Meteorologists and Personal Branding
Is There a Connection?
Publication Date: 2020
The purpose of our study was to better understand the role, if any, that personal branding played in the communication process for broadcast meteorologists during Hurricane Dorian. We were able to speak with six on-air meteorologists from various Orlando television stations for the project. Based on a content analysis of our interview data, we report (a) branding was seen as less important than integrity; (b) professional brands emerged in myriad ways, including from the station; (c) social media is a game changer for branding; and (d) some aspects of a personal brand cannot be controlled by the on-air meteorologists themselves. Our findings are important given that social media has enabled many people to act as “armchair meteorologists”, and broadcast meteorologists need tools to make themselves stand out from the noise. Our study goes beyond station research into branding by distilling what the on-air meteorologists themselves say is important. Those findings can be incorporated by professionals looking to develop and hone a personal brand identity to foster trust and improve communication with their audience.
In today’s digital, fast-paced era, there is an increased focus for personal branding to showcase personality and qualifications. Personal branding is defined as “the process whereby people and their careers are marked as brands and it differs from reputation management and impression management with its purpose. It is directly intended to create an asset and brand equity that pertains to a particular person or individual” (Karaduman, 20131).
In other words, personal branding means how people make themselves stand apart from someone else. In this case, we are focused on broadcast meteorologists who play a crucial role in emergency communication. We chose broadcast meteorologists because not only do they convey crucial lifesaving information during crisis events, but also because they need to build trust with audiences to effectively communicate that information in a timely, calming manner (Ryan and Rosenfeld, 20012). As such, our research question explored how, if at all, personal branding factors into communication practices of broadcast meteorologists, and to what extent branding mattered for building trust.
To answer this question, we focused on the role of personal branding for broadcast meteorologists in select Orlando television stations during Hurricane Dorian in 2019. We interviewed six on-air broadcast meteorologists using semi-structured interviews. We asked participants to consider their personal brand, what branding means to them, and the challenges associated with Hurricane Dorian. Our study adds to the literature by focusing on personal branding of meteorologists, rather than station-branding, and considers personal branding during a time of crisis communication specifically.
Our findings indicate that broadcast meteorologists focus on building trust first, and use branding as a means to supplement that relationship with the audience. In this way, communicating reliable information in a trustworthy manner leads to a strong personal brand image in the minds of viewers, according to our interviewees. On-air personalities are a main way networks can cultivate overall brand personalities (Chan-Olmsted & Cha, 20073), so our focus drilled down into how those brands develop, how meteorologists perceive their personal brands, and how they define trust.
As the weather markets change and competition between stations increases, branding becomes critical to attract and retain viewers, especially when it comes to weather reporting (Daniels and Loggins, 20104). Daniels and Loggins (2010) note product differentiation between stations is important to retain viewers, and branding can be a way to achieve such ends, especially for already high-performing stations. As Daniels and Loggins (2010, p. 33, emphasis added) explain, “It is worth noting that the meteorologists or weather presenters themselves may be a product differentiation factor.” Including the name of the weathercaster in video reels—which is recognized by most viewers—is one way to differentiate the product of the station (i.e. the person delivering the weather information).
Existing research on broadcast meteorologist branding usually focuses on station-related items such as graphics, network affiliations, and news-related promotions (Chan-Olmsted & Kim, 20015). While media managers report an understanding and appreciation of branding, many of them relate it to promotional extension rather than something strategic in itself (Chan-Olmstead & Kim, 2001). In this research we moved beyond station brands to examine the personal brands of meteorologists during crisis communication situations.
Even though hurricane reporting has a long history, the study of the holistic warning systems remains under-investigated (Anthony et al, 20146). News media—such as television stations, radio reporting, newspapers, and social media—are a critical in crisis communication, and there is often great demand for the latest information. The choice of language, images, and the media’s reach itself matters in how issues are framed and understood (Littlefield and Quenette, 20077). Moreover, there often is a lack of trust between emergency managers and the media, despite each needing the other in a crisis situation (McLean and Power, 20148). For example, journalists might find emergency managers too slow or calculated, while emergency managers might not understand the rapid demands of the news cycle (McLean & Power, 2014).
