in outside closed doors. We always want to know more about what Life As a Porn Star is like, and social media gives us that information.
So how do porn stars master Twitter so effectively? It’s no surprise that posting sexy photos or explicit content would attract followers quickly and easily. But just like anyone else on Twitter, a porn star looking to build a social media following requires the right blend of charisma and relatability. They need to be sassy, honest, and always engaging.
Porn up-and-comer Carter Cruise knows this better than anyone. During her three-year tenure in the porn industry, she’s won two AVN Awards and built a social media empire with more than 68,000 followers to her name.
“When you’re tweeting porn, you get a lot of followers really quickly because they get free porn from your site,” Cruise says. “I wanted to make sure I built a following that was stronger than that, [that] was interested in me, not just my porn.”Carter does this by cultivating her persona as “your girlfriend’s favorite porn star,” which is what she calls herself in her Twitter bio: “Not what you expect | your girlfriend’s favorite porn star | word lover | former sorostitute | avn/xbiz/xcritic best starlet + best actress | DJ | TRAP QUEEN.” She’s probably your favorite porn star as well, especially if you read Grantland’s Molly Lambert’s piece about chilling with her at the AVNs).
Building this brand, Cruise says, was an intentional strategy from the start.
“I saw porn stars were still mostly trying to appeal to men and create this fantasy of what guys wanted,” Cruise says. “I wanted to present an image of a woman who was sexual, but in a way that was real. I want to make people second-guess what their perception of a porn star is.”Part of that means that Carter doesn’t actually tweet that much of her porn from her account. In fact, she views her no-genitalia-on-Twitter policy as a form of quality control.
“It’s been interesting because I’ve built a smaller following than most girls,” she says. “I’ve been in the business almost two years, and I’ve built a following of around 67,000. That could be a bigger number, but the interaction and quality is super high because no one’s following me just for porn.”
An aspiring writer, Cruise also explains that when she publishes something, she wants people to be able to share it with their friends and not have the source of the story be a page with “a bunch of gaping assholes.”
In fact, one thing that I almost didn’t notice until Cruise called it to my attention is that many porn stars post little to no explicit material on their pages. That’s because Twitter-famous stars like Cruise, Logan Pierce, and Mia Khalifa are all millennials with an innate understanding of what their Internet-savvy comrades want: nuance, humor, honesty, and a sleek Squarespace aesthetic.Though the phrase “personal brand” can be vastly overused, it’s one of the few ways someone can carve out their corner of success online, regardless of whether they’re in the porn industry. Cruise first realized the power of personal branding when she taught herself HTML in middle school to mess around with the layout of her MySpace. She tells a funny story about coming up with a social media name where she called herself a DJ, even though she didn’t actually know how to DJ at the time. It was, in a sense, a way of motivating herself to learn how to DJ— a sort of “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude that empowers a lot of young people looking to create a name for themselves on the Internet.
Having a strong personal brand could also save performers in an industry where the traditional money-making model has been dying for a while now. Michael Sinclair owns Voodoo Media Group, a full-service digital marketing agency for the adult film industry. He’s been in the business for twelve years, working both behind the camera and in marketing.
When Sinclair started out in the porn business, promotion and marketing of budding stars fell on the shoulders of the production companies making the product. Most of the advertising was done in industry magazines designed to sell to other members of the business.
“The talent coming up now was born digital,” Sinclair says. “Now you’ve got this marketing apparatus built in, with talent that’s now able to promote the scene and the product. Once that started, companies no longer had to rely on the brick-and-mortar stores that were going away. It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s evolved over time.”
There’s a key difference that’s changing how the porn industry markets to consumers, and Sinclair has been there to see the shift. What once was a product marketed to people who didn’t want to be sold to openly, has now been made more socially acceptable. There’s less of a stigma attached to watching porn, to the point where people no longer have to sneak into XXX stores off the highway to find porn. They can just tweet at their favorite porn stars on a public platform like Twitter.Most clients come to Sinclair’s agency with a sense of what they want to project to their audience. The brand-building questions are asked first: Where are they at in their career? What are they looking to do? Are they wanting to create their own money-making site instead of shooting for producers? Are they looking to move into music or start a fashion line? From there, it’s about fleshing out that persona and making sure the brand is developed with clarity and consistency.
Sinclair’s team also makes sure clients are aware of the ins-and-outs of social media, like the importance of watermarking images and adhering to service rights. He’s seen clients spend hours building a following on Facebook, only to have their account deleted because of an NSFW photo.
