Open Y: Drupal Distribution for YMCA's

Open Y on a macbook

The YMCA needed an entire distribution of Drupal specific to its mission. Faced with increased competition from boutique health and fitness providers, the founding YMCAs set the goal of creating a digital platform that was cost effective, yet provided the best possible customer experience.

Goals for the new distribution included:

  • Enhanced ability to track digital goals and other key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • New SEO capabilities
  • A superior content management experience
  • The ability for each YMCA to customize their platform as needed.

But the requirements extended to more than just structure. Some YMCAs have little to no digital marketing resources, and in addition to providing a platform for content, the Open Y needed to also act as a repository for marketing resources and tools.

Lastly, the project had to be user-centered and mobile. Open Y is designed with members at the center of every interaction from any device, such as mobile, desktop, fitness screens, or otherwise.

Technical Requirements

Enhanced Tracking

FFW built the Open Y platform to come out of the box with enhanced tracking functionality. The data layer module is the foundation for a number of the site’s tracking capabilities, while Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager are included in the installation profile for any YMCA who wants it.

Since the Open Y project is a Drupal 8 distribution, some patching was necessary for the data layer module. Currently, the module is only a dev version, so the team included calculated and reference data from other sources to bring the module up to snuff.

With the enhanced tracking, the platform is ready out-of-box to track website search terms and file downloads, as well as perform content sharing on social media. Additionally, administrators are able to configure individual thank you pages for webforms in order to configure goal and eCommerce conversion tracking.

SEO Capabilities

The Open Y platform uses pathauto, RDF metadata, and datalayer modules to give YMCAs a full range of SEO capabilities. Upon installation, non-technical content editors are able to easily configure meta-tags on individual pages, create URL paths, create redirects, and setup sitemaps.

Content Editing and Management

Customized paragraphs make the Open Y distribution easy for content editors and teams to use. A variety of paragraph types allow users to build pages element-by-element in a drag-and-drop format. The team also built in block customizations that allow users to add, remove, and edit blocks on the page screen, rather than accessing the block UI on the back end.

Additionally, custom workflows allow any YMCA to easily schedule content changes (such as membership promotions) through the site as part of any online marketing effort. Editors have the ability to easily modify pages and can create forms using an enhanced version of Drupal’s native contact form functionality, while administrators can also easily add and schedule branch location or association-wide alerts for upcoming holidays, weather notifications, and so on with custom-built, automated display modes.

Media Management

Giving that media assets and their management are very important part of the Open Y user experience, customized media features were built on top of the well known Media module.

Open Y on a macbook

The custom Open Y Media features provide a great experience for content editors and site administrators. They can easily upload images (such as png, jpeg, svg, and so on), documents (including docx, ppt, pdf, and xlsx) and import videos from popular video hosting services like YouTube or Vimeo.

Once the files have been uploaded or imported, editors are able to easily embed media assets on any page. Various view modes for the embedded media allows editors to place rendered files within content and get the best reading experience. Images can be placed with different alignments, videos can be played directly from Open Y pages, and documents will be displayed in an iFrame so that a visitor can view, download, and print any document right from the page it’s embedded in.

Customization

Because it’s built on Drupal, the Open Y distribution allows any YMCA to create additional customizations and integrations. For example, Open Y comes out-of-the-box with the ability to connect to popular group exercise class lookup software called GroupEXPro, and has other custom code to enable any YMCA to use single sign on (SSO) between numerous CRM systems (Personify, Daxko, Active Networks, and others) and a YMCA website. Already, YMCAs around the country are building and sharing their own integrations, including a multilingual initiative built on Drupal 8’s native multilingual functionality.

Challenges

The Open Y distribution was built iteratively over the course of several projects for YMCAs around the country, who decided to share their results with each other and create the Open Y platform.

Building a distribution is drastically different from building a single site solution, due to the fact that integrations were built in for use cases beyond the clients we were building for. In addition, Drupal 8 was still very new while the platform was in its initial phases of construction, which led to difficulty around the use of certain modules or features.

Results

The Open Y initiative was launched in late March of 2016. Though it’s a new platform, it already has plenty of functionality built in, and its capabilities will only grow over time. Currently, Open Y offers a connected, customizable, and low-cost web platform that unites the YMCA’s and their visitors through:

  • Personal training options
  • Group fitness activity
  • Fitness equipment use
  • Digital strategy and execution
  • Marketing communication
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)

Within six months of launching, the Open Y project was embraced by multiple YMCA associations, and its popularity only continues to grow. Open Y is supported by a core group of YMCAs including: the YMCA of Greater Twin Cities, the Red Wing Family YMCA, the YMCA of Greater Seattle, and the YMCA of Greater Houston. At the time of writing, 19 other YMCAs have committed to using Open Y in the future, and many more are exploring the tool for use in their own digital projects.

Improving Communities

Though it’s still a young project, Open Y has already had a strong impact both on the way that YMCAs operate digitally, and on the communities that the YMCAs serve.

One of the founding YMCAs, the YMCA of Greater Twin Cities (YGTC) decided to use the Open Y project to empower youth and provide them with new skills and a pathway to college or a career. It contracted with a local charter school called the Rêve Academy, which serves students who struggled in a traditional educational system. One of the Rêve Academy’s programs revolves around marketing and technology, and six students from this program were brought on to help the YGTC team with content publishing through Open Y.

The students who participated in the program not only earned their very first paychecks through the program, but they also received academic credit and learned valuable skills to help with college and career readiness. The YGTC taught the students to use Drupal, and the work encouraged them to develop critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration skills.

The work the students did helped the YGTC, and the YGTC in turn was able to act on its mission of helping children in their community thrive. Through Open Y, initiatives like this are easily replicable in markets outside of Minneapolis, and are some of the many benefits that communities who use the Open Y can enjoy.

But beyond helping the YMCA with its social mission, the Open Y project helps YMCAs achieve metrics and numbers-based goals. It allows YMCAs to make data-driven improvements to customer experiences, provides a measurable cost reduction in digital development over time, ensures consistent branding and governance in YMCAs across the country, and provides branches with a scalable technology that promises an evolving flexibility.

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