According to a 2019 Pew Research Center Study, nearly 68% of Americans think made-up news erodes confidence in government institutions, political leaders, and even other Americans (Stocking, 2019 9). Americans want journalists to fix this problem, even though most see political leaders as the creators of “fake news” (Stocking, 2019). However, Sutter (201310) argues that broadcast meteorology is a public good given local news media, especially through television, is the main place people get information during a crisis. In addition, Sutter (2013) explains, “weathercasters are very visible members of a news team, and warnings, advice or reassurance during threatening weather can provide an enduring bond and create brand loyalty among viewers. Severe weather is life threatening, and weather coverage is a potential life saver” (p. 465). This brand loyalty and bond can explain some of the positive and negative social media comments made on the public pages of broadcast meteorologists, especially during severe weather events.
For this quick response research, we drew from Koehn’s (2003) four types of trust and add a fifth based on brand loyalty. Koehn’s four types are: goal-based trust, calculative trust, knowledge-based trust, and respect-based trust. We added brand-based trust to account for local meteorologists becoming akin to celebrities with massive followings during a crisis situation. Indeed, meteorologists in one study (Ryan & Rosenfeld, 2001) reported how personality is a crucial factor in communicating forecasting information. They explained how station managers “stressed on-screen personality” and ask questions like “Are you warm? Friendly? At ease on camera? They judge you by your on-air performance, not by your forecasting” (Ryan & Rosenfeld, 2001, p. 34). This demonstrates the importance of branding for on-air meteorologists.
Brand trust means there is an expectation and, ideally, a probability that a specific person representing that brand will do the right thing, even in a crisis situation (Delgado-Ballester and Munuera-Aleman, 200511). When brand communities form, especially in online spaces, they can positively or negatively affect brand trust and overall reputation (Habibi, Laroche & Richard, 2014). In their study, Yannopoulou, Koronis and Elliott (201112) find that media organizations and their members are direct actors in building brand trust before, during, and after a crisis. Therefore, our research, presented herein, incorporates brand trust explicitly into the crisis communication space by focusing on meteorologists as personal brands.
Hurricane Dorian: A Difficult-to-Forecast Storm
As Hurricane Dorian churned toward the United States in 2019, much uncertainty remained about its path. Initial reports said it was nothing more than a weak tropical storm likely to hit Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Instead, Dorian tracked east of Puerto Rico, retaining tropical storm-force winds and creating a new projected path predicted to impact South Florida. As the days crept by it became clear that Dorian’s path was not as certain as once anticipated. Meteorologists warned the storm could directly hit Florida as a Category 4, making it the strongest storm to make landfall on Florida’s eastern coast since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 (Klotzbach, 201913). People undertook preparations, clogging stores and stripping shelves of water, food, generators, and other hurricane supplies. Unfortunately, Dorian’s projected path changed with almost every update cycle because global steering conditions made forecasting and modeling the storm’s path difficult as conditions kept changing. After making landfall in The Bahamas on September 1, 2019, the storm stalled out and thrashed the islands for nearly two days.
As the track shifted from directly hitting Florida to a storm that could skirt the coast—with potential to cause billions of dollars in damage—people on social media began criticizing the meteorology community and the science behind the forecasts. For instance, one Facebook user wrote, “Sad all the money people who don’t know the game newscasters play spent that they didn’t have on things they didn’t need. Maybe they can donate to where ever (sic) it really hits.” One local Orlando meteorologist took to his Facebook page to write, “I was told that we should be better at this in 2019 on my ‘Coffee Talk’ this morning, but predicting the future is tough for scientists, heck it's even tough for ‘psychics’! We will do the best we can, give you the freshest data, and I can only ever promise NO HYPE.” The post elicited much praise from the general public, compared to other posts that generated a host of vitriolic comments.
