severe weather special report, part 1

Facebook No Friend To Weathercasters

Many TV meteorologists have a big gripe with Facebook after being caught off-guard by a change in policy that hampers the reach of their vital weather alerts. According to the weathercasters, people who follow someone’s professional Facebook page don’t automatically get their posts in their newsfeeds, the way they would a friend’s. Instead, Facebook determines who gets what using a complex algorithm, essentially shutting most people out. Companies can pay to boost their reach, but even then, the broadcasters say, they still would reach very few of their followers.

As an outbreak of violent tornados moved through Alabama on April 27, 2011, James Spann, the chief meteorologist at ABC affiliate WCFT Birmingham, was in full-blown emergency mode, using all means possible to tell locals to take cover.  Spann issued his urgent warnings on-air, online and on Facebook, assuming they would reach his 150,000-plus followers.

But after the horrific storms hit, leaving 252 Alabamans dead, Spann learned that his Facebook strategy didn’t work, as only a small percentage of the people he spent years courting actually got his alerts.

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“Everyone who likes the page assumes they are going to get weather warnings in their news feeds and they won’t,” says Spann.  “When you post a critical message, and you have 160,000 people who like your page but you’re reaching only 8,000, you’ve got a problem.”

Spann is one of a number of TV meteorologists who have a big gripe with Facebook after being caught off-guard by a change in policy that hampers their reach.

According to the weathercasters, people who follow someone’s professional Facebook page don’t automatically get their posts in their newsfeeds, the way they would a friend’s. Instead, Facebook determines who gets what using a complex algorithm weighing nearly 100,000 factors, essentially shutting most people out. Companies can pay to boost their reach, but even then, the broadcasters say, they still would reach very few of their followers.

Facebook did not return requests for information.

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“Facebook is our biggest nemesis some days,” says Brad Panovich, the chief meteorologist at Gannett-owned NBC affiliate WCNC Charlotte, N.C. (DMA 25).

“As a news organization, you hope you can get vital information out that is not filtered or going through some sort of algorithm,” Panovich says. He believes outlets that distribute emergency information should be exempt from Facebook’s rules.

So today, after investing years in wooing followers, broadcasters are trying to undo the work they’ve done touting the virtues of Facebook for severe weather warnings.

They are doing that in a number of ways.  Spann, for instance, blitzed fans with pleas to follow him through his personal Facebook account, which doesn’t restrict newsfeed output like his station page does. He’s up to about 140,000 followers on that. Spann also advises individuals in storm-prone states to get weather radio apps on their phones.

Dan Satterfield, chief meteorologist at WBOC, Draper Communications’ CBS affiliate in Salisbury, Md. (DMA 142), has changed his Facebook strategy as well. He now uses the platform to drive users to the station’s website.

As chairman of the American Meteorological Society’s station scientists committee, Satterfield is also addressing the issue on an industry-wide level, urging others in the business to steer their followers away from the platform. “There are some real problems,” Satterfield says. “We are really worried.”

Before severe weather outbreaks, Panovich posts a “how-to” video on YouTube explaining how social media users can actually find his weather warnings.

Facebook is giving meteorologists grief in other ways too.

The platform, they say, has become a haven for amateur meteorologists, many of who have garnered large followings putting out bogus forecasts that the pros then have to debunk.

“We are spending more and more of our time dispelling rumors and hype and non-storms instead of talking about the real ones,” Panovich says. A false blizzard forecast sparks public angst — and warrants official response — in the same way a false bomb threat does, he says.

That was particularly apparent earlier this year, when two erroneous forecasts threw believers into tizzies.

One called for blizzard-like conditions on the East Coast, a full two weeks before it was supposed to hit. Meteorologists had a kid reading dummy weather models to thank for that one, they say. The other called for snow blanketing the South, courtesy of some guy in Russellville, Ala.

“It drove every weather guy crazy for about a week trying to dispel these rumors,” says Satterfield, who refers to the episode as the Fake Facebook Blizzard of 2014.

“Anyone who tells you that you there is going to be blizzard two weeks out is a fool and knows nothing about meteorology.”

But that’s not necessarily what the public wants to hear, he says.

