A case study in earning trust on social media: James Spann the weather man

For social media managers, trust is the holy grail. You would think making people trust you on social media would come naturally. For many people and brands, it’s not quite that simple. Experts publish blogs about achieving trust; speakers who have it figured out get paid to talk about their tactics at conferences. As I wrote earlier, there have even been formulas created to make sense of what exactly makes people trust other people and brands on social media.

James Spann is the man when it comes to weather and social media trust.
James Spann is the man when it comes to weather and social media trust.

But some people just make it look easy. One such person/brand is Birmingham area meteorologist James Spann. Spann has garnered more than 143,000 followers on Twitter and more than 141,000 followers on Facebook. According to his Facebook About section, he’s been a meteorologist at ABC 33/40 since 1996. His experience plus the almost 20 years he’s been at one channel certainly adds to his credibility on social media, but there’s more to it than that.

Spann has branded himself as the go-to guy for severe weather, especially tornadoes, which are prevalent in Alabama and the Birmingham area. On air and on social media, he doesn’t talk only about the path of storms or wind speeds or other things that weather guys are trained to discuss. He gives people tips for staying safe when storms pass through their areas. And he even helps people make sense of the maps on screen by pointing out specific landmarks instead of using terms for a broader area — “The tornado is headed toward the Hoover Target on 150, so everyone in the Tyler Crest subdivision nearby, you need to get in your safe place now!” (That’s not a direct quote, and a tornado hasn’t toppled that Target — just an example of how specific Spann is.)

He tweets and shares these very specific and clearly worded warnings and updates and tips, which is incredibly helpful to his followers in areas affected by storms, but he takes it a step further than just being an expert in his field.  Spann is one of the most interactive accounts I follow. I’m not quite sure how he got to the point that witnesses and photographers of weather almost automatically send him their details and photos, but that’s what happens. If you spot a tornado in the Birmingham area, you snap a photo and tweet it to Spann; that’s just what you do.  And you can almost be guaranteed to receive a reply, favorite or retweet from the area’s favorite weatherman.

Going back to the idea of the trust formula (Authority x Helpfulness x Intimacy / Self Promotion), Spann hits all three of the positives, with very little self promotion (and even when he is promoting ABC 33/40’s weather coverage, it’s worded in a way that shows concern for his followers, not the number of page views or TV viewers).

Alabama folks: What else makes you trust James Spann on social media?

Outside-of-Alabama folks: Have you ever heard of our favorite weather man?


8 thoughts on “A case study in earning trust on social media: James Spann the weather man”

  1. Julie, interesting example. I don’t live in the Birmingham area and have never heard of Mr. Spann before reading your post. That being said, I get it. I get why you trust him. He has clearly established himself as an expert, and even better, as an expert during emergency situations.

    Unfortunately, our country has seen its share of deadly weather events and it seems like over the last few years social media has played a huge role before, during, and after these storms. Whether it’s meteorologists sending out breaking news information (the more specific the better), storm victims tweeting out messages about their location as a means of being rescued, or relief efforts being organized after a storm as passed, social media has really revolutionized the way we communicate during emergency situations.

    Weather changes so fast, it’s almost the perfect topic for social media. I follow several meteorologists in my area. Granted we don’t experience the severe weather like Birmingham, but when we do have storms or severe weather I always turn to Twitter for the latest updates. I figure that information is probably more up to date or in real time than a website or the actual television report.

    1. Laura, you’re right! Weather is a great topic for social media. It’s much more convenient to follow a Twitter feed like that of Spann’s than search for weather information all over the web. And when I’m in my safe place (the basement), I can check Twitter on my phone to see what’s going on, even when I can’t watch Spann on my TV (upstairs).

  2. Hey Julie,

    Sadly, the only time I’ve ever spent in Alabama was on a drive between New Orleans and Destin, so prior to your post, I wasn’t familiar with James Spann. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t pay much attention to the weather until I’m experiencing it either! That being said, I think it’s great that he’s so engaging on social media and responds to all of his followers tweets. I hear a lot of negative talk about weather men and their inaccuracies, so it’s nice to hear a positive take on a weather man.

    As I said before, I don’t pay too much attention to the weather, but if I paid more attention to it, I’m sure it would be more helpful to have someone tell me specific points or landmarks in the area as opposed to just an area in general. His social media habits have probably actually saved lives! The fact that people send him their weather photos shows what an authority he is in the weather world. More people and businesses should follow his lead!

    1. I would say it’s no exaggeration at all to say that Spann has saved lives with his social media habits. As I said in my reply to Laura, people can check his updates on social media in their basement or storm shelter even when they can’t access a TV. Unrelated to social media, Spann is also a big advocate of everyone having a storm radio, and he’s participated in events where he helps people program and understand their radios so they can use them in the next severe weather event.

  3. Interesting person to choose as a trustworthy example! I never gave it much thought, but the weather man is someone that I trust wholeheartedly. Though I have spent time in Birmingham, I do not recognize your weather man. I do have a favorite in Tampa (Steve Jerve) and openly prefer his weather forecast to everyone else. I follow him on Twitter and reference him by name when reporting the forecast to someone else! I think its great that users like you and I connect with local weather authorities and help build their brand on local levels and beyond. I hope you share your post with him via Twitter so he can see what an influencer he is!

  4. Hi there- this is a fun example. I don’t live in AL, nor have I ever heard of James, but his Twitter pic is hilarious. It actually gives me a pretty good sense of his brand. What is says to me is that he does way more than just report the weather; he’s definitely putting personality behind it!

    Isn’t there an expression- “If you can’t trust the weatherman who can you trust?” What seems puts him beyond others is that he’s not just reporting the weather accurately, it seems he’s do so in a more personalized way (like your Target example) which I think makes it easier to trust him. It’s really amazing that he has so many followers, I don’t think I can think of anyone local that would match those stats!!

    1. Spann definitely has a big personality. Everyone in this area knows the man behind the suspenders. There’s actually a band in Tuscaloosa named “James Spann and the Suspenders,” and there are memes floating around out there that say something to the effect of, “You know you’re from Alabama when you see this man rolling up his sleeves and you go to your safe place” — because he always rolls up his sleeves on air when the ish is about to get real. 🙂

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