During Hurricane Dorian, the New York Times published an article discussing the challenges expert meteorologists face with the increased sharing of misinformation online by “social mediarologists” (Bogel-Burroughs & Mazzei, 2019). The combination of a public that wants detailed and deterministic forecasts, with an incredible number of online sources of information with varying degrees of scientific accuracy and completeness, adds to the challenges broadcast meteorologists face in providing information to the public. Further complicating matters for forecasters, on September 1, 2019 President Trump tweeted incorrect information regarding which areas would potentially see impacts from Hurricane Dorian. After being corrected by the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stepped in and issued several statements warning the agency not to contradict the President (Freedman et al., 2019). Once again, the public took notice as Twitter served as the main medium for the President’s original and follow-up messages doubling down on his misinformation. This ability for constant back and forth—especially in an era of 24-hour news cycles and social media outlets giving voice to armchair scientists—necessitates further understanding of the role that on-air meteorologists play in the crisis communication process and how they overcome that digital noise.
Sample Size and Participants
For this study, we interviewed six broadcast meteorologists in Central Florida, specifically in the Orlando area. We attempted to reach all area meteorologists via public email addresses on websites (approximately 30). We sent an Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved recruitment letter to each person asking for their participation in the study. We also asked broadcast meteorologists who agreed to participate in our study to please share our recruitment email with their colleagues. Given the focus of our study, we relied on purposive sampling to identify broadcast meteorologists who covered Hurricane Dorian in Central Florida.
Given the exploratory nature of this work, we relied on semi-structured interviews to investigate the role personal branding plays, if any, in broadcast meteorology. We conducted each interview using a semi-structured interview guide which included questions such as: time in the profession, ideas about their personal brand, what branding means to them, the challenges associated with Dorian, and the role of social media in their field. Interviewees also brought up topics of gender and appearance, so we added additional questions to our guides for future interviews to highlight these additional focal areas. Each interview lasted approximately one hour. Five took place in the television studios, and one was conducted via phone given scheduling challenges.
All interviews were recorded in line with IRB approval. Our research qualified as exempt from IRB procedures as there was no concern over physical or psychological harm to the meteorologists being interviewed upon review of our research questions and procedures. During the interviews, we took extensive typed notes and had at least two team members present. We analyzed the text for patterns related to our research question about the role of personal branding for broadcast meteorologists. We used a combination of inductive and deductive coding, to look for patterns related to branding – for instance, does it matter? Additional findings, such as those focused on social media and the role of gender, emerged organically.
The findings below are based on coded interview notes. We examined these notes for patterns related to our research questions about the role of personal branding for broadcast meteorologists, particularly during Hurricane Dorian. We identify four key findings, described further below.
Finding 1: Personal Branding was Less Important than Integrity
We found that personal branding was seemingly less important to our interviewees than personal integrity when it came to forecasting and sharing information related to Hurricane Dorian in the Central Florida area. Personal integrity and calming presence were the top qualities reported as more important than personal branding. In the next section, we will discuss more about how personal and professional brands emerge (when they do), but here we focus on how the broadcast meteorologists use integrity and calm when deciding what to communicate to the public and how.
For all participants, conveying a sense of calm by transmitting only fact-based reporting was crucial. One Orlando broadcast meteorologist explained that he has always tried to be calm since the start of his career more than two decades ago. He elaborated, “the field is night and day from when I started… the hardware of the business has changed.” When it came to communicating on television about Hurricane Dorian, and Hurricanes Irma and Matthew before that, he tried to be “calm and clear.” Reflecting on this approach, he said “I do think that would be a brand, and that is deliberate on my part not so much because I care about the brand, but because I care about the message.”
Regarding Dorian, the same meteorologist said he walked into his boss’s office about a week before the storm slammed into The Bahamas. He recalled during the conversation, “I showed him a map and I was like, this is going to stall.” For Central Florida, it was hard to tell if it would stall there or elsewhere, so he and the weather team decided not to communicate that so early because of the uncertainty. He explained his decision-making process this way, “So my big thing with a hurricane is, what do people need to know?... With Dorian, it was hard to make that distinct call of like, okay, now it’s action day. I think on Sunday before Dorian hit, which is a couple days later off our coast, I had to tell people I don’t know if it’s coming here, but the window of opportunity for us to prepare is closed.” In other words, his decision-making process was more concerned with calm and facts rather than his personal brand identity.
