Jesse Ferrell

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The Daily Job of a Social Media Kingpin

February 28, 2013; 1:55 PM

I get this question a lot:

What exactly do I DO for Accuweather? I'm a meteorologist, right? So do I forecast? What's a typical day in the life of Jesse Ferrell at AccuWeather? This is the third installment of the answer for that (see also 2009 & 2011).

I do serve a very unusual job function here - a very one-of-a kind position, that I've helped craft over the years. It doesn't involve any operational forecasting but manages to involve two of my favorite things - computers (specifically the Internet and Social Networking) and weather. In 2011, I got a new job title: Social Media Coordinator. This led to Henry once calling me the Social Media Kingpin (I think he meant "linchpin" or "king" but I'm not sure which). With apologies to Marvel's Kingpin:

So what does "Social Media Coordinator" really mean here at AccuWeather? It means that I oversee all of our Social Networks, help schedule and post to them, interact with our fans, pass their thoughts along to appropriate departments, help gather UGC (user-generated content) and work with other members of the Social Media Team to dictate our strategic direction on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and our home-grown old-school Photo Gallery and Forums.

GET MORE OF MY UPDATES! FOLLOW ME ON...

Like most people in the Digital Media department or anywhere at AccuWeather other than Forecasting or System Operations, I work a typical Monday - Friday work week, typically 8:30 - 4:30, but the weather is a 24/7 business, so I sometimes log on before or after work to moderate and post to our Social Media sites. During a major storm, I may work late into the night or through the weekend. Fortunately starting in 2010, we started hiring Social Media Interns, so they are able to help keep my weekly work to a more reasonable level.

What's at my desk? Besides my main monitor, I have a vertical monitor running Hootsuite, AccuWeather.com and Google+. To be more efficient, I have two other monitors hooked up to my Dell laptop dock, running my timesheet software, internal chat tool, and a display of our latest "Feature Graphics" from our talented forecasters and artists (these HD maps are often used in Social Media). I'm also monitoring the TV above my desk, which can be tuned to cable news or the Local AccuWeather Channel. This can tip me off to breaking stories that we may need to cover. In breaking weather situations, I also have radar or other GRLevel products running from my dual-monitor spare computer so that I can monitor the latest weather happenings. This gives me a total of 7 screens to monitor, which is about all I can handle.

At 8:30 AM, it's time for our morning News Meeting. This is kind of like what happens at TV stations: We get the video broadcasters, writers, meteorologists, PR guy, and Social Media Guy (that's me) together and discuss the day's major stories. I apprise the writers (who will be tweeting) of trending topics on Twitter, Google News & Google+ so we can shine a light on what's really important, and figure out if there's some way that we can add to that conversation on Social Media.

During the meeting (yeah, I'm a multitasker) I use Facebook to digest my daily news. A lot of people use Twitter this way, but for me, Facebook is much more compelling because it has always been multimedia driven. I have about 2,000 friends on Facebook, most of whom are weather enthusiasts, storm chasers or meteorologists, and I follow hundreds of news & weather Fan Pages, so when I look at my news feed, it's easy to see what's hot (be it a weather story, photo, or meme), and I often bring up these tidbits in the meeting to see if we can write about them.

After the morning News Meeting, I compose a "Social Media Plan" that I email out to all the News & Video folks. I'll be vague here for my boss's sake, but basically I list & forecast (with some success) Social Media trends, suggest a schedule of what the major stories are (or will be) and what Social Networks to post them to, and also showcase our Photo of the Day and sometimes Weather Memes.* This way, everyone in the department knows what the big stories are and how we're covering them in Social Media.

*Yes, I actually have Cheezburger.com in my job description. When done correctly, original memes, repurposed memes, or the retransmission of existing memes can help drive brand recognition and traffic. Check out all of our memes at AccuWeather.Cheezburger.com.

After the meeting it's back to checking Facebook, Twitter & Google+, checking email and working on my list of projects. I occasionally get some emails from internal people wanting to know if I can suggest content or organization for new web pages or web sites, or asking for advice on Social Media projects or sales. I also occasionally get "Tier 2" support questions from our Call Center in the case where they can't answer a question from a client about AccuWeather.com's website or subscription services, often RadarPlus (which as noted above, I created in 2005). And then... "rinse and repeat" all day.

My "free time" projects include monitoring and reporting on Social Media news and looking at our Social statistics for trends (good or bad, we may have to move quickly). For new Social Networks, I have to specify what we want to do, why it makes business sense, and create plans for how the tools will be used. I also keep an eye on the competitors, Social Media and otherwise, and relate any information on new products or services from them, to the team.

I hope this gives you an idea for what I do here on a daily basis, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask via a Facebook Comment below. Here is the history of what I had done in the past for AccuWeather, over my 16-year history here:

HISTORY: (this section re-used from the previous version of this blog):

It all started in 1997. I was working for a startup ISP called Interpath (a division of Capitol Broadcasting Company) in Raleigh, NC, specifically their web hosting service called Webpress. After I had obtained my degree in meteorology (Weather Forecasting Track) from the University of North Carolina @ Asheville in 1995, NOAA had a hiring freeze in effect so what few jobs were left in the private sector were competitive. I was on the web since the beginning in 1994 and had done the Atmospheric Science Department's website, so when I couldn't find anything weather related I applied for a job as a web designer with Webpress. (I had interviewed at the Weather Channel, who was looking for more programmer and less forecaster, and SSEC, where my buddy Scott works (same situation there)).

After two years of working at Webpress, doing web design, phone and email customer support and UNIX programming (something I had picked up in college), I began to miss the daily weather interaction that I had at UNCA. I started up a group of local storm chasers called CASI (the Carolina Area Storm Investigators) in Summer 1996, but it wasn't enough and by the next Summer I was applying for forecasting positions with a number of private weather companies (by that time my job was getting more boring - picture scanning in 10,000 pictures of string for a yarn company for example - the web was losing its shine).

Although I applied at AccuWeather as a forecaster, they said "Hey we're starting up this Internet Department - not sure where it's going to go but you're welcome to come join us." I saw it as an opportunity to combine both of my interests, so I came up for an interview. The rest, as they say, is history. I started on August 3, 1997. It was a big move for me - I had never lived outside of North Carolina, or so far from my parents.

When I started my job AccuWeather was still downtown in a series of buildings, the latest of which was a garage they annexed and converted into office space. On one side was the Promotions department and on ther other side was the fledgling Internet department. Business was booming - websites, especially newspapers and television, didn't have their own computer programming or design staff (some didn't even have websites) so it was up to us to design the web pages and hand them off to the programmers who would teach the computers to insert weather data into each of the web pages and ship them off to the clients every day.

We moved into our new building in Spring 1998 and I continued to do design but started dabbling in specifying content for AccuWeather.com and the newly formed AccuWeather.com Premium subscription site. I was obsessed with finding out about all the new computer weather data that AccuWeather had, and dreamed of converting it all over to the web (in those days most of our weather data was packaged into a Windows program called "AccuData / AccuWeather For Windows" that you could dial into with a 2400-baud modem for a few dollars per hour). The Internet wasn't that big back then and I was intimately familiar with the competitors so I was able to recommend moves that would keep us one step ahead, or catch up if we fell behind.

In the years ahead, I took over responsibility for specifying what data would go on which website (advertiser-supported or subscription), and make sure that it was ported over from the old systems. I was still doing design too and (because there was no one assigned to it) picked up phone and email support for AccuWeather.com Premium. I began dating the receptionist at AccuWeather in late 1998 and proposed to her on Y2K (actually 10 minutes until midnight, in case Y2K were to wreak havoc). We got married 6 months later.

In 1999 or 2000, I wrote the first "weather headline" on AccuWeather.com. We had managed to port over some of the text files that the forecasters were already writing for clients, but I had this crazy idea that we should make use of the nice TV graphics that the artists were already drawing) on AccuWeather.com. Accompanying those with paragraphs of text that described them and links to related pages on the website, the modern Weather Headlines (that you see in the box on the front page of AccuWeather.com) were born. After a couple years of doing those (with a WYSIWYG HTML editor called HotMeTaL (and later in XML with XMeTaL), I helped come up with a plan where the forecasters could take over that responsibility, because I was getting behind on my other duties. I also helped edit the headlines after forecasting took over, until the editors were able to take over that responsibility.

In the early 2000s I took over complete responsibility for Premium, and our new "Professional" service featuring a column written by Joe Bastardi. In my continuing competitive research I came across a company who had an interactive radar product like the web had never seen -- in 2004 I flew to out to Oklahoma City to meet with them (marking the first time I had ever been west of the Mississippi). Back in State College, IT resources were at a crucial point so I ended up doing most of the design and programming for RadarPlus myself.

Since 1997, I had still been running the CASI site (which changed names to WeatherMatrix in 1999) and it now had over 10,000 weather enthusiasts discussing the weather, sharing webcams and electronic weather stations and chatting online. In 2005, AccuWeather decided to take over WeatherMatrix so they could hit the ground running with a Weather Community, and I deferred responsibilities for the Subscription services to my new boss. My new job would be split 50% between running the Community on AccuWeather.com (which mostly involved transferring WeatherMatrix services over to AccuWeather.com) and continuing to specify meteorological content and data for Accuweather.com and the three subscription services. The Internet department had become "New Media" and we were now doing things like cell phones and digital signage (weather on billboards, weather on gas pumps, etc.).

I started using Twitter and Tumblr in 2007 or 2008, then we opened our Facebook Page in Spring 2009. Shortly after we began sinking more time into Social Media in general, the department's name changed to Digital Media and we formed a Strategic, then later, Social Media, Team, on which I served. In those meetings we decided what we're doing on Social Networking sites, both in the short-term, with the current weather situation or company marketing, and in the long-term, strategically.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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About This Blog

Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.