Youth Marketing Connection (YMC) specializes in helping high-profile brands manage peer-to-peer marketing campaigns and execute brand promotions. It operates within the Education Division of the Specialists and Activity Sector of TUI Travel PLC, which oversees more than 200 subsidiaries worldwide, including StudentCity, a company that focuses on providing unique travel experiences for students. YMC grew out of StudentCity and, like StudentCity, relies on a nationwide network of student representatives to help drive marketing campaigns on college campuses.
“We launched YMC based on the success of the peer-to-peer student rep model of StudentCity,” says Jacqui Lewis, Founder of StudentCity and YMC. “The entire business is built on an on-campus student rep model that we’ve spent more than 20 years perfecting. We recognized an opportunity to leverage our growing global network of student reps to create communities and compelling and unique programs for other brands.”
YMC student representatives might host unique on-campus events, use online social networks, or distribute flyers and promotional items aimed at generating marketing buzz for the brand they are chosen to promote. “One of our biggest challenges is efficiently collecting information from our reps, so we can give clients tangible evidence of the work we’re doing for them,” says Lewis. For example, clients may want to know how many students attended an on-campus event or how many posts on Facebook a student made to promote a particular activity. YMC also faced the challenge of reducing the amount of time spent by the reps across campuses nationwide on the planning and reporting of the activities they perform.
At the beginning of each program, students typically completed marketing plan questionnaires and preliminary event schedules to propose where, when and how they would execute program activities. Student reps submitted these plans by email message to their YMC program manager for review. Staff also relied on email messages to confirm approval and communicate any necessary changes to event plans.
“There was a lot of back and forth in email to coordinate all of the reps’ activities,” says Carisa Natvig, Group Director of Operations and Client Services at Youth Marketing Connection. “Because the process was so decentralized, we ran into a scalability problem.” The company found that with manual processes, a single program manager was only able to effectively manage approximately 20 student reps at a time. To help clients expand the reach of their programs, YMC recognized the need to make it easier for program managers to track activity requests and manage approvals.
The company also saw a need to create a fully centralized database to store their extensive network of student contacts. “Managers were working off of their own lists, and there was no reliable way to know how many other programs candidates had applied for, or if they were talking to another manager for a different position at the same time,” says Natvig. This, in turn, caused difficulties with recruiting, which sometimes caused delays in initiating new campus activities.
For several years, student reps relied on an online file-sharing service to send their event summary reports. Managers then reentered this information into locally saved spreadsheets for analysis and reporting. “Manually entering that information could take up to an hour a week for each student rep,” says Natvig. This, in turn, limited the company’s ability to handle client requests for current, consolidated reporting data.
Several years ago, YMC made a substantial investment in building a content management system to accommodate the program requirements and reporting needs of a large client. The initiative required contracting with an external development team to create a customized, fully branded collection of websites. Although the solution met the needs for that particular client, it was not flexible enough to accommodate multiple client programs. Given the development costs and time required to make new sites operational, executives determined that it simply was not cost-efficient to pursue this approach in every case.
To address these challenges, YMC searched for a solution that offered rich toolsets for content management, social computing, reporting, and business intelligence. “We needed a solution that fit our business model, a system that we could adapt on the fly, and one that our student reps would quickly adopt,” says Natvig.
After considering several options—including developing an application on the technology platform that underlies Facebook—YMC chose to deploy Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. The company turned to Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Concurrency for help in implementing the solution, which it calls RepNet. “When we saw all of the capabilities we got out-of-the-box with SharePoint Server 2010, plus the ability to easily extend it to meet changing client needs, we knew we’d found the right solution for YMC,” says Natvig.
In August 2010, YMC initiated a phased rollout of SharePoint Server 2010. YMC is taking advantage of several of the solution’s built-in components, including the ability to create HTML forms with little or no code. “Now, our reps can enter their summaries and upload photos—all through a single screen and in just a few clicks,” says Natvig. The company has also modified the calendar web part to create tailored views for program managers, reps, and clients. And, the team from Concurrency will use built-in content query capabilities to enable clients to more easily track campaign performance data.
