Dow Chemical: Using Social Media to Educate and Train the Next Generation

Think social media is just being used by large companies for gaming or brand awareness? Think again. Dow is on a mission to utilize social channels to make science a compelling career choice for millennials and the next generation.

Their strategy for doing so: letting scientists speak for themselves (it’s just crazy enough to work); encouraging not just listening, but exploration through social channels; and finally, focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) education as essential our combined futures.

The Voice of Science
Throwing down the gauntlet early, Abby Klanecky, Director of Social and Digital Marketing for Dow starts with “Chemistry is captivating and deeply rooted in meaningful change.  What people may not realize is that millennials want to feel they are making a difference in the world.  We are here to show them they absolutely can – directly – through choosing a career in science.”

Many companies still hide behind communication professionals and spokespeople to be their voice in the market.  Dow is going in a different direction: let the scientists speak for themselves. This creates a three-pronged approach for how they engage customers, partners, and future employees in the market. Marketing finds opportunities for engagement, PR and social media staff trains and enables the scientists, and the scientists are actively leading the interactions.

“Our partners, or universities, or customers want to hear directly from scientists who are engaged in cutting edge research.  (Our) Scientists care about their place in the world and how they can contribute,” continues Abby. “This passion comes through when they are allowed their own voice in these conversations.  It builds immediate trust and a much more fruitful conversation – for everyone involved.”

But you don’t just turn this on overnight – especially for a group of smart people who may not be “digitally native.”

Do more than just listen, “explore” instead
Many companies are talking about listening – using social channels to “listen to their audiences.”  Dow sees the key to their success as being more active in this role. Abby explains, “Listening is passive; exploring is active. As a company, we believe in exploring the world around us.  Social is no different.  As marketing, we train and then partner with, our scientists to use these channels to have active conversations and interactions with the world around them.  It has been revolutionary in how they see the world – sharing and receiving unfiltered, real-time insights.”

Dow is starting with high-touch, quality engagements with select hand-raiser scientists today.  Their plans are to focus on scalability next year. For now, they work with their scientists on a weekly basis – identifying communities, updating profiles, asking and answering questions, blogging, tweeting, etc.   They get them to commit and block off hours each week for these sessions.  The key here is to understand that you are helping these folks to fundamentally change how they interact with the world.  You won’t make that shift in thinking from an online seminar or a memo.

“Change takes time. But we see this model working for us,” intones Abby. “We may train a class of 20; 10 may get it; 5 will stay with it.  But those 5 become our storytellers. Over time, those groups of 5 have real power to tell their stories in a very human way that Dow would not get from a press release.”

Is this where they talk about STEM? You betcha.

STEM is all of our futures
A few facts to show why careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are so important to our collective future:

At a time when unemployment hovers near 10 percent, 1 million new jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math will open up; but only 200,000 new graduates will have the skills to fill them. Abby gets excited talking about this particular problem. “There are some great educational institutions out there focusing on STEM roles for this and the next generation workforce. Our question has always been, ‘How can you get that generation excited about these types of roles’?”

Dow believes that the direct connection between their scientific community, education at all levels, and these generations is key to building that interest, passion and enthusiasm.  Having scientists work with and speak with these groups builds that enthusiasm at the earliest times. “Dow’s culture is very networked and highly collaborative.  Our scientists may be partnering directly with students at top universities, such as the University of Michigan, or providing educational materials and insights to much younger students through social channels.”

Abby finishes with, “Dow has exciting plans for meaningful growth.  We would like future generations to partner with us in creating that future.  Roles in everything from sustainable chemistry to advanced manufacturing make our future very promising and tremendously exciting.”

I will be bringing my kids over there later today.

For more information on game changing organizations and how they are using social media, please follow @toddmwilms