New Facebook NewsFeed Settings Mean It’s Time To Use What We Learned in Grade School

Spencer Adkins, June 9, 2014

Sign and date your homework


Every teacher you and I had from elementary school through college told us that.  Now it’s time to apply that to Facebook posts.  (Probably wouldn’t hurt on some other social outlets either.)

As most of you know, recent changes to Facebook’s NewsFeed give users the choice of a “weighted” feed that shows them the “Top Stories” items first or the “Most Recent.”  Unless a user knows where to find the settings, you get “Top Stories,” meaning you have to actively change to “Most Recent” if you want to see the newest posts.  On my mobile, I found it by hitting the “more” icon on the lower right, then I found the newest news in the middle of several choices.

This is (as of June 8, 2014 on an iPhone 5C on iOS7) where you find "Most Recent" for your NewsFeed on Facebook.

This is (as of June 8, 2014 on an iPhone 5C on iOS7) where you find “Most Recent” for your NewsFeed on Facebook.

Now, being Digital Meteorologists at heart, we probably are cool with fishing around with settings and finding these things.  The problem is, many (if not most) people WON’T.  At least not at first.  So they will get material that the Facebook algorithm calculates as being most important to them.  While we don’t know all the secret ingredients, we do know that your previous interactions and likes and shares and general interests weigh into what you see in your NewsFeed.

And that’s the problem.

Things that were posted a day or two or three ago, are showing up in NewsFeeds because you may just happen to actually like just about everything someone posts.  So you see their material often in your NewsFeed.  Or maybe you live close to someone so they show up often.  Or maybe you both like weather.  Or maybe you have a common friend.  Or maybe you both bought “thunder shirts” for your dogs.  The possibilities of what makes a social post “important” to your NewsFeed are probably pretty mind boggling.  (Check your targeted ads one day for either a laugh or a bout of paranoia).

Now you say, “STOP RIGHT THERE! Facebook DOES tell you when you a post was created.  I mean it’s RIGHT THERE! Don’t people READ?”

There IS a little marker showing WHEN a post was created.

There IS a little line showing WHEN a post was created.

BUT – and let’s be REAL honest – do you look at that?  EVERY time?

If you’re flipping through your feed and you see that big, scary red storm on your screen (screen of any size) – you’re NOT looking first at the date.  You’re thinking there’s a threat somewhere and from there the social scientists tell us people go looking for more confirmation on other sources.  My gut tells me that’s right, but only AFTER they flip out, hit share, THEN ask, “is that for my area?”  This is because, not only do people flip through their feed at 1500 mph, we know for certain that people don’t read everything.  Maybe that’s just anecdotal, but from conversations and posts I’ve had, seen and heard from dozens and dozens and dozens of Broadcast/Digital Meteorologists, the short answer to whether or not posts are entirely read is: NO.

Complain if you like, but part of our job is to give answers and build audience for our material.

Two cases to illustrate the problem, then back to the solution:

1) I posted a radar image like the one above and I DID post a TIME on it but NOT a day/date.  I believe I said something about “Heavy rain hitting XYZ town at 6:23 p.m.  Well, that post shows up in a friend’s feed when he just HAPPENS to be looking at 6:22 p.m. the NEXT night and he’s flipped out.  He later called out the Facebook NewsFeed for this.  I mean it showed up on TOP of his feed right then.  He did say that yes, there is a date stamped there, (it would have said 23 hours ago, not Yesterday) but he simply reacted to the info first.  By the way, the day he was reading the post, things were real quiet and he had an outdoor plan, and for just a moment, he was really worried about his activity.  This is a really smart guy too so that’s why I say WE need to be honest.  Even WE don’t look at time stamps on posts ALL the time.  And we DO just look at what shows up on top of our feed without questioning why it’s there.

2) We can’t control WHAT is shared and/or how people receive it when it comes to third party stories.  For that matter, once we hit “send” we don’t often control who sees and shares our stuff, which at times can be a problem which makes crafting a good post that much more important.  We saw that all winter long with “big red scary snow maps” from any number of places you can imagine.  But Sunday night (June 8, 2014) our friend James Spann  had to literally tell people to STOP and READ what they are sharing.