That’s probably the biggest challenge porn performers face on social media: being aware of what they can and can’t post. Sites like Facebook and Instagram prohibit nudity and sexually explicit content, which is why many porn performers are so active on Twitter.
But even that might be changing: A recent Daily Beast article quoted an industry insider saying that the site would be purging 10 million porn accounts. The article sent clients calling Sinclair’s office, panicked they would lose their followers.
Sinclair stressed to them that as long as they play by the rules and toggle the sensitive tweet switch when they need to, they should have nothing to worry about.
“Twitter’s been very good to the adult entertainment industry by standing up for free speech on several occasions, more so than Facebook or Instagram,” Sinclair explains. “I don’t think Twitter has any issues with the adult entertainment industry other than how it impacts their bottom line.”
Thanks to the power of personal branding paired with the devastating effects of porn piracy, many porn stars and cam performers have turned to doing their marketing themselves. Sinclair uses the example of comedians like Louis C.K., who shoot and market their own specials: If you can leverage a following that cares about you, lots and lots of money can be made.
If you can leverage a following that cares about you, lots and lots of money can be made.
But there’s also another, less obvious reason why porn stars are so active on social media. When porn stars like Stoya tweet about their cats, or Asa Akira shares a video of herself blacksmithing, it forces us to acknowledge the humanity of those involved in a highly stigmatized and taboo field. In short, it forces us to see porn stars as something other than sexual objects.
Of course, porn stars are under no obligation to humanize themselves in our eyes, nor are they required to provide us with these glimpses into their private lives. In a piece for the Pacific Standard about sex workers’ digital lives, writer Alana Massey makes the point that sex workers don’t owe us any explanations for why they choose to do their work, nor are they required to entertain weird comments or questions from fans.
“The bad ally, like the bad client, is characterized by a sense of personal exemption from respecting boundaries because they feel entitled to know the interior lives of sex workers by virtue of some flimsy lip service to their humanity,” Massey writes.
Stars like Carter Cruise aren’t required to give us these glimpses into their humanity, or to make us somehow feel better or less insecure about our hang-ups. But they are still a powerful voice for education and destigmatization, and Cruise has dedicated much of her career to helping destigmatize the porn industry. On her Tumblr, for instance, she answers questions about problems with piracy and tube sites, and offers tips on getting into porn.
“I was still in college when I started out in porn, and was a member of a sorority,” she explains. “A lot of the girls weren’t very supportive, and were completely shocked and horrified by what I was doing. It was interesting because over that next couple of months, the girls who were seeing my social media and reading my blog ended up coming to me and saying ‘Wow, this is really awesome what you’re doing.’ ”The clothing line Nasty Gal’s hashtag #GIRLBOSS has become an easy catchphrase for a movement that I see all over my Twitter and Instagram feeds. It’s come to symbolize a woman who is unapologetic in going for what she wants, who isn’t afraid to be real and open about her professional and personal desires. It could be reblogging a Tumblr photo of a yacht with “#lifestylegoals” or saying “Yes, I do porn. Let me tell you about what else I do.”
Whether it’s Carter Cruise dropping mixes on her SoundCloud or Stoya and Kayden Kross collaborating on TRENCHCOATx (NSFW), the aesthetically pleasing new pay-per-scene porn site, these actors are businesspeople who are building and diversifying. Growing an audience happens organically now, with actors mostly retaining autonomy over what they post online.
No matter what industry you work in or what online community you belong to, it's hard not to find these businesswomen inspirational. Having the flexibility to do the things that make you happy and being financially sustainable while doing so? Looking after yourself and having the confidence to go after what you want? These are truly #lifestylegoals.
As the business model of how people consume online media (porn or otherwise) continues to shift, new territory is constantly being charted. We have no idea how things will change, or how the nuances of people’s social mores will continue to evolve. This is equal parts terrifying and thrilling for porn stars like Cruise, who are trying to stay relevant in an industry, and on a social media platform, where relevance is a constantly moving target.
“I’ve done things differently than a lot of people in the industry,” Cruise says. “People always have advice on what I should do. I’m always open to ideas, but when people are giving you advice on things like social media, they’re giving you advice on what’s worked for other people. My goals are things that haven’t been done before, so there’s no tried and true way.”
Photo via Gavin Schaefer/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed