Social media has changed the way broadcasters do business, particularly when it comes to weather. Meteorologists are now asked to do more than ever to keep viewers safe and up to date. Reaching people on their mobile devices and on social media is critical to the effort, and those that are good at it are building social audiences that make their TV audience look tiny. That audience and the engagement they generate are not only key to getting the latest news out in a severe weather situation, they’re also key to unlocking future revenue for broadcasters. With that in mind, we wanted to talk to some of the best in the business about how their habits on social.
Recently, we crunched numbers on 8,272 individual journalists’ social media pages to determine our 2016 Social Standouts list for local TV news. From those 8,272 talents, we named the top 10 anchors and reporters on social media, as well as the top 10 meteorologists and top 10 main station pages.
This week, we spoke to four honorees among the 2016 Social Standouts for meteorologists to ask them some questions about how they manage their social accounts and how they have found success. The interviewees included Paul Dellegatto with WTVT in Tampa; James Spann with WBMA in Birmingham; Denis Phillips with WFTS in Tampa; and Daphne DeLoren with WSMV in Nashville.
Below are some of their responses to our questions and occasionally follow-ups, edited down for clarity and brevity:
#1. Do you do all your social posting on your page or is it a team effort at the station?
Paul Dellegatto: “No, it is 100% me. I mean the TV station asks us to do it because we’re kind of all tied in, but what I do is pretty much what I do. Occasionally, if there’s a weather event, they’ll pop in live radar or something I can’t do from my house but 99.9% is pretty much me.”
Daphne DeLoren: “I do my own on my page, but we’re all pretty much required to post both on the WSMV Facebook as well as our own. My last station, I was required a certain amount of posts a day versus this one, they just leave it to you.”
Denis Phillips: “No, I do it all. […] I think anyone knows these days the amount of responsibility that’s required in terms of any on-air person who has a social media page — it’s not a five-day-a-week job. It’s 24/7, 365 days a year and the way that some people — myself included — try to [spread out posts throughout the day], I definitely use the scheduling feature overnight and early mornings if I want to share a meme or something that’s kinda funny. Something just to lighten up the person’s day.”
#2. Did the station mandate you have social media accounts?
James Spann: “Oh, no, I was into this way before they thought about it. I’m an early adopter. I got my HAM radio license when I was fourteen — I just jump on things early. They used to mock me. They openly laughed at me when I was trying to get them to get on Twitter. I always got into all these platforms way before the television station even thought about it. I’d sign up for everything, and some of the stuff sticks. Most often, it doesn’t. But I encouraged them to get involved, and I [set up accounts for the station’s] Facebook name and their Twitter name. I just said, ‘When you guys want it, just come see me and it’s yours.’ And sure enough, they came around the next year and got into it.”
#3. How do you fit social media into your daily workflow or schedule?
Denis Phillips: “When I wake up in the morning, first thing I do — like a lot of folks, I guess — is look at my phone and try to see what’s going on, but I also try to find things that I can share for my Facebook page throughout the morning and into the afternoon. I’m a night owl, I stay up until three, four in the morning. So I’m spending at least half-hour to an hour every night once I get home going through stuff, just trying to see what’s out there, what’s trending. I use Share Rocket. I use CrowdTangle. I use a lot of the stuff out there to see what’s actually hot and try to put my own little spin on it.”
James Spann: “Well, to do weather right, you don’t sleep anyway. Back when I was younger, you worried about being on television at night. Now, with the digital side, it never turns off on me. I get up every morning before five, and I don’t get home until midnight every night. So, just the fact that I’m working 18 hours a day or longer, that just kinda means you’re around this stuff, and it’s not that much harder to answer people and engage with people and post information. It’s just part of the puzzle. We’re just learning how to do more with less people, and longer hours.”
Paul Dellegatto: “I’ve been doing it so long, you just kind of get a little bit of a pattern to it and it just doesn’t take that much time. Lots of times, I’ll schedule stuff. I’m fortunate enough where I kind of have [a big community of followers that shares] just cool stuff [with me. … ] It kind of like becomes a snowball where the bigger you get, the more I think people kind of are drawn to you.”
#4. Is every post on your social pages weather-related? How do you strike a balance between weather posts and lighter or more personal posts?
Paul Dellegatto: “Not at all. It’s kind of interesting, I think I learned at the beginning that if you strictly make it a weather page, and if you’re posting just radar, frame graphs, and seven-day forecast, that certainly is good information, but it’s everywhere so it’s not really enough to drive people to your page. […] I think there’s a time that you do that, but I think when you go weather-related is when there’s a big weather event coming to us. We had a couple of tropical systems impact our state last summer, and then you kind of stop with the funny pictures and the sunsets because it becomes a serious thing for us. We end up, or at least I end up, doing a week or ten days straight [of 95% weather posts], depending how long it lasts, and even before the event because people want to see what’s coming this way.”
Daphne DeLoren: “Of course, I don’t share everything private on there. I would say you need credibility, especially as a female [and] especially being new to the market in Nashville. I think my approach here was a bit different than in Saginaw, Michigan, because [the audience there] was so used to me that [shared more of my private life]. Right now, they’re just getting to know me. I want, number one, weather. I want them to come to me for the weather. I want them to trust me. […] I’ll still try to have fun with it. [I try different approaches on] Facebook Live, and then I intertwine Nash, my dog, into that. Like yesterday, he was out with his little best friend, Luca, at the dog park, running in the sun [in a Facebook Live video]. We shared that on the air, too. I’ll gear it more towards weather: ‘It’s a beautiful day. Nash is out. You should walk your dog too,’ kind of thing.”