It seems a dated article from showed up in some people’s NewsFeeds and the article was talking about a forthcoming tornado outbreak around Alabama.  From TWO MONTHS ago.  I searched and found several articles as Slate picked up that theme and ran with it before the last big run of tornadoes.  It appears to me from a fast search that the stories started on or about April 23, 2014. Somebody somewhere picked that up and started sharing it on social media apparently in Alabama on June 8, 2014.

James felt he had to take to Facebook and Twitter to quell concern: Spann Post

Spann Tweet

Now, let’s be clear – the Slate post ITSELF isn’t the issue.  It’s how things show up in NewsFeeds and even THAT is a BLEND of the algorithm and the content shared by USERS.

SOOOO- that’s a LONG setup to say – it’s easier to just fix the content going forward than it is to change user’s sharing habits.  We control our own house.  That’s all we can do.

The FIX as far as Facebook goes – for NOW – is to DATE your time-sensitive posts.  If it’s IN the text of the post, then it’s on the reader if they miss it.

But I would suggest it mainly be used for TIME-SENSITIVE posts.  After all, the reason we’re IN the digital space is to “get legs” with our info and have it run around the Internet.

I am absolutely sure responsible Digital Meteorologists don’t want erroneous warning or watch info floating around as far as what comes from them personally.  But sunsets, behind the scenes material, memes and basic social interaction really does NOT need a date.  Nobody is going to be upset if a nice sunset shows up or flowers or a fun pic of your team several days after it was posted.  In fact, you WANT that.  Seeing a forecast from last year for a tropical depression forming off your coastline is probably of great concern – unless a reader/viewer reads the small print on the post.  Bottom line: let’s not rely on small print.

Tinker with it.  Here’s an example from this morning from my shop.  The weather in question wasn’t REALLY so crucial as to be called “time-sensitive,” but on a church day in Appalachia, I thought it was a courtesy for early risers to see the time, date, etc.  Actually I DON’T suggest LEADING a post with time and date.  This one just had that.  But “Tornado Warning until 5:30pm for Eastern Kentucky – Sunday June 8, 2014″ is not bad.

Sunday Morning Post

Twitter is so “minute-of” that dating isn’t as much of a problem.  And for SOME reaon people DO tend to look at the time stamp.  While it’s nice to be as time/date specific as possible, Tweets just get jammed down the timeline, thus making them “out of date” real quick when it comes to such posts as watches and warnings.  It’s not nearly as likely someone would find yesterday’s Tweets and think it’s today’s.

I had to go DEEP into the AccuWX Twitter feed to find something like this – so I wasn’t confused at all.

Accu Tweet

I’m not enough of an “expert” on G+, Instagram or other formats to offer advice but I have learned my lesson in terms of the growing pains of the new Facebook NewsFeed recently.  I really just wanted to share some thoughts so you don’t run into some of the problems I have.  Obviously others have had a few issues.  One thing I DO know is that NewsFeed will change again and all we can do is do our best to suit our “customer’s” needs in the digital space.

As I said, TINKER with it.  Use variations.  See what happens to reach and share.  I’m pretty sure that overall a warning post is going to sink even faster, ESPECIALLY if you time-stamp it in big letters. The GOOD NEWS is, that will clear the way for your really GOOD posts to rise to the top.  Warnings are no-brainers.  Have fun and be creative with those “downtime” posts.  It’s our belief at our shop that those are actually great times to build likes and shares.  Then when you DO have time-sensitive weather alerts to share, hopefully your audience will share those automatically to enhance public safety.

Would love to hear your best advice or stories about these issues in the comments.

BTW, I STINK at knowing the date and day.  One day just becomes the next to me so we keep a calendar right by my seat.  Here it is.  Living one day at a time…

This is my actual calendar.  It makes me grumpy.

