The Weather Channel Thinks Facebook and Twitter Save Lives

CEO David Kenny defends storm naming practice at IAB

Twitter and Facebook save lives. At least that's what The Weather Company believes.

Earlier this month, Weather came under fairly harsh criticism for its storm-naming practice when February's blizzard "Nemo" blanketed the east coast in snow. Gawker called the tactic "a marketing scheme: an irritating, inane attempt by the Weather Channel to hijack weather reporting and the communication of emergency information. It's stupid, flawed, and possibly even dangerous" and many saw the move as a presumptuous play to beat the government at its own game. 

Today at the IAB annual leadership meeting, Weather Company chairman/CEO David Kenny acknowledged that the company's decision to brand winter storms remains controversial. But his take is that it ultimately helps Weather's audience. Kenny notes that Weather actually began naming storms last year privately, to help track storm patterns. 

Kenny's romantic take on storm naming will surely irk some critics. "We did it because we understood social media saves lives," he told the IAB crowd. "When you name something people are more likely to tweet about it." Kenny cited the nearly 800 million photos and tweets that "Nemo" generated over 5 day period as proof positive that the naming system worked to raise awareness and served to consolidate the torrent of storm-related social media data.

It's all part of an ongoing initiative by The Weather Company to leverage its wealth of internal data and to make weather more social and engaging. Kenny notes that beyond understanding behavioral trends, the company is looking further to harness and understand what he calls "the emotional side of data."

As far as naming storms, it appears the critics won't deter The Weather Company in its efforts. "We're absolutely going to continue," Kenny told the audience. "It helped people understand the story. We think it helped the government organize and in this area we can move faster than the government. Now, I don't think we need to name everything. This is not a sponsorship, it is a device to aggregate the data."

While critics will dismiss this as spin for what is surely a marketing ploy, the results are hard to ignore and have inspired the weather giant to look toward other emerging social platforms to continue its multi-platform charge. "We're watching things like Vine, Poke and Snapchat. There's all this sharing happening around weather events and we're going to find ways to collect these visuals and tell a story," Kenny said.