Influencers Are Struggling to Find Their Role in the SAG-AFTRA Strike—And Beyond

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When the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) authorized a strike on July 14, Bobbi Miller began to see an uptick in her inbox of offers for promotional swag and event invitations. The TikTok creator, podcast host, and cultural critic normally makes a living by creating sponsored content promoting new TV shows and movies. But she turned down all the new offers in support of the strike.

Miller, whose TikTok account under the name The Afternoon Special (also the title of her podcast) has over 400,000 followers, tells TIME that she grew up pro-union thanks to her grandma and finds crossing the picket line “very gross.” But her content creator peers who depend on brand deals relating to movie and television projects might not be able to have the same steadfast stance on the strike. “I think for some people, it’s going to be a much more difficult decision to make, and ultimately, I think that they're probably going to decide to take some deals at this time even if it’s not ethically sound,” Miller tells TIME.

Influencers have become a valuable part of Hollywood’s publicity machine. But now that the industry is effectively shut down due to the simultaneous Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes, many content creators are left worried about how this will affect them financially in the short term and about their place in Hollywood in the longer term. Full-time creators make a sizable portion of their income through brand deals and partnerships, through which they are paid to promote products—or, in the case of those who create content about the entertainment business, movies and television shows.

In 2021, SAG-AFTRA officially invited influencers to join the union by approving the “Influencer Agreement,” a pre-negotiated deal that offers members who work as influencers some protections when negotiating a contract for sponsored content. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator, tells TIME that per the "Influencer Waiver," the brands with which covered influencers work must contribute to the union’s health and retirement plans so that the influencers get credit for both. If the brands do not pay the negotiated amount, then the union can help enforce payment.

As the Hollywood strikes continue, there has been renewed attention on entertainment industry sectors whose workers are not currently unionized. Most notably, former Real Housewives cast member Bethenny Frankel announced that she wanted to start a union for reality stars union. Content creators are another set of workers laboring adjacent to more established members of the industry. They are gig workers in an unregulated economy where many have faced racism, discrimination, and exploitation.

SAG-AFTRA tells TIME that due to the similar interests shared by influencers and the union’s members, they have tried to court influencers to join the union. “Our members are out there using their talents to tell a story that helps further the interests of a brand, and that's really what influencers are doing, too, just on a different platform,” Crabtree-Ireland says. “Their concerns are the same, too: making sure that they're treated fairly by the brands that they're dealing with, making sure that they have access to the basic human necessities like everybody else.”

A choice between paying the bills and supporting the strike

When the strike began, many influencers who make entertainment-related content posted about standing in solidarity with the writers and actors in Hollywood, saying that they would follow SAG-AFTRA’s guidelines on navigating the strike. The most important of those guidelines: Do not work for a struck company by creating sponsored posts or attending premieres during the strike. And if you do have contractual obligations, fulfill them but do not accept any new ones. Crossing the picket line, or “scabbing,” can prevent creators from being permitted into the union should they wish to join in the future.

Social media stars are a common sight on red carpets these days. The Hollywood Reporter spoke to several content creators who have appeared on red carpets and categorized two different types of invites: the typically unpaid kind, in which an influencer is invited but not expected to create content, and the official partnerships for which the creator is paid to generate new content. One creator said she had been offered anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 per partnership. That wide pay range also varies from creator to creator, which is why SAG-AFTRA says they don’t have a specified minimum rate for their influencer agreement. Crabtree-Ireland says it’s difficult to nail down a structure for rates. “Some influencers have wildly divergent amounts of reach in terms of followers, and sometimes people with a lesser reach who have a more of a specialty focus might be more valuable to particular advertising, [or a] traditional brand,” he says.

In recent months, Miller has been invited to premieres for Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse and Barbie, as well as created sponsored posts for shows like The Crowded Room on Apple TV+ and Mrs. Davis on Peacock. But she has taken both types of work completely off the table for the time being in solidarity with the SAG strike. For a creator like her, whose content is necessarily dependent on new releases, she’s had to think about the best ways to shift the content she plans to create. Typically, she makes video essays that dive deep into a movie or series (new or old) on both her TikTok account and her podcast. She tells TIME that she might take a month off from her podcast and use her platform to share resources on how to support the strike. 

Miller has a background in journalism and plans to pitch more written content to publications in the meantime. She recognizes that having a backup plan puts her in a unique position. Many creators' careers are tied to the ability to make new content. “There are going to be people who decide to draw their line in the sand and say, ‘I can't not take a brand deal if it means that I can pay rent this month.’” The SAG-AFTRA Foundation has an Emergency Financial Assistance and Disaster Relief fund available for members who are “in an urgent financial need due to an unexpected life crisis,” and the requirements include “loss of work due to a strike or production shut down.” Big-name stars like Dwayne Johnson have donated millions to this fund during the strike. Miller adds, “If one of us [influencers] was to lose our house or car, there’s no fund to help us make ends meet.”