This is my actual calendar. It makes me grumpy.

Have a great day, week and month ahead!

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Do They Need Us?


The “habit loop” is the foundation principle behind The Power of Habit.

I just finished a really interesting book called The Power of Habit.  It doesn’t mention broadcasting or weather anywhere but, as we’ve discussed before, if you insert the word weather here and there, some powerful ideas jump out.  You might remember we have talked about this before, it is pretty powerful stuff.

I’ve been lucky to visit with broadcast executives lately.  Some of them “get it”, some don’t.  I was showing one news leader Google Hangouts recently.  Within 30 seconds into the Hangout she said under her breath, “Whoa…they don’t need us any more.”  Chilling but true.  We talked at length with Sarah Hill about this in a Weather Insiders program last year.  Her Tribe is military families and she is deeply embedded.

Chapter 5 in The Power of Habit holds a very important lesson for survival.  Find the groups doing good work.  What they need you for is to lift their profile.  The community will reward you.

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In The Same Business

handshakeSitting down?  Long time sufferers of this blog will likely be surprised to hear me come out in defense of Facebook.

There has been a fair amount of shock and complaining lately about declining Facebook reach, and outrage that the social network would dare to charge us for access to our followers…that audience that we gave our blood, sweat and tears to build.  In the weather space we forcefully cry, “We are providing LIFE SAVING INFORMATION!  How dare you charge us!”  At one point I even saw a petition demanding that Facebook pass our content through unfiltered.

Here is the reality.  In an “open” (using the term loosely) platform everyone gets to participate.  Facebook can’t do you a favor.  The minute they do, they have to do one for everyone else…on the planet…and that doesn’t scale.

We built this beast.  Time to tear it down.

Oh, and lastly, take a step back and look.  Facebook, and us, we are in the same business. Building a large audience and charging for access to it.

(Note:  Since Nate Johnson and Spencer Adkins post better content on this blog than me, going forward each author will have his picture at the bottom of each post so Nate and Spencer can get proper attention and credit for their great work.)


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I’m Sharing This Podcast So I’ll Look Smart…er, uh, So YOU”LL Learn More! And Thoughts On Podcasting

We’ve been told as people working in the “digital realm” that we need people to share OUR material, and then we occasionally work on getting people to share THEIR material with us.  The acronym for the material coming back at us is “UGC,” or User Generated Content.  Of late, UCG is seen as gold and a validation of our social media efforts.  (And let’s be honest: another upside to UGC is that we don’t need to dispatch as many cameras and people out and about because we simply can’t get everywhere and in many shops, we don’t have the people to get into every location).

We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get people to share with us.  We spend a lot of time trying to get people to share FOR us.  At times it seems like it’s all just totally random.  But not really.


According to Harvard professor Jonah Berger  there is an actual science to what people share, how they share it and why they are sharing it.

I have not read his book Contagious, (yet) but I did listen to the podcast where he reduced it to the key elements.  And now you can too.  Here’s the podcast.   It’s a good listen and runs shy of 14 minutes.

But wait!  There’s more!

What about weather podcasts?  Would that be a way to go for us as digital meteorologists?

Well, some people definitely think so.  Many of you know about WeatherBrains.  If you want to get into hyper-local weather, friends in south-central Kentucky would want to sample Chris Allen’s daily podcast.  A Google search landed me on a podcast dealing with weather specific to the great American Northwest.  The Weather Channel and Accuweather have podcasts dealing with daily weather forecasts.

Since I’m sort of new to podcast listening, I likely need to broaden my knowledge of weather-based podcasts.  You can Google search climate podcasts and come up with many such as this round up or climate podcasts on NPR.   There obviously is a much shorter shelf life between an operational weather forecast on a podcast and a discussion about climate, so as a digital tool, it may or may not be attractive to any particular meteorologist.

Finally, in a thinly veiled attempt to bolster my “social currency” I will share these bits of info thanks to the Pew Research Journalism Project  :

The number of podcasts out there has been just about steady.  yes there are really about 90,000.  What’s one more if you want to jump in?


