Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes are disrupting the American entertainment industry on the largest scale since the COVID-19 pandemic. But this time, the writers’ and actors’ unions have strategically weaponized social media in a highly publicized fight over pay and residuals for streaming, the use of artificial intelligence and other protections they see as vital to their professions.
And it’s very clear who is winning the fight.
This isn’t the first time the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA have gone on strike, but it’s the first time they have leveraged social media channels so deftly to sway public opinion, push narratives and hit back at their detractors.
A recent Gallup poll shows they are making headway: Nearly four in 10 or 38% of respondents say they sympathize more with the striking actors and writers, while just 7% sympathize more with the entertainment and media companies.
Both unions have provided followers with easy-to-understand breakdowns of what their proposals are and what they would cost by sharing information on social media. SAG-AFTRA posted TikTok videos of famous actors like Jack Black and Julia-Louis Dreyfus voicing support on the picket lines. Individual union members are also posting daily and weekly updates on their own personal accounts.
Many actors are sharing copies of their residual checks on social media to prove their plight is worthwhile. Award-winning shows that have been watched by millions are paying pennies to the actors featured because of the contracts between the studios and the streaming services.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ response hasn’t helped matters. Rather, it’s fueled the narrative of an out-of-touch Hollywood elite disconnected from the concerns of the workers who create its products. Witness one studio executive telling Deadline industry executives were willing to let the strike “drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.”
As production for popular television shows and movies is halted, striking workers’ main objective has been to communicate their goals with the public, so they are seen as working-class people who are also struggling to pay their rent.
During the 2007-2008 WGA strike, Twitter, recently rebranded as X, was still in its infancy, and Instagram and TikTok were years away from being invented. This time around, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok have become vital ways for the WGA and SAG-AFTRA to communicate directly with audiences and heighten their profile. The viral pleas of Hollywood’s A-listers on behalf of those who don’t earn top dollar for their work have touched the hearts of followers worldwide.
That AMPTP has been largely AWOL from social media, which has resulted in a PR disaster that continues to spiral out of control. A recent poll from Data for Progress found that 67% of Americans surveyed supported the strikes.
The AMPTP just recently hired a new crisis communications firm days after the WGA strike’s 100-day mark, but it may be too little, too late. AMPTP leaders continue to be vague in their refusal to negotiate, simply dubbing writers’ demands “unrealistic” with few explanatory details.
AMPTP has a lot of damage control to undertake to fix its reputation. And as the fall premieres of television shows and the release of movies continue to be delayed, public opinion will likely only worsen. The domino effect of the economic fallout could make their jobs even more difficult, especially after they made the unfortunate decision to publicly release their counteroffer last month.
The studios’ new PR reps have their work cut out for them. They will have to spin the narrative and recast the CEOs who run the AMPTP’s member companies as something other than villains. The longer it takes them to finalize and implement an effective action plan, the harder their job is going to become. In the meantime, the TikToks will just keep on coming.
Evan Nierman is founder and CEO of the crisis communications firm Red Banyan and author of Amazon bestsellers “Crisis Averted: PR Strategies to Protect Your Reputation and the Bottom Line” and “The Cancel Culture Curse: From Rage to Redemption in a World Gone Mad.”
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