A broadcast meteorologist at another station echoed these sentiments when it came to telling the Dorian story. Given the storm’s changing path, coupled with a long build-up before it approached the US coast, he said, “We encouraged people just to keep checking back. What you see today is not going to be the same forecast track tomorrow. We were very open about that and the range of possibilities.” In the end, Dorian stayed about 80 miles off Florida’s coast. As this meteorologist told us, “When you’re talking about a major hurricane, the chances of even the slightest impact is still going to have an impact on communities, on people.” From his perspective, the people were the biggest concern, trumping an eye for his personal brand identity.
Another meteorologist said, “When the epitaph is written on Dorian, I think it will be, from a meteorological side, seen as an incredible victory for computer modeling.” For instance, he cited Hurricane Floyd in 1999, which led to mass evacuations along the Florida coast. That storm was about 135 miles offshore, considerably further away than Hurricane Dorian. “Today because of computer modeling, government leaders felt confident enough to leave people in place except for the barrier islands,” he said. Such a move no doubt saved millions of dollars.
Our interview data yielded additional stories of this nature, focused more on integrity, listening to the science, and communicating calmly and rationally to the public. Interestingly, these traits had little to do with personal or professional branding. As expressed by one meteorologist who has been doing the job since 1996, “With me, it’s coverage you can count on, and trust and experience and those type of things.” At a different station, another meteorologist with decades of experience explained:
I don’t really think too much about my personal brand other than I hope people know I’m trying to be honest and trying not to scare people. As a human being, not so much brand, I don’t want to be an alarmist. I don’t need to be an alarmist when there’s a giant hurricane coming at you. If anything, you need to be calmer. Personally, I don’t know if it’s my brand, but I try to be calmer and more direct because that’s what people I would think need.
Perhaps this is because when it comes to weather branding, there is not much distinction among local broadcast networks—though the broadcast meteorologists themselves could be the differentiating factor (Daniels & Loggins, 2010). For those in our study, they were less concerned about branding than getting the information right. This feeds directly into trust. Though when they did speak about branding, we seemed to find differences in how a brand emerged.
Finding 2: Professional Brands Emerged in Varying Ways
We found that professional brands (an on-air personality, in this case), which often bled into a personal brand (an on-air personality coupled with social media management of a more “human” side), emerged in two ways: organically or via station management. Professional brands, according to our interviewees, focused on elements of building trust with audiences and delivering reliable information without hyperbole. Personal brands involved sharing personal life details on social media to make meteorologists seem more relatable, which could be controversial. One person told us a story of sharing beers he enjoyed while out on the town. Station managers told him to stop these personal posts because of the station’s image.
Based on our interviews, professional branding seemed to be more common, indicating that more research is needed to understand the effects of station branding on broadcast meteorologist messaging and trust. One broadcast meteorologist told us the station brand is there from the beginning when hiring someone. “Does this person fit being a weather expert?” he said, alluding to the station’s weather branding. A team of meteorologists from this station explained to us they are on air basically around the clock so are not constrained to reporting in blocks of time, like morning news or evening news. They are known for slogans such as “Weather on the Ones” and “News Now,” and as one meteorologist explained, these brand standards are “things we will say to kind of drive in that branding to let people know what we stand for and what our product is capable of providing.”
Another broadcast meteorologist from this same station said:
In TV, in my experience, the brand is really decided by management. It’s not so much in many ways a good analogy, but [all] I can think of is in sports… the management or the manager or the coach decides, ‘I’m running this offensive scheme or this defensive scheme, and I’m going to get players who match what I want.’ Now there are some exceptions to that rule, but definitely in my tenure that’s been the case. Management decides the weather expert brand then seeks meteorologists for that brand.