Meanwhile recent listenership seems to have spiked in 2012 at about 13-13.5% of respondents in the current Pew survey.  However the drop back to just over 12% does not seem dramatic.



In fact, with the notion of mobile phones become “screen #1,” it’s hard to think podcasts will see a meaningful dropoff.   (See: Forbes article with an outlook for podcasts in 2014.) 

Hopefully if you like this post, you’ll share it.




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Naming winter storms – the next step

Nor'easter off the coast of New England, March 26, 2014. NASA/MODIS image courtesy of University of Wisconsin SSEC.

Nor’easter off the coast of New England, March 26, 2014. NASA/MODIS image courtesy of University of Wisconsin SSEC.

In the fall of 2012, The Weather Channel announced they would begin naming winter storms.  The move was hailed by marketing and social media experts, but it was generally panned by the rest of the weather enterprise.  For its part, the National Weather Service issued a statement once TWC named the first storm 2012 saying, “The NWS does not use named winter storms in our products”, a position reiterated numerous times since.

A Bomb With No Name

Fast forward to today, when we have a monster nor’easter winding its way off the coast of New England.  By some accounts, it is one of the strongest (if not the strongest) nor’easter since 1993, and it will be remembered for the very strong and rapid intensification on the afternoon of March 26, in addition to whatever direct meteorological impacts occur to New England and the Canadian Maritimes.

I was surprised to learn that TWC did not name the storm.  When I asked (admittedly, with a little snark), both Nick Walker and Sean Breslin from TWC replied that the storm did not meet the population criterion for naming storms:

This resulted in a number of folks chiming in on Twitter, asking what that population criterion was exactly or claiming that whether a storm gets a name or not was driven by ratings.

Renewed Criticism

These are all echoes of one of the biggest and most pointed critiques of the project: Whether a winter storm gets a name is determined by a single private entity using standards they have developed with little or no input from others in the community.  Contrast this with the parallel of naming tropical storms and hurricanes where the community has entrusted the process to a single public entity using open and agreed-upon standards and where the decisions (and data used in making those decisions) are available for real-time review by the community.

To its credit, TWC has explained parts of the process they use to name winter storms.  They also participated in a discussion about naming winter storms with other broadcast meteorologists and explained more about their process in a formal conference presentation at the American Meteorological Society’s most recent annual meeting.  While they have said they are working toward a more objective process and have agreed to take official NWS warnings into more account, they concede some subjectivity remains in whether a given storm will get a name.

At both AMS meetings, TWC said they would like for the National Weather Service to take over the project; however, NWS has said they won’t use TWC’s names and has shown no public interest to date in taking it over.

Nor'easter winds, March 26, 2014. Image courtesy

Nor’easter winds, March 26, 2014. Image courtesy

A Proposal for Moving Forward

Assuming the NWS still does not wish to take over naming winter storms, what if we approached this collaboratively across the weather enterprise?  Develop an enterprise-wide working group tasked with developing standards, implementing those standards in naming winter storms, and publishing both its own review of those standards and the data and work product used in implementing them.


The working group would need to be large enough to incorporate representation from a wide range of organizations and sectors, including but not limited to major players like The Weather Company and AccuWeather, representatives from media outlets like TV stations and newspapers, and meteorology and communication experts from the academic sector.  Obviously, if the National Weather Service wanted representation, that would be excellent.  The group would also need to be sufficiently large to prevent any one bloc from dominating the discussion and to allow the group to work effectively even if some fraction of the membership cannot make a given coordination call on a given day.  Similar to the United Nations, membership would delineated by “seats” with each group getting a certain number of seats but being free to appoint whom they choose to the working group.

The First Off-Season

Once convened, the group would begin from TWC’s winter-storm-naming standards from the last two seasons and develop:

  • open standards for what kind of winter storm should get a name,
  • methods for evaluating data against those standards,
  • procedures for scheduling coordination and how decisions would be debated and made,
  • procedures for when and how the name is communicated, and
  • a list of names for the 2014-15 season that “work” across everywhere that they’d be needed.

