Yik-ity Yak … What the hell is that?

Yik Yak, y'all! (Screenshot from www.yikyakapp.com)
Yik Yak, y’all! (Screenshot from http://www.yikyakapp.com)

First there was Facebook. Then Twitter. Then Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and now, an entirely new beast. Chances are that, unless you’re roaming the halls of a high school or college campus, you haven’t heard of Yik Yak.

Lucky for you, I’m about to give the 411. In a nutshell, Yik Yak is a mobile app that offers anonymous, location-based messaging. Users can anonymously create short posts called “yaks” and can view other yaks posted within a 1.5 mile radius from their location. Posts can then be up- or down-voted and have a lifespan of 100 days before expiring. One of my esteemed colleagues referred to it as “Reddit meets Twitter.”

The app is currently active at more than 1,000 colleges and universities worldwide and the company also raised $1.5 million in funding last April, followed by $10 million in June.

This built-in user base and growing popularity will make Yik Yak a discussion topic among marketers and PR professionals looking to increase visibility with this audience. As the buzz around this app continues to increase, it will only be a matter of time before we start receiving client emails asking if this new channel is worth investing in.

This blog post is our attempt at being ahead of the curve.

First off, let’s discuss the potential problems. Any app or social media tool that lets users post anonymously can be dangerous. Yik Yak specifically has been criticized for being an incubator for bullying and threats. Additionally, yaks range from jokes to complaining about finals or spreading the word about a house party. The content isn’t more than just a fun distraction, but I guess the same could be said for most tweets.

Now for the good and why marketers and PR folks should pay attention. Yik Yak is still in its infancy, but has already taken steps to help combat the problems. Its founders have aspirational goals for the app to set it apart from other apps like Whisper and Secret, specifically when it comes to breaking news.

With this exact goal in mind, it recently launched a new feature, Peek Anywhere, that lets you check out what’s happening at a destination of your choosing. You may say “Well, Twitter already does that.” But Twitter doesn’t have a great way to filter tweets based on geography. Sure, you can search via hashtag, but that means you get everyone tweeting on the topic, not everyone at the scene of the event.

What does this mean for us now? Short answer: Nothing.

Right now, Yik Yak is too nascent to take seriously. However, it does have the right formula in place to become legitimate later on. With the new funding it may well expand and develop services and features that prove useful in the communications field.

After all, before a “tweet” was a “tweet” it seemed to be 140 characters of ranting and/or useless information. Granted, Twitter is still full of useless posts, from play-by-play accounts of one’s daily activities to garbled spambot posts to tweets consisting of only hashtags; yet, it is seen as a valuable news source.

If Yik Yak evolves and matures the way we hope it will, it could deliver brands the following benefits:

  • Location, location, location: Marketers pay big bucks for location targeting alone and accuracy has always been an issue. 1.5 miles? That’s accurate.
  • Targeted demographic: At this point, Yik Yak is targeting 18-23 year-olds. People pay a lot of money for this crowd (see Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp earlier this year). If it continues on this journey, marketers can use this to listen in, honing in on what this audience cares about. This, along with location, has the potential for better-targeted marketing and communications.
  • Conversation monitoring: A brand can track what is being said about it in a specific location. Say a McDonald’s franchise is receiving a bunch of flack on Yik Yak, the brand sees this and takes action to make corrections. Think of the customer service angle on Twitter but with anonymity.

I expect Yik Yak to become a real tool for marketers in a year or two, provided they stay on the right track. Until then, we’ll keep digging through Facebook, Twitter and other such haystacks for that one needle of insight.