These findings align with Chan-Olmsted and Kim’s (2001) research about station managers controlling the branding function. Where our findings differ is that branding is less about promotion and logos and more about an essence of the station to which broadcasters must abide. This calls for additional research as well, to understand how branding is a feeling rather than only about logos and slogans.
A meteorologist from this same station told us management can have an incredibly granular focus with the research that goes into building the overall station branding. Given that Orlando is a large market, most stations have ample (though arguably not always plentiful) resources for market research. He explained:
They will skew down to ‘I want women ages 18-34 in a section of Volusia County, and I want to survey them.’ They will dictate the branding based on viewer preferences… In terms of how they select meteorologists, again in a market of this size it would not be shocking to have a focus group installed before you hire a candidate. It can go to the extreme in that case. There have been—especially with women—they will hire you on a condition of, ‘well, our focus group didn’t like that blonde hair, we want you to go brown.’
Another Orlando broadcast meteorologist is famous for his sleeves. In this sense, his brand identity formed organically based on viewers’ perceptions rather than something he consciously started. Since then, he explained, it has stuck and helps him convey his message:
Back in 2004, I was on the air so much covering hurricanes that I didn’t have my jacket on. I wasn’t putting my jacket on; I’m working. I would have my jacket off, and the next year when there wasn’t a hurricane, I would be working back here doing my tease… and people were immediately like, ‘He doesn’t have his jacket on. There must be something going on.’
This information made it to the marketing department, which then encouraged him to keep his jacket off during severe weather. He explained, “It’s a message. It’s a sign, so I started doing it.” The sign was taken a step further when he rolled up his sleeves. Now people watch his sleeves; if the sleeves are up, there’s a problem. He remembered:
I can recall during Irma, especially, that we needed people to start talking. I mean, the storm was Category 3 [when it] made landfall and was coming north, and people were still like, ‘his sleeves aren’t rolled up yet,’ so I’d go, ‘Shit my sleeves are rolled up.’ It’s kinda silly, but whatever helps get the message out within reason…I don’t want to become a caricature…I remember during Dorian I had taken my jacket off because it was a serious situation, but I never rolled my sleeves up.
When the marketing department did their research, they found that viewers note that sleeve length equates seriousness, so he keeps this in mind when on air, “It hasn’t gotten silly. It’s kind of like it’s an identity. People identify me, and if this is something simple that gets their attention and lets them know the threat level [that’s fine].” Brand success depends on user perception (Daniels & Loggins, 2010). This is an example of a broadcast meteorologist not consciously forming a personal brand identity but now having one he has to manage during his on-air forecasting. This is the strongest example in our data of a brand that formed organically, while most others came from the station. But as noted above, the meteorologists would rather focus on communicating the most accurate information at the moment rather than worrying if something fits a personal brand identity.
Regarding station branding, many of the meteorologists to whom we spoke pointed us to their station slogans. For instance, one interviewee told us his station tries to focus on being local, sometimes hyper-local, “That’s part of our overall brand, but there’s still limitations on how specific we can be.” The local brand might mean people ask for forecasts for specific streets or small geographic areas, which is not possible. The station and personnel cannot possibly be that granular all the time, so in that case the brand might hurt more than help if people do not understand its meaning.
Finding 3: Social Media Are a Game Changer
Broadcast meteorologists in our study communicated about Hurricane Dorian and other severe-weather related information through social media. How they used the tools varied, with some saying social media is of utmost importance, while others see it as another piece of their job and devote less time to it. All meteorologists, however, mentioned “armchair meteorologists” who share their opinions or even false information online and offered strategies for how to handle those instacnes. It is perhaps not surprising we found evidence that social media tools are becoming important for broadcast meteorologists, while still causing concerns about ethics and reputation (Mulvey et. al, 2020 14). Some of the Mulvey et al. (2020) findings mirror what our meteorologists expressed as well, such as the assumptions that commenters do not believe anyone will read what they write, that they do not believe the meteorologist is a human with real feelings, and that they do not believe sharing their views will do any harm.