Denis Phillips: “I love the family atmosphere that my social media page brings. It really is a family thing. We talk about personal things. I share my lives of my kids. I share questions and concerns I have about health and physical well-being and people share them with me. And to me, what you’re doing there, is you’re developing a family — not just a loyal viewership. […] I know plenty of people that I work with who really cherish their private life, and they want to keep it to themselves and they’re not interested in sharing their personal things that come along with their life. I’m the antithesis of that. I love doing that because I feel like I’ve got a giant family. I mean I have six kids as it is, so I clearly am not shy about a large family, and I say the more the merrier. I aim to develop a loyal family, a loyal viewership both on TV and on social media. And my hope is, over the years, that trust develops. That when severe weather happens, they tune in. And so far, at least, that’s exactly the way that it’s played out.”
#5. Social media allows you to reach the audience more directly but, in turn, the audience can reach you more directly. As we know, meteorologists tend to take a lot of flak when the forecast doesn’t exactly play out the way you expect it to. Do you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing having that direct communication back and forth with viewers?
Daphne DeLoren: “I think it’s a good thing because, just as we’re talking on the phone, we’re real people and I can explain. ‘Hey, the system went a little further north, and let me explain why that happens.’ I mean, especially with Facebook Live, you can just take your time and talk about anything. Answering questions, versus I only have three minutes for a full weathercast and I am limited to what I’m allowed to say within those three minutes. [Facebook Live] just literally allows you to hang out with your viewers. They love that realness of not necessarily having, I don’t know, stage presence. It’s just you and me hanging out, having a conversation.”
James Spann: “I think it’s fantastic. You know, I’m in a severe weather market. This is one of the most aggressive severe weather markets in the country, and it opens up the ability for me to reach people that would never watch television. For example, using Snapchat to reach 12-24 year olds. They would never watch television, but using that platform to reach them, it’s fantastic. And we’ve had so much loss of life of my watch, we gotta stop that. The ability to take [alerts and warnings] right to the public via social media platforms is just marvelous. And for us, we get pictures. I can’t put a sky cam everywhere, I can’t have spotters everywhere, but by golly, everybody’s got a camera phone. If I need a picture of a thunderstorm in a rural area, I’ll have it within seconds if I ask for it. And people might not know what they see — they don’t know if it’s a wall cloud, a shelf cloud, a rear flight down trap – but they can send a picture and we’ll know right away, and that makes the warning process better. So, again, the most important thing I do is the severe weather warning, and it’s just a Godsend for that.”
Paul Dellegatto: “I think it’s great. […] I have my settings so people can message me, and that’s the stuff that really takes a lot of time. If I stay away for six hours or 12 hours, or a day and I log on, you get questions like, ‘My daughter’s getting married March 8th, do you think it’s going to rain?’ And I have to answer it — I mean, that’s what I do. I can log on and have 45 messages, and a lot of the stuff is random, it’s easy, but a lot of the stuff takes work. ‘I’m driving to Chicago next week, what will the weather be along the way?’ Well, that’s not a simple answer. I sit down and I have to open up another browser page. It takes 10, 15 minutes to figure it out. I think that kind of stuff over time, day in and day out, builds credibility.”
Denis Phillips: “I mean, it’s changed so much not just in what we do, but I think in what the public’s expectations are. When I was a kid, I wrote a letter to a meteorologist when I was in third grade, because it’s all I ever wanted to do. And I remember getting a letter back about a month later and thinking that was the greatest thing. Now, if somebody messages you on social media and they don’t hear back from you in an hour or two, they get ticked off. I mean, the expectation [is now that] this is not just a one-sided conversation. [If you’re not having back-and-forth communication on social], you’re just missing out and I think you’re alienating people.”
#6. Has the rise of social media changed the way you forecast, the focus of those forecasts, or how you prioritize in a severe weather situation? Do you find it that social is becoming a bigger priority there?
Daphne DeLoren: “Absolutely. Especially the younger generation, even my age, they don’t really turn on the TV. They see Facebook Live. I mean some of these videos are viewed by thousands upon thousands of people, so my aim is to reach as many people when there is something that they need to know about, like severe weather. […] Not only you can be doing the weather on the camera in the studio, but you can have them hanging out on Facebook Live. I’ll say, ‘Okay, y’all are going in the mug.’ I’ll have a mug there and I’ll put my phone in the mug [while it streams live]. In commercial breaks, I can check back in. They’re also seeing the behind the scenes, they love being a part of that, too.”
James Spann: “It doesn’t change the forecasting process — you do forecasting analysis the same way, no matter how you’re communicating it. It just enables you to reach more people. And the one thing that’s become very clear for those of us in television and, quite frankly, it’s the same with the people who work for the National Weather Service. What [social media] has done, it erases your DMA lines. For years, you just worried about your counties and your TV designated market area. But [on social media] those lines don’t exist, people don’t know those lines, and they don’t care. And, in my case, if there’s a high-impact event, sometimes 200-500 miles away, you just have to get on there and work it. […] But at the same time, you do have to focus on the DMA, because we’re still a core television station. We have to somehow bring the [social audience] to our television product that you can monetize and other digital products we can monetize. So, you gotta keep that in mind, but thinking beyond that, the main difference is that I’m worried about a big old footprint that I’ve never had before prior to this.”
Paul Dellegatto: “I think it’s an incredible tool because in between broadcasts, we get new computer modeling. The weather is a nonstop thing. There are times when at three in the afternoon things change, or nine at night, or one in the morning — especially in severe weather events — and it allows me to give my thoughts. You don’t have a lot of time on TV to just ramble on and give your thoughts, so I think the best thing about social media is I can post a big paragraph and say, ‘The Hurricane Center thinks that the storm’s going this way, but I’ve seen this before and I think I’m concerned about flooding.’ It really allows you to almost in real time, give people weather information that it was impossible to get that five, six, seven, eight years ago.”