YMC now also uses workflow tools in the solution to automate key business processes. For example, when student representatives upload their summary reports, program managers receive automated alerts to review and approve the content before it is made available to clients. And reps can log on to RepNet to see which event summaries have been accepted or rejected, and what other tasks they still need to complete before a proposed activity can be approved.
In the coming months, reps will receive email notifications whenever managers assign action items that need their attention. “We want to continue to strengthen connections between reps and program managers, while improving completion time for our core processes,” says Natvig. “Because the workflows and alerts in SharePoint Server 2010 are easy to set up and configure, and we can use a single tool to manage interactions, we’re able to achieve those goals.”
Working with the team from Concurrency, YMC provides its student representatives with the ability to access the system through the web browser on their mobile phones. “Because SharePoint Server 2010 supports web standards like cascading style sheets and HTML 5, it was incredibly easy to render site pages consistently across a range of devices,” says Steven Fischer, Microsoft SharePoint Server Practice Lead at Concurrency. “This alone helped us save approximately 125 hours of development time.”
Facebook is an important component of many of the programs that YMC manages for its clients. In the coming months, YMC will enable its reps to post messages and photos to their Facebook wall from within RepNet by linking SharePoint Server 2010 with the site’s application programming interface components. “This will give us the ability to track activity on Facebook related to individual programs,” says Natvig. “Now we can verify and report to clients the number of items shared through Facebook that directly support their brand.”
Clients can see a calendar of activities across all of the different schools where their campaign is running. They also can see which activities and event summaries have been approved by program managers. And, clients are able to access a searchable gallery of photos and videos that have been uploaded with each event summary.
They can sort and filter this media gallery on a number of dimensions, including program identity, activity type, and reps’ names. “We’re able to provide clients with an up-to-date library of all of the visual elements associated with their project, which gives them a much richer context for evaluating how their program is progressing,” says Natvig.
In addition, YMC capitalizes on the solution’s interoperability with Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services, together with built-in business intelligence capabilities, to help staff more accurately measure campaign performance. From the main page of the portal site, program managers can quickly evaluate the response rates for different activities and identify the best-performing schools and reps.
By using Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 to create a unified platform for content management, document sharing, and collaboration, Youth Marketing Connection has increased the efficiency of its core business processes and improved the quality and accuracy of its reporting capabilities. The company estimates that, by selecting SharePoint Server for its RepNet solution, it saved 35 percent on deployment costs. Now, the company has easy-to-use tools for adapting to the needs of existing clients and quickly scaling its operations to accommodate rapid business growth.
Student representatives can now share event summary information through a web form, which automatically initiates the review process. Because the information is saved in the centralized RepNet database, program managers can quickly export data from multiple summary reports to Microsoft Excel 2010 spreadsheet software for analysis. “We have already seen savings of 15 to 20 hours each week on one of our client programs by eliminating the need for manual data entry,” says Natvig.
Now that program managers can work more efficiently, the company is better equipped to scale its offerings and better spend that time on developing the strategy of the campaigns. After implementing its RepNet solution, YMC can now dedicate one program manager to cover 20 different schools and coordinate activities with 40 reps—effectively doubling its program management capacity.
Through built-in reporting and business intelligence components in SharePoint Server 2010, combined with Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services, YMC can drill down into the information its student representatives provide. “Now we can take all of the information that we collect from our reps and manage it in a single place,” says Natvig. “And we can use the analytics and reporting capabilities that run in the background to create the kind of in-depth reports and custom dashboards that our clients crave.”
YMC acquired two new clients within a month of deploying the solution, based largely on its demonstration of these kinds of agile reporting capabilities. The company was able to quickly customize web forms, report layouts, and other program elements to meet the needs of each of these clients. “With just a few weeks’ lead time, we were able to triple the number of programs managed through RepNet without any difficulties,” says Natvig. “Without SharePoint Server 2010, we never would have had that kind of flexibility.”