James Spann, the suspender-wearing, finger-pointing, social-media-rocking Birmingham meteorologist, isn’t in the path of the storm set to pound New York and New England. But you can bet he’ll be up all night anyway, on Twitter and Facebook answering questions and sharing his, as he might say, “weather brains.”
“This is about engagement,” Spann said in a 2012 speech to the Alabama Social Media Association, where he made his feelings clear about television and Twitter: when the story’s big, don’t try to use your Twitter feed as a tease to get folks in front of a TV set. “The old-school television people don’t get it. ‘Will it rain tomorrow? Find out tonight at ten.’ No! On Twitter people want information right now, not teases to find out later. If you don’t provide information that people want, they’ll go somewhere else. That tease mentality has got to stop.”
Sure, Twitter will drive viewers to newscasts–especially on a day like today, with a monster storm threatening historic snowfall–but Spann says blizzard Twitter is no time for plugging the on-air product. “Don’t withhold information (people) need now.”
Spann gets plenty of attention for his sizable Twitter presence (174,000 followers), but the really remarkable thing is his always-on mentality. Spann answers questions and updates forecasts seemingly around the clock. “Broadcasting will never, ever be one-way. It’s two-way.” And if you don’t want to engage, you’re missing the chance to build a following–and a brand.
Aside from his day job as chief meteorologist at Birmingham’s ABC affiliate WBMA, Spann gives speeches, hosts an independent weather website and a weekly netchat, Weather Brains (Spann will host a special “pre-show” tonight at 9 p.m. ET on the blizzard). And not for nothing, but that Twitter following? “I totally control that Twitter stream. The TV station doesn’t.”
The power has shifted. Spann’s station has half as many Twitter followers as he does. And he’s done that the hard way: sharing information, answering questions, and giving people information they want. “Who has the power? The people,” Spann said in the speech on social media. “If you can’t give them the products that they need, on their time schedule, you’ll fail. They’re not going to wait on you anymore. Tonight at ten.”