Spanning Social Media
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.”
Good timing with this article — I was thinking earlier this evening about James Spann’s social media presence. Specifically, I was wondering whether he wrote his own tweets or schedules his social media posts. I had a feeling he handled it all himself. That’s just how he is.
One of the other things that I think “works” for Spann is that everyone gets a little lift when he recognizes their picture or retweets them or follows them. It’s an odd phenomenon that seems a little silly sometimes, but let’s face it, we all like to feel like we did something that mattered. And he has a way of showering that goodwill and karma to everyone at some point. As the saying goes, people may forget what you said but they will never forget how you made them feel. Spann makes people feel safer during bad weather, and as and as an added bonus, he makes them feel like he cares not just about their safety but also about their lives.
Two things that weren’t mentioned are his background in radio and his strong faith as a Christian. I think these two also play a factor. He’s been a communicator all his life, and he uses his faith as the benchmark for how he treats others.
Basically, Spann is just, as Southerners say, “good people.”
Thanks for an interesting, informative article.Permalink
What an interesting and informative article. I love the way that you broke it down into sections. It made it very clear, concise and easy to follow. James Spann uses social media in the form for which it was created, to inform and create conversation. I love that Spann has not enabled advertisements to be tweeted from his account. It is refreshing to see a business man that is far more interested in simply accurately informing his large amount of followers, rather than trying to collect every penny that is offered to someone with this kind of access. His genuine interest and care are still highly respected in the social media world. I applaud Spann for his success and wish him the best of luck in gaining more followers and providing more accurate followers.
Also, I respect Spann for not allowing anyone else to write his tweets. I believe that is possibly one of the biggest attractions to following him on Twitter. Americans feel that they have been given this direct access to a real person who cares and knows his facts. It’s a direct outlet to the news, rather than an outlet to the communications director or intern.Permalink
I want to start out by saying that I really like this article. When I first came to Alabama, I kept hearing other students mention James Spann’s name but I had absolutely no idea who he was. I thought he must be in local government or who knows maybe on the coaching staff for the football team. I was shocked and slightly confused to find out that he was just the weatherman considering the hype surrounding him. By the number of his Twitter followers, he shows that he is truly an innovator in the field of social media compare to my local meteorologist in Philadelphia, Cecily Tynan, who only has 26,200 followers. Now and looking into the future, social media skills are imperative to any organization. James Spann shows how social media can be used not just for big celebrities, but also for the use of everyday people like local meteorologists. He shows that the door is now open to interpret any form of social media as you wish. Spann said getting photographs from followers is his “window to the world.” Well I believe that social is the “window to the world” for every person that resides on this planet. Social media allows us to be expressive and connect with any walking life form there is. This is why I think businesses are putting such emphasis on future employees to be familiar with the ins and outs of social media. Spann shows that even if you are just a local meteorologist, one tweet can influence the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Social media is the present and the future.Permalink
James Span is a prime example of someone who has used social media to its full potential. I think it is important to emphasize that he has never been trained in social media strategy, yet, he is still successful in getting thousands of followers on Twitter. This is proof that people realize who is genuine on social media and who is not. I think being genuine and honest tends to be overlooked when it comes to posting things on social media, and James Span is an example for why people should pay closer attention to this aspect.Permalink
Mr. Spann is contributing to the news becoming more accessible. It is no longer seen as this distant entity from the audience but now a part of their world. He is encouraging citizen journalism and allowing the younger generation to change the direction of traditional news. Our world is becoming more media driven every day, and the newspapers are becoming extinct.Permalink
It is not just the fact that Spann uses social media, but how he uses it. His conversational style engages his millennial audience, and his dedication to this newest trend will only prove to more successful.
This was a very interesting article, and was filled with great quotes. What I was not aware of was that all of James Spann’s tweets were written by him. Many celebrities and public figures’ Twitter accounts are not controlled by themselves; they will hire people to update it for them. Since I have spent most of my life in Alabama, I have been able to witness firsthand his ability to keep his “Twitter army” engaged and interested in every tweet he sends out.Permalink
Mr. Spann is the man! Great job of capturing his personality through your interview. This past football season during my internship, I was able to see his Twitter skills in action. The company I intern for lets Spann use its box in the stadium to work on game days. Spann spends his football Saturdays in Bryant-Denny Stadium delivering the weather to his fans by filming and producing weather reports himself. I got to witness him create a Twitter contest where he asked his followers to send in pictures of them at the game. He then would pick a random follower and retweet them while reporting the winner’s weather report for their drive home. The idea is genius to engage your audience, like all PR practitioners should do. In the professional world, social media can take your company or brand to the next level by having direct communication to your target publics. Allowing your followers to feel like they can interact personally with you is now necessary in building lasting, professional relationships.Permalink
Thanks for a very enlightening article. Spann’s personality comes through, as well as context for a better understanding of Twitter for those of us who are not “early adopters.”Permalink
Morgan, this is a great post! It is interesting to hear James Spann’s advice and thoughts on his social media success. It’s nice to know that he doesn’t just do this because it’s his job, but to keep Alabamians safe. We can all learn something from Spann and post for the benefit of others.Permalink
This is a great article! I was fortunate to meet Mr. Spann last semester and was surprised how genuine and down to earth he is in person. He has successfully made his name into a brand with his active and engaging participation with social media. One thing that still holds as a mystery to me is his sleeping habits. I’m amazed at how much work he accomplishes on a daily basis with only five hours of sleep!Permalink
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