How Yammer connected Air Canada’s employees

In a time of paper communication and wildcat strikes, union members were trading rumors on Facebook. Management was left out. Here’s how an airline brought the discussion inside.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s distance-learning portal The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations, and interactive courses. Click here for more on this session.

Surely you recall the “underwear bomber.”

In 2009, while on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to ignite explosives hidden in his pants.

Passengers, led by a brave Dutchman, restrained Abdulmutallab and doused the fire. Like other airlines, Air Canada rushed to issue instructions to its staff of 27,000.

The thing is, large numbers of its highly mobile workforce weren’t sitting in front of computers. So Air Canada printed 27,000 copies of its bulletin, stuffed the pages into mail folders, and was good to go. Almost.

“As soon as something was printed and stuffed, there was an update,” says Sebastian Cosgrove, Air Canada’s social media manager for corporate communications. “So, we would have to remove all the printed bulletins and re-stuff them. This was someone’s full-time job.”

This happened all the time in a highly regulated industry. Policies change all the time. The stuffing and un-stuffing and re-stuffing never stopped for the poor drudge in the mailroom.

If that sounds like a headache, listen as Cosgrove tells you how a new Yammer network transformed the airline. In “Build an internal social network thatfosters employee collaboration,” he explains that the benefits of a social enterprise network extend far beyond the mailroom.

In the Ragan Training video—a doubleheader that also features Aaron French of Teach For America’s internal communications team—Cosgrove tells how Air Canada employees learned to use Yammer to solve problems and highlight concerns.

‘No one drinks Sprite anymore’

Flight attendants offered feedback on the social platform. “No one drinks Sprite anymore,” Cosgrove recalls them saying. “Everyone wants Coke Zero. Can you remove the Sprite and put in Coke Zero?” So, the airline responded.

Maintenance and some others used to communicate strictly through logbooks they kept. Now maintenance gets on Yammer and asks, “Why didn’t you log this, because now I can’t fix it?”

Adds Cosgrove, “So they’re having a two-way conversation. It’s no longer just someone doing their job. Now they’re interacting with each other.”

This video clip is taken from the Ragan Training session, “Build an internal social network that fosters employee collaboration.”

Facebook rumors

Communication didn’t always go so smoothly, Cosgrove says. Airline employees are widely scattered. Thousands of them travel daily and don’t even have desks. If you ask crew members to identify their managers, they might not know, as they probably only see those supervisors for disciplinary reasons.

Air Canada has seven unions, and in the midst of one stretch of wildcat strikes, one union would post open letters to the chief executive in a national newspaper. The CEO would respond in the same venue—perhaps not the best arena for hashing things out, judging by the laughter in Cosgrove’s communicator audience.

To make things worse, management discovered one tentative agreement had been derailed by Facebook. It turned out a group of entrepreneurial employees had created a private Facebook group with no management involved, and almost every air Canada employee who was on Facebook looked there first for information, Cosgrove says.

Rumors flew, and management wasn’t present to rebut false claims. Demands accelerated.

“The employees wanted things that we just can’t provide,” Cosgrove says. “We can’t give you a shower onboard the aircraft.”

From this crisis, Air Canada decided it needed an internal social network. It decided to start with the 7,000 employees in in-flight services. Eventually, they all were invited.

“We chose Yammer because it was exactly like Facebook,” Cosgrove says, “and our employees knew Facebook from our labor negotiations. So, why not tap into something that they were familiar with?”

Executive buy-in

Executive and management buy-in was essential. On May 1, 2012—a month before launch—managers began trying out the Yammer platform. If they weren’t using it, nobody would.

When the network did launch, executives embraced it. A senior vice president of customer service listed her title as “chief cook and bottle washer.” The just-folks tone made her seem more approachable, Cosgrove says.

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Air Canada promoted the network, handing out Yammer pens and wearing Yammer T-shirts, Cosgrove says. The company also trained social champions called Yampions. (Quit snickering.)

These people, along with managers, could encourage involvement, monitor posts, and help create content relevant to every group. If somebody posts something that seems out of line, trained employees flag it for review.

The airline awards its champs—uh, Yamps—recognition and thanks, water bottles, handwritten cards, and, essentially, chocolate, all “to show that we appreciate the work that they do above and beyond the day-to-day job.”

And Cosgrove? Suddenly everyone’s recognizing him.

“I was on a flight,” he says, “and some guy said, ‘I think you’re the Yammer guy, do you have any more pens?'”



One Response to “How Yammer connected Air Canada’s employees”

    Rita Kirk says:

    If you really want to be a successful company -then listen to your customers and take care of them. There are a lot of unhappy people out there and we are some of them. Nothing more annoying than losing your baggage and feeling that Air Canada does not care at all. Pathetic! It will come back and ‘bite you on the bum’ if you continue totally disregarding your customers. NO good having customer assistants offering their humble apologies if it all means zilch.

    My daughter lost her luggage with your company last Friday – now day 4 and she is still wearing the same clothes. Still none the wiser what the …. is going on. Totally frustrating and cannot even get to speak to someone in the know. MAD! Daily Headlines

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