For instance, one participant told us, “sometimes the message can get really cloudy because people pull up a storm, and there’s all kinds of armchair meteorologists who take a look at the Euro model from Wednesday.” He explained that he uses Facebook to communicate forecasting messaging because, “our decision makers are using Facebook, right? Mom and dad, people making decisions.” He was alluding to the older demographic usually found on Facebook compared to Twitter and Instagram. One interviewee said he primarily uses Facebook to engage in conversations with people. It allows him to go live if needed or record updates to share later. He explained, “Digital is there, and digital is a way for me to post an update on the storm and say ‘Hey, I’m going to have the new track coming up at 11 o’clock, and I’m going to explain to you why this storm is going to be such a pain in the ass to forecast.’” For those in our study, social media can be a Catch-22 because while the tools allow quick access with limited technology needs—such as a cell phone—it also means their time is taken away from other tasks and there is an increased focus on how they look, the tone, how they are perceived; in short, the brand image.
We noticed several patterns emerge in our data regarding social media use by broadcast meteorologists. First, as noted above, was the rise of armchair meteorologists and associated “fake news.” One meteorologist told us someone sent:
… this very real looking, this just happened kind of thing, and we had to save it on a desktop and do a Google image search on it. It pulled up some other thing. The guy was like, okay you got me. So, we get that kind of crap. It makes our job twice as hard. But for the most part, we get reliable information.
Another respondent said social media can be problematic because he often sees early storm models there, which can cause alarm without proper context. The context is why broadcast meteorologists are there, he said, “If you have the sniffles, you go onto WebMD and figure out what’s going on, but if you have a cancer diagnosis you don’t go to WebMD. Do you want an app telling you where Dorian is going to go?” He reminded us there are several steps before something that appears on a model turns into a storm, so people seeing information sans context on social media could panic needlessly.
Second, social media take time, but is a necessary outlet for sharing information, even if it not necessarily related to a personal, professional, or station brand. One Orlando meteorologist said he believes less is more when it comes to social media. He, too, prefers Facebook because there is more space for long posts (as opposed to Twitter, which has a character limit). Related to Hurricane Dorian, he posted once in the morning and again in the afternoon with detailed information rather than only a sentence or two. He elaborated:
When I post, I make sure I have time to at least sit there for half an hour and respond to some of the first comments so people know that I’m active when I’m on there. People like to say things when you’re not looking. Sometimes I get, ‘Oh I didn’t know you were going to respond or see this.’ I call people out, but not in a mean way. I try to bring those people in. I have a lot of people who are armchair meteorologists who are constantly still on my page, but I engage them in a positive way.
Third, station managers and the on-air meteorologists themselves are still trying to understand the reach and power of social media. In our study, some participants reported looking closely at analytics on their personal pages, while for others, social media is about feel and creating connections to build trust and viewership. Additionally, because the tools are still relatively new for the field, some station managers, according to our participants, are figuring out proper rules and regulations. As one meteorologist explained, “It’s hard to police… They are kind of corralling us into professional accounts, and they are keeping an eye on professional accounts. They will say something if they see something they don’t want out there, or they’re not seeing a ton of posts. They’re steering us a little bit.” Another at the same station said she uses social media because it makes her seem more approachable, “We are human beings, not just someone getting up in front of the camera giving a forecast. People feel connected if they can relate… And hopefully that translates to viewership.”
Another of her colleagues noted, “I don’t want to post things that get too personal. There are things that are none of their business,” referring to viewers and in response to encouragement he received to post more personal information on his social accounts. Similarly, a meteorologist at another station said his company also brought in consultants, and one thing they mentioned was optimal times to post content on social media to drive up analytics. “Sometimes I have a good post, and while some consultant might be like ‘don’t post that until 7 [a.m.],’ and I’m like, ‘screw it’ and post at 4 in the morning.” Aside from that, he said, the station has no hard and fast rules when it comes to social media, so he chooses to engage people during appointed time slots, “I’m not saving lives, but my job is to try to keep people safe and tell people what the weather is going to be. I don’t need to hit them over the head with science. I saw a lot of my colleagues putting out almost too much when there’s a big weather event. I thought they were putting out too much stuff.”
