This article was produced in partnership with Qumu.
Remember the old children’s game Telephone? Dow Chemical’s Chris Duncan does.
The kids whisper a message, one by one, all the way around a circle. Then they find out how distorted the meaning is by the time it reaches the last kid.
That’s no way to conduct employee communications, Duncan says. Which is why Dow is so enthusiastic about webcasts by senior leadership. Everyone hears the news directly from the bosses.
“One of the big benefits of these tools is that we can clearly articulate what we want our employees to do to reach our company goals,” Duncan says. “This gets everyone on the same page; it has been the fastest, easiest way to do that.”
Dow is completing a five-year plan to revamp its video communications, using software and hardware by Qumu, an enterprise video communications company. Just one sign of how important video has become: Last year, Dow shot 353 webcasts—more than one per business day.
Replacing a satellite network
Dow has scrapped its satellite video network—which required staffers to gather in conference rooms to view broadcasts—in favor of webcasting that’s available at every desktop.
The 116-year-old, $60 billion company has 55,000 employees, operates offices in 36 countries and does business in close to 100. As Duncan notes, you probably use Dow products: food packaging, solar shingles, agricultural feed products, clean water solutions, car parts, and that office carpeting you keep slopping your coffee on.
“It would be difficult for you to make it through your day anywhere in the world without touching some of our products,” Duncan says.
Along with corporate ubiquity come communication headaches that a new era of video can help solve. The medium is a great way to reach a global workforce.
When Duncan started at Dow 25 years ago, the company had 100 employees working in its eight TV studios worldwide. By the late 1990s, it was down to a single studio with four people.
Cancel the flight to Singapore
With the advent of cheaper video production, Dow installed the satellite network so its senior executives could address employees. The YouTube juggernaut made it clear that video was essential for more than just sharing footage of sleepy kittens and fainting goats: Companies could affordably share knowledge and train people.
“Video is a way that you can be a little more personal in your information, a whole lot faster, and you can reach audiences around the world immediately without having to spend the time on an airplane,” Duncan says.
Five years ago, various parts of the company created many divergent types of video. Nobody seemed to be talking to each other. So Duncan’s office began planning with information systems on how to deliver video in the future.
They began down the path that culminated with consistent global video on demand, video streaming and webcasting, and desktop video.
Quarterly CEO webcasts
Dow’s CEO, Andrew N. Liveris, nowadays gives a quarterly report on financials, highlighting key businesses, and it’s available at employees’ computers. Other business leaders provide updates to their own staffers. HR broadcasts about changes in programs and benefits.
There’s an external element as well: Dow webcasts explanations of its products and tells how customers can solve problems. In the past, the company would script and film a video, mail it out to customers, and face a 30- to 90-day window in closing the message.
“Today, you’re actually talking to your customers in real time,” he says.
This expands customer knowledge of the product that they normally buy from the company. It also leads to further sales.
The new webcasting reveals the possibilities of the more-democratic media that have evolved in the social age. At any company, major institutional shareholders can get access to the leadership, but investor webcasts open things up for the granny buying stock for the grandkids.
“For the smaller investor, this really gives us an opportunity to tell our story to the people who are writing the check for the shares,” Duncan says.
Safety tips for staffers
Even little matters—such as office and home safety—are easier to communicate through video. Dow has produced video urging employees to wear long pants and goggles when mowing the lawn (minimizing the risk of getting dinged by flying rocks and other projectiles). There’s another video advising distracted staffers how to perambulate a staircase.
“People get hurt doing the silliest things,” Duncan says. “Walking while texting is a big deal. It’s not major injuries, but people are walking into things, they’re tripping, they’re falling. If you just explain to people why you don’t want to do it, it can really reduce people getting hurt.”
Video promises to become the driving means of communication for Dow, but that brings enormous challenges in data storage. Five years ago, Dow needed 200 gigabytes of space to store all its video. This year, it’s 250 terabytes, and that figure will double in 2014.
“The reality is, people want instant access to that,” Duncan says. “So it’s not like you can go put it in cold storage like we used to with videotape. Now you have to not only store it; you have to make it available to end users.”
Still, the benefits are worth it.
“The new platforms allow us to gain instant feedback and address questions and concerns during the live event,” Duncan says. “It really is a powerful tool to enable communications, instantly and ongoing.”