Tim Heller, Media Weather Consultant
Weather is still the number one reason people watch local TV news. In a study released late last year, a whopping 70% of respondents told Pew Research that weather information is "important for daily life."
The problem is, weather information is everywhere. The competition isn't just the TV station on the other side of town. Hour-by-hour conditions are a tap away on smartphones. Video monitors installed on gas pumps and elevators feature the forecast while you wait. Electronic bathroom scales display the weather along with your BMI.
If broadcast meteorologists and local TV stations want to stay relevant, we need to rethink the type of content we are producing and publishing. We need to establish some new Fundamentals of Effective Weather Communication.
Meteorology, Message, and Marketing
Accurate meteorology and clear messages are essential. The forecast has to be correct, or nothing else matters. Condensing the weather outlook into a few specific statements will help people retain the information.
But that's not enough. To connect with viewers and followers, to stand out among all the other weather information out there, I suggest broadcast meteorologists utilize a different approach: marketing.
Seth Godin writes in his book “This is Marketing” that "marketing is the generous act of helping others."
Isn't that what broadcast meteorologists try to do? We help people by providing accurate information so they can plan their day and stay safe during severe weather. To me, there is a natural connection between meteorology and marketing.
This isn't about self-promotion. This isn't about selling. This isn't about advertising. Marketing means producing and publishing with a purpose.
Different Platforms, Different Content
We might think we're doing this, but we're not. On-air weathercasts include endless data loops and maps that look just like the competition. Online weather webcasts are often uploaded from the last newscast that aired hours ago. Social media feeds are filled with weather maps with tiny text that appear in newsfeeds between silly videos and pictures of food. None of that is helpful.
Furthermore, what works on TV doesn't necessarily work online and on social media. Screen sizes and viewing habits are different, not to mention the demographics. Broadcast meteorologists should customize the weather content they create for each platform.
Pictures, Not Weather Maps
For example, Instagram is primarily a photo-sharing app. It requires a different content strategy than Facebook and Twitter, which rely more on text.
According to Instagram research, users are looking for creativity, visual beauty, and freedom of expression in their feed, words most people would not use to describe a weather map.
One meteorologist whose Instagram posts fulfill all three criteria is Ryan Vaughan, Chief Meteorologist on KAIT-TV in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Nothing is boring about his Instagram feed. Vaughan uses an app called Word Swag to turn technical, meteorological data into engaging, artsy graphics.
"Our media team at church uses it, and it got me thinking about social media and weather," Vaughan told me. "I'm getting a huge response and engagement with simple communication."
Courtesy: Ryan Vaughan, KAIT-TV
"Simple" is an important word. Vaughan's graphics usually include just one message. For example, he recently highlighted the impact of a cold front using one sentence and one number. The information helps the viewer using a format they’ll likely remember. That’s good marketing.
Why Marketing Works
The American Marketing Association defines marketing as "creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for...society at large.”
Marketing, done right, will help people, will change people. If TV stations make it one of the fundamentals of effective weather communication, they will make an empathetic, visceral connection with viewers. In turn, this will earn their trust and entice them to be part of what Godin calls the "tribe."
In TV speak, we call these people "loyal viewers."
How Does This Benefit the Viewer?
Broadcast meteorologists should ask themselves these marketing questions, adapted from Godin's book:
My forecast is for people who need ________.
I will focus on people who want ________.
I promise that watching my forecast will help people ________.
What is common in all three of these statements? The needs and wants of the viewer. Produce weathercasts with information people want. Create online content that people need. Share information on social media that promises to change people's lives. That's marketing. That should be the motivation. Every weathercast. Every day.