“You tell people it’s a hoax and they get mad at you, thinking that you’re hiding something,” Satterfield says, adding that the more dire the forecast, the more popular. “If you want to get a lot of likes, put out a lot of horrible end of the world information”

Unfortunately, other social media platforms — Twitter and Google+ — aren’t the perfect solutions. Neither, for instance, has the reach of Facebook, which attracts older and rural viewers, they say. Twitter feeds move so quickly, that it’s easy for a user to miss key tweets.

And then there are issues like the one Brad Travis, the meteorologist at WAFF, the Raycom-owned NBC affiliate in Huntsville, Ala. (DMA 79), is dealing with. They involve weather buffs, including other broadcasters, “bombarding” Twitter with faulty forecasts for markets they are not in.


Comments (5) -

paul greeley posted over 2 years ago
For all of the information out there about how social media is beneficial, it’s disturbing to read that important emergency information may not be reaching the intended audience because of a complication by Facebook. I’m not an expert about Facebook or any of the other popular social media outlets, but it appears to me that a thorough understanding of exactly how these services work, or don’t work, is necessary before we make assumptions that can impact the general public. There is little argument that Facebook is a valuable tool to reach people not watching TV. If broadcasters were paying for this service, we wouldn’t tolerate it. But given the fact that it’s free, I think it is up to your broadcast group owners to investigate and educate station personnel as to the nuances of using Facebook. It’s good to see that, in some cases, meteorologists have found a way around the problem. And this article brings to light a situation that many may not even have known existed.
Insider Nickname posted over 2 years ago
It's been well known. Earlier this year, Facebook made the most dramatic changes in their algorithms because of the number of posts people were receiving in their timeline. Now only a portion of those posts get through and people are not overloaded with posts. Facebook came down very hard on "likes", though "friends" were also filtered. Multiple reasons have been speculated on why they came down hard on "likes" versus "friends", but it is clear if "likes" want their posts to be always be seen, one must now pay Facebook. Only then will Facebook makes sure the posts are in the personal timelines.One can come down on either side of this, depending on where you stand in terms of all the "noise", but in reality, did any Broadcaster really expect "free advertising" from another Company? BTW, Google has also tweaked algorithms again this year and they are having devastating impact on Companies that depended on the results - and as with Facebook, Google will happily sell you paid search results to make sure you show up at the top of the page.
Tracy Record posted over 2 years ago
This is another reason that you are making a MASSIVE mistake to put much time and resources into Facebook. Yes, it SOUNDS good because you think, hey, all our viewers are there. This is NOT some sudden policy change by Facebook - the "we don't show all statuses to all followers" has been going on pretty much forever - we run a small local news publication and I have worked tirelessly to make sure that people know our website is the place they need to keep going, NOT Facebook, to get all the information we report and publish. Even though I was an early social-media adopter and we have the largest Twitter and Facebook followings in our area, we use them sparingly for just this reason. Please find ways *under your control* to reach your readers/viewers/fans/etc. - your website, e-mail notifications, text-message alerts - do NOT reward Facebook for this behavior, and do not waste another moment trying to drive people there. Same goes for other types of businesses, including local retailers. Meantime, thanks for writing this story, and I hope others will start understanding that FB is just one tool in the toolbox, NOT the place you should be focusing your efforts.
BroadcastNH Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Using Facebook for any type of emergency information has always been a bad idea. A couple of years ago a brand page could reasonably expect to reach about 16% of fans when posting. Now, it's closer to 5 or 6% and will be heading closer to 1-2% before too long. Facebook pulled a classic bait and switch by getting people to pay for likes and now getting businesses to pay AGAIN to reach more people. Twitter is a much better venue for quick emergency information that reaches all followers. The downside? Most users Twitter feeds are massive so the tweet can get lost very quickly.
Beau Dodson posted over 2 years ago
This is silly. Why are we trying to use Facebook for something it was not meant to be used for? Warnings can be received from NOAA Weather radios, television, numerous cell phone app's, radio, and other media resources. How about we use Facebook for a heads up on incoming weather, but not specific warnings. People should know that they have to VISIT your Facebook page for information. You have to turn your television or radio to the ON position in order to receive information. Same for Facebook. If people want information then they can stop by your page and check updates. Are lazy are people? Do we have to babysit people? At some point there has to be some personal responsibility among those in the path of a storm. Utilize resources that are readily available - not Facebook.
Marketshare Blog Playout Blog




Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 25, 2016
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Source: Nielsen


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