Creator Ellen Orsi, who produces a mixture of pop culture and Taylor Swift content for her 19,000 TikTok followers, said she was offered $5,000 to promote “a household name movie franchise” during the strike. She ignored the offer because she hopes to be a part of SAG-AFTRA one day. “My full-time gig is not being a content creator,” she tells TIME. “I'm privileged and fortunate that I have a full-time job, but I can see how for other creators who aren't in that position where they have something else backing up and supporting them, it can become a really difficult decision to turn those down.” She says that the consequences of turning down such an offer extend into the future since those deals often lead to more significant deals with more money down the road.

Creators who might not be interested in joining SAG-AFTRA in the future—either as influencers or because they aspire to a more traditional acting career—may just continue to work and take sponsorship deals, even they have no intention to undermine the strike. But Miller says that these creators may have a harder time interacting with guild members in the future. “If they see you as someone who was against them during the strike, they're going to be less likely to want to talk to you on a red carpet after the strike,” she says.

Juju Green, a creator who posts mainly about film and goes by the name @Straw_Hat_Goofy on TikTok, was criticized for a since-deleted video he posted after the strike began, which some called insensitive. The video was a skit in which he said he would still do brand deals and attend movie premieres throughout the strike. His post was promptly reshared across Twitter (recently renamed X), and he faced swift backlash. Green uploaded videos in response to the online conversation and said he takes accountability for the “badly communicated skit.” He acknowledged that he initially had no intentions of joining the union, but after learning about the influencer agreement, he said he would consider it. Green declined to speak with TIME for this story.

The future of influencers in SAG-AFTRA

Influencers' presence in the union is still new, and some creators say they are are only just learning about their ability to join it. One creator who spoke with the New York Times said she learned about SAG-AFTRA around the time the strike started.

SAG-AFTRA was unable to provide TIME with the exact number of creators in the union because “many influencers identify as actor/performers and use a variety of the SAG-AFTRA contracts, which complicates getting to a number,” according to a spokesperson. “They don’t fit into just one category.” TIME spoke to two creators who are a part of the union and said the most significant selling point for joining was the opportunity to have healthcare and a pension plan.

Sidney Raskind, a TikTok creator with over four million followers, tells TIME that joining SAG-AFTRA helped legitimize his job and that more creators joining could do the same for the content creator economy. He says content creation “can be a fun hobby forever, but ‘grown-ups’ need to see that what you’re doing is real with healthcare and a pension plan.” He continues, “Besides that, having a voice in an organization like SAG-AFTRA that combats unsafe work environments and talks to Congress and the Senate on behalf of other people is massive.”


you’re gonna wanna join sagaftra, influencers #influencer #influencerhack

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Beth Crosby, an actor and content creator, says she joined SAG in 2007 after booking a commercial. She tells TIME that she discovered TikTok during the pandemic and starting making content for herself. When she started getting approached about doing sponsored content, she learned about SAG's influencer agreement, which helped get her and her family health insurance, as well as helping to negotiate deals and omit language in contracts that she says doesn't serve her. "I had been signing away my videos in perpetuity with no extra pay prior to doing the influencer agreement," Crosby explains.


Im not just a GARBAGEMOM but i also play on on TV! Im a proud member of @SAG-AFTRA and grateful to have made my living as a professional actor for over 16 years now. But its been harder and harder to make a living wage doing the same amount of work, thanks to streaming. We are picketing the big streaming services for: ✨increased wages that reflect inflation ✨unregulated use of AI without actors consent ✨wages and residuals that reflect the success of a streaming project and much more! AMA if you have any questions about the strike! Mama is out here fighting for a living wage babyyyyy💪 . #sagaftra #sagaftrastrong #sagaftrastrike #unionstrong #workingmom #workingactor #workingactors #onstrike #sagaftramember #sagaftraactor #workingmomlife #workingmoms #momlife

♬ Hip Hop Background(814204) - Pavel

The job of an influencer has long been written off as “easy,” and in the age of TikTok looks to some like just a bunch of kids who make videos of themselves dancing. But the class of creators who make a living on the app, adjacent to the film and television industry, is gaining legitimacy as an increasingly significant part of the Hollywood economy. As screen actors, writers, directors, and crew members have unions that afford them protections, many content creators are beginning to demand the same. “We're trying not to get in the way of influencer deals and negotiate strong deals for themselves,” Crabtree-Ireland tells TIME. “But [we can] support them in the areas where they need help from us.”

Correction, Aug. 4

The original version of this story misstated the organization that runs the Emergency Financial Assistance and Disaster Relief fund. It is the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, not SAG-AFTRA. The original version also misstated the name of the arrangement through which brands working with covered influencers must contribute to union health and retirement plans. It is per the influencer waiver, not the influencer agreement.

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