Next Winter

Once we get back into winter, the group would schedule calls as needed to discuss particular storms and whether they get names.  The group would be responsible for documenting the factors (and vote totals) that went in to naming or not naming.  It’s important to note that this group would only determine whether a given storm would get a name; however, unlike the National Hurricane Center analogue, this group would not issue forecasts.  Their representative outlets would be able to communicate and forecast the storm as they saw fit.

Subsequent Off-Seasons

Once the final winter storm for a season has come and gone, the group would, like the National Hurricane Center does, self-evaluate and formally publish a review of each storm that got a name or was formally discussed but was not named, the data and methods used, and proposed changes and improvements for the following season.  The group could also conduct or coordinate research for the communicative effectiveness of this approach not only on social media but everywhere and make recommendations for improving enterprise-wide communication.

Moving Forward – Together

An enterprise-wide working group to develop and administer an open-standards-based program to name winter storms would address most of the concerns raised about The Weather Channel’s unilateral approach.  It would be inclusive of a wider range of stakeholders, it would develop open standards for what should constitute a named storm, and it would allow for third-party evaluation and replication of the process.  It would also very likely increase the adoption of the names beyond their current reach and would make it more likely that different governmental entities and media outlets would use the same name and social media hashtag for a given storm.  It would also go along way toward mending fences between TWC and other weather enterprise partners, many of whom felt left out of the process two years ago.

I am under no delusion that such a process would be easy or would itself be without controversy.  As the debate over this has raged, legitimate questions have been raised about the efficacy of naming storms in the first place as well as to what extent regional differences, affected population, and official NWS warnings and advisories should be incorporated.  Further, even the National Hurricane Center gets a share of criticism on decisions to name or not name individual storms.  However, bringing together such a working group should eliminate the criticism (fair or not) that storms are simply being named to drive up TV ratings or website clicks.  Plus, if the notion that everyone using the same name will reduce confusion and increase awareness holds any water, the positive effects would only be multiplied with more entities and outlets using the names.

UPDATE (Thursday 3/27): The Weather Channel addressed why this storm didn’t get a name this morning, including the specific population thresholds they use.

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A Picture Is Worth… $19B?

It appears the answer is yes.  Just not this photo:


The photo above is just a silly snapshot I took, goofing around, while out doing snow coverage during a late season snow storm. It’s not even in focus and I don’t even like selfies, but it captured the emotion of the moment pretty well. That silly photo garnered me well over 500 likes and 50 comments on my Facebook profile. It wasn’t even a pure post or share. All of that interaction took place because I changed my profile photo and my friends saw the notification. The key is, the photo sparked a conversation. It led to interaction in my online social circles. Was that worth something? I think so.

I started a virtual blog-tour while on vacation and stumbled into a great blog called Definitely worth a read. I came across a great entry here about photos and their online value. Not going to lie… the statement by blog author Grant McCracken, that Facebook REALLY paid $19B for WhatsApp because of PHOTOS, really blew me away.

We can get into discussions about how we as broadcast or digital meteorologists use pictures, maps, charts graphs, graphics, snapshots, etc., until the cows come home. We should talk about this because social media is a huge and important tool in what we do daily.

Stop and think for a moment about the times you’ve poured your heart and brain into a great forecast with maps and charts and graphs and posted it, just waiting for the masses to rush in to like, share and comment on it, and it didn’t really happen… meanwhile a snapshot of your dog in the snow went nearly viral. It’s not that people don’t like our information. It’s not that people don’t pay attention. But photos GRAB people. And if a company like Facebook is grabbing other companies so they can be the middleman of our “photographic currency,” then there is a lesson to be learned from that in our own social media efforts.

Get the picture?

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Winter Weary

To all my winter weary weather brothers and sisters.  I’m reminded of the words of the legendary Dan Satterfield who years and years and years ago taught me how to answer unhappy viewers.  Hang in there!


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