Posted: February 28, 2014, 1:15 p.m.
by Morgan Daniels.
The name James Spann is synonymous with all things weather in Alabama, but his reach has spread beyond his TV weather segments to include the Twittersphere and other social media. From a sunset over the Las Vegas skyline, to snow storms in Denver, down to the coastal sunrises in Panama City, Spann’s Twitter followers tweet the weather at him no matter where it’s happening. As a result, Spann has become the commander of his very own “Twitter army,” as he calls them, and they are a force with which to be reckoned.
To put the numbers in perspective, Spann’s Twitter account, @spann, has more than 125,000 followers. The chief meteorologists from other Birmingham network affiliates such as Fox 6 and NBC 13 have a combined following of just under 10,000, still 115,000 behind Spann. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has a Twitter following of 21,000, leaving him 104,000 followers short of Spann. Finally the University of Alabama Twitter account, with its 45,000 followers, still falls short of Spann’s numbers by 80,000.
There must be a secret to reach the pinnacle of online and social media success like Spann has and there is. That multifaceted secret was unlocked during a February 2014 interview with Spann. These are the keys to James Spann level social media success.
Be an early adopter
“I sign up for everything and most of it will fail but some of it will stick. If you look at the major social media platforms I use now, I was early, and early adopters have an advantage,” Spann said. “Because of the fact that I got in early I thought one day I would have 5,000 or 10,000 people following me; I never dreamed it would get this high.”
Spann says that he is an early adopter because it’s his business to reach the largest number of people he can, especially when the weather is dangerous and life-threatening. He recognizes that most younger people don’t watch newscasts, and he has to reach everyone when there is severe weather, not just the people who watch TV.
“We have to be there,” Spann said. “We have to be aware of how people communicate and you have to change fast to communicate with a large number of people.”
Spann readily admits his background is in the physical sciences, not the social or communication sciences. Because of that fact, he has never been trained in social media strategy or ever used a scheduling application such as Tweetdeck or HootSuite to plan out tweets. Spann is the only person with access to — and thus the only one who ever posts from — his social media accounts, which include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus. Followers know it’s always James Spann, all of the time, and they love that about him.
“I am who I am. The good, the bad, the ugly. It’s like a relationship — what you see is what you get,” Spann explained. “If you ask me a question that is humanly possible for me to answer, I will. I try to respond and provide interesting information to everyone who engages with me.”
People think that Spann retweets everything, but in reality, he only retweets about 5 percent of everything he is sent. He picks the “cream of the crop to retweet,” but the “all-star photos” get posted to his Instagram.
Spann said that he works from 5 a.m. to midnight and doesn’t get to enjoy the weather very often. “For people to be able to send me stunning photographs gives me a way to enjoy it. Those pictures are my window to the world,” Spann said.
While most celebrity or branded Twitter accounts are created for promotional purposes, Spann said the point of his account was never to promote. He started his social media accounts to engage with his audience and build relationships with them. He now has a “Twitter army” that wants to engage with him on a daily basis. The key is that Spann wants to engage with them right back, and he does.
“The amount of time and effort that James puts into his online presence is mind-boggling,” said Gina Womack, ABC 33/40 promotions manager. “He does so much of this on his own time, and I’ve seen him tweeting information when he is on vacation. I have never met someone who is so dedicated to his job, and the responsibility he feels to inform people of weather developments.”
“The main thing I encourage people in the weather community to do is to engage, follow people back and participate in conversations,” Spann said. “The days of one-way broadcasting are over. If you’re not willing to listen to your audience, you don’t have a future in this business.”