To ride, or not to ride?

By Nidhi Patel

What would you do if a man wearing a Yak costume came up to you and asked you to get inside a creepy teal bus and “Ride the Yak?”

Last week this was an actual dilemma at the University of Iowa. The teal bus drove around campus and asked people to come inside to see what they had to offer, as creepy as that sounds. With all of the negative press that has been directed towards Yik Yak lately, their goal was to create some positive Yaks while giving out free swag.

Yik Yak’s two CEOs Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, graduates of Furman University, started the app when they were working on a class project together and they could not have expected what was going to come next. Six months after their release date in November of 2013, the app was the 9th most downloaded social media app! The features that attract users are the instant messaging and the ability to be anonymous. The app allows users to read the Yaks of others in a 5-mile radius and be a part of the campus conversation. This allows everyone to be heard no matter how shy or unpopular they are, which was the original intention of the creators.

Lately, the Yik Yak phenomenon has received a lot of negative press for cyberbullying and harassment. Since the application is completely anonymous this could be seen as something inevitable. In October of 2014, the Huffington Post published an editorial that compared Yik Yak’s feed to “bathroom stalls without toilets. They’re useless, their sources are unhelpful, they’re harmful conversations, and they’re a complete eyesore.” Droll and Buffington have taken great strides to change this image. They have implemented a technology called geofencing, which essentially “fences” off areas that cannot be reached by the app such as middle schools and high schools. The CEOs have come out and said that the app is for college-aged students and fully intend to take measures to keep it out of middle and high schools.

To help market to their target audience they started bringing around the Yak to college campuses across the nation with the tagline “Ride The Yak!” There was someone dressed in a Yak costume that would pop up on campus and encourage students to get on the bus. Once on the bus, there was an opportunity to win prizes. The catch? You have to Yak something positive. The goal of this was to spread positivity around campus as opposed to the negative, bullying comments that the media focuses their attention on.

I’ll be honest, I downloaded the app today. I’ve been laughing for the past 2 hours. There are some things that just sound absurd but there are a lot of things that are funny that students, including myself can relate to. One Yak read, “Not too long ago, all I craved was money. I was in a particular major because I wanted a high paying job. Fast forward to today and all I want to do in life is make a difference and change the World.” The replies were heartwarming and reaffirmed the good that this app can actually accomplish.

Job well done Yik Yak. You’ve taken the damaging comments by the horns and taken great strides to create a positive social media app like it was originally intended to be.

The Yik Yak bus should continue to hit college campuses across the country, because their marketing strategy is not only rebranding the app, but also creating a very significant impact.

Ride the Yak!