The Weather Channel blows social media away with Tornado Week stunt

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Interns have to deal with a lot at their jobs: Menial tasks, little appreciation, not a lot of pay. However, The Weather Channel’s interns spent at least
one week this spring quite literally having a blast.

Or maybe it was more like facing down a blast, specifically, of wind. For the week of April 29, the cable channel
put a group of interns in a small studio and surrounded them with industrial-strength fans pumping out tornado-strength winds. It was all broadcast, live, on YouTube, as a way to promote The Weather Channel’s Tornado Week.

That wasn’t all. The social media component of the stunt was that the more tweets with the hashtag #TornadoWeek that popped up on Twitter, the stronger the
wind got. By the end of the week, more than 47,000 tweets with that hashtag had been posted—about 2,000 more came after the event was over—and the
winds were going at an effective speed of 140 miles per hour.

The stunt proved a huge hit for the brand, and more stunts like it are sure to come.

A whirlwind plan

The Weather Channel initially planned for a traditional campaign, with on-air spots, print ads, radio promos, etc., to tout this year’s Tornado Week. About
two weeks before the special week of programming was set to start, Brandon Uffner, associate marketing manager at The Weather Channel, and his colleagues
reached out to some agencies.

Many of those agencies offered up general social media campaigns, but one agency, Vert, had an idea for live, streaming
video of interns being subjected to tornado-level winds.

“We were thinking, oh wow, this is what we want to do. We want to do something unique that’s going to garner a little bit of attention,” Uffner says.

Of course, it was easier said than done.

“The agency we worked with had never done anything like this,” he says. “We had never done anything quite like this, so we had to figure out, internally,
who can help us on the technology side. How do we livestream this? Can we use our cameras? Where can we set this up?”

Quickly enough, Uffner, his team and Vert dressed up a small studio to look like an office and sent the interns in, to be surrounded by 10 or so big fans
and a handful of cameras.

The Weather Channel promoted the stunt through Twitter and Facebook, but also through some blogger outreach.

An expanding system

Not long after the stream began, it started to take on something of a life of its own, Uffner says. Quite a few of the channel’s meteorologists made
appearances.

“A big key to the success of this was getting our live producers on board with this, along with the on-air talent,” he says. “It was much easier to get
some on-air talent to come spend a big chunk of their day with us, which was great.”

Producers and meteorologists talked about the stream on-air, and asked viewers to get in on the act. It was hard to show wind on-camera, so the video team
used plants and papers scattered around the set to show the real power of the wind. They asked viewers to share their Twitter handles and wrote them on the
papers scattered around the office. Viewers also challenged the meteorologists and interns to draw on the many papers scattered around.”

Enough tweets came in to get the wind up to 140 miles per hour, but that was the effective speed, Uffner stresses.

“We were not actually blasting the interns with 140-mile-per-hour winds because that would not have been safe for them or the studio,” he says.

The team used the EF scale for tornado damage to measure the effective speed of the winds
coming from the fans, Uffner says.

A bigger funnel

It’s somewhat difficult to tie the tweet tornadoes promotion into ratings, Uffner says, though Tornado Week did have higher numbers than last year’s Storm
Week. However, combing through the 49,000-plus #TornadoWeek tweets revealed some things.

“It got people talking about The Weather Channel as something more than just weather,” he says. “It kind of gave it more personality than just a utility.”

The promotion drew a different audience from the one that normally watches The Weather Channel, Uffner says, as well as comparisons to The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

“It was great to get people talking about us in a way that we’re not traditionally talked about,” he says.

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