This story features tips and advice from Abby Klanecky, Dow Chemical’s Director of Digital and Social Media. You can see her presentation on this topic from SocialMedia.org’s 2012 Member Meeting in New York here.

The core of Dow Chemical is about science and scientists.

“Scientists drive our growth,” says Dow Chemical Social Media Director Abby Klanecky at SocialMedia.org’s Member Meeting in New York.

“Without them, we can’t innovate. Otherwise, we’re just selling products. We’re not really in the business of selling products. We’re a science-based company focused on innovation.”

To keep innovating, they had to appeal to the next generation of great STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workers. But, as Abby admits, when it comes to attracting bright minds in science, Dow Chemical has some stiff competition from companies like Google, Apple, and Boeing.

To compete, Dow Chemical had to turn their scientists into storytellers.

“You can picture them in their lab coats. They’re engineers working in plants. Can they really be at the front and center of telling a story? We think the answer is ‘yes.'”

Abby explains that making their scientists’ reputations more visible online would be a big step towards getting people interested in working for Dow Chemical — but more importantly, their scientists could be great at it.

“Scientists are innately curious people. Their profession fuels that curiosity, they’re incredibly passionate about what they do, and they have a deep expertise. These are critical components to what makes a storyteller great,” Abby says.

“If you want to see what motivates a person who’s an expert in their field, make them Google themselves.”

Abby says they had to make it clear to their scientists that this program was not just a marketing stunt, but a way to “influence people to choose science.” She says most scientists, like Millennials, don’t trust marketing and advertising. So she made them Google themselves.

She says Dow Chemical’s scientists were quickly finding out that their stellar offline achievements had no presence online, and their personal brands were suffering along with the company’s brand. That was a great reason for them to start engaging, and Abby’s social media team would show them how.

Abby says, “Once they saw how personal the problem was, and how much they could play a role in fixing it, they really wanted to get on board.”

They encouraged their scientists to connect through a carefully researched networking plan.

Abby’s team showed them the way by getting them to follow people on Twitter, join LinkedIn discussion groups, and comment on blog posts.

“According to our social team’s research, about 80% of the important conversations were happening in three places: on blogs, on Twitter, and on LinkedIn,” says Abby.

By getting their scientists involved in those social spaces first, they were giving them momentum right out of the gate.

“We created maps of potential social influence for them — just with the people they already knew, let alone the people that they would meet in the future. We showed them how to connect with the groups they were already members of and with the people they already knew well,” Abby explains.

“We started there so that they would feel, ‘Wow, look at the kind of reach I can have just in my first month of being interactive online.'”

Once they had the social media training, it didn’t make sense to police the scientists’ social media interactions.

Abby explains that as a global company with over 50,000 employees, this program had to be decentralized to be successful. Plus, common sense was on their side.

“These scientists are some of the highest paid employees in our company. We can trust them to safely handle the chemicals that they’re dealing with in labs. We certainly think we can trust them with what they’re going to say online.”

Surprisingly, Dow Chemical’s legal department agreed with her and advocated for teaching their employees how to use social media. They realized it was a lot safer than ignoring it and assuming their employees weren’t already engaging online.

But there’s more to overcome than just the legal department.

In a BtoB world, when people talk about conversions, they’re often only talking about sales. Abby says one of their biggest challenges was convincing management this program was not about direct-line sales.

“This is about the long-term growth of our company and how we interact with a different set of stakeholders to tell our story,” she explains.

According to Abby, to pull off efforts like this with a conservative company, you have to focus on amplifying their current work, not creating more of it. Her team made progress by working with a small group of storytellers and offering their optimization and support.

In four months, Abby’s team had trained around 100 employees and mobilized 35 active storytellers.

In fact, Dow Chemical’s VP of Sustainability and Environment had already earned close to 500 Twitter followers (and has over 2,350 now).

Ultimately, she believes this program is a great opportunity to show the world what Dow Chemical is all about:

“As a company, we paint a much richer picture of who we are and what we’re trying to achieve, in terms of generating more interest in science and science-based careers and really looking at how we attract that top talent to come to our company.”

Follow Abby Klanecky on Twitter to keep up with what’s happening in Dow Chemical’s social sphere, or check out her full Member Meeting presentation plus a Q&A with other social media executives below.

Dow Chemical: Empowering Scientists to Be Storytellers — presented by Abby Klanecky from SocialMedia.org on Vimeo.

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