As new technologies continue to emerge, broadcasters and managers need to ask themselves if using the tools are worth it for either the financial bottom line or for building brand trust (Ha and Chan-Olmsted, 200415). We found that individual broadcast meteorologists use Twitter and Facebook to engage with viewers. This finding differs from research showing that TV stations—rather than the individual broadcasters themselves—post one-way, less-interactive content that might not help with overall brand perceptions (Greer and Ferguson, 201116). More research is needed to delve deeper into how individual broadcast meteorologists use social media to build trust with the audience.
Finding 4: Some Aspects of a Personal Brand Cannot be Controlled
A couple of meteorologists interviewed discussed the impact of gender, age, and tenure at the station or in the area as a factor for trust. They observed that there are no female chief meteorologists in the Central Florida area. Female meteorologists receive more comments on their hair, clothes, and accents, which might distract from the overall messaging. Additionally, one meteorologist noted that older “veterans” at the stations tend to be perceived as more trustworthy, whether or not that is true. One female-identifying meteorologist explained, “When I was in college, I was told that males can age, gain weight, go bald, wear glasses and still keep their job. Females have more of a shelf life. I think males make it more to retirement than females, but that’s still evolving.” For her, that means she pays extra attention to her personal brand identity (how she presents herself professionally on air and on social media) but has less control of brand image (how viewers perceive her). She said, “I’ve turned off the direct messages on Facebook on my public page. I turned off that messaging years ago because nothing good ever comes from that. It’s the viewers that think they can get a direct line to you. They’re going to be less inclined to say that in open forum on my wall.” She makes sure not to repeat outfits too close to one another to avoid negative comments, yet a male meteorologist in the same market routinely uses social media to ask for help choosing a tie. More research is needed on the gender dynamics surrounding trust in meteorologists.
To be clear, we are not saying women are the sole recipients of these kinds of image-based comments. Reports from our small sample, however, indicate that being older with gray hair advantages the males in the broadcast meteorology field more so than women. Women, then, might be forced to spend more time curating an image, which could take away from developing other skills. Again, we emphasize that more research is needed to delve into this finding related to branding. Research confirms that women, while prevalent in the field, are not often in top leadership roles and still make up significantly less of the on-air talent than men (Cranford, 201817).
Our findings indicate that when it comes to personal branding, the foremost concern for broadcast meteorologists is building trust with their audience. Our interviewees did not focus consciously on building a brand identity. They are aware, though, that a brand image (what viewers think of them) can influence views and ratings. We also find that brand image evolves based on how broadcast meteorologists participate in a changing social media environment. Today, there are many opportunities for broadcast meteorologists to develop and convey their brand, build trust, and interact publicly with their audience on social media. With that, there are also competing sources of information from “armchair meteorologists” on social media who do not have the same credentials. This increases the importance of brand trust for broadcast meteorologists. Instead of building trust in short, 3-minute on-air segments with forecast information, meteorologists are aware that their brand is communicated throughout the day in every social media post and response.
Our study is based on a small sample size, so that can be considered a limitation. We also focused on the Central Florida area given our interest on the forecasting of Hurricane Dorian, so our method should be repeated in other markets as well. Despite the limitations, our findings shed light on the role of personal branding in broadcast meteorology. This is especially important as social media continues to grow in popularity and become a key source of emergency and crisis information.
We recommend that future research develop further the role of trust related to brand image. A survey experiment, for example, could have scenarios that change based on gender, age, and social media presence to determine trust. A survey could also ask respondents questions about information preferences. And finally, as we write this, COVID-19 is still upending lives across the U.S. It may be valuable to understand if a station or personal brand matters for building trust with audiences when there is another deadly emergency unfolding.
Dissemination of Findings
We have approval from BAMS to submit an article for consideration in their publication. If accepted, we will send copies of that article back to the meteorologists in the study. We also will send to them a final copy of this report.
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