While brands begin to try out the single-tap communication app for themselves, experts remain pessimistic about its potential as a marketing tool.
With a single tweet, Buffalo Wild Wings became one of the first brands to officially launch a presence on Yo, the self-described "single-tap, zero-character communication tool" that allows users to send messages called Yos that simply say, "Yo."
The wings chain seems to have entered an as-of-yet virtually barren branded landscape, as some big-name companies reported to potentially have presences on the platform - including Delta, McDonald's, Pepsi, Starbucks, Ford, Taco Bell, Twitter, and the NFL - tell ClickZ they do not actually have Yo accounts.
At best, these brands are looking at the platform with nothing more than cautious optimism.
Pepsi seems the most enthusiastic, with a rep saying, "As we do with many developing digital apps, we are watching how Yo evolves to see if it may be a good fit for our brands," while a McDonald's rep gives a generic, "We are constantly exploring new platforms and ways to engage with our customers."
A Delta rep declined to speculate on plans, Starbucks says it is not working on Yo, and additional brands declined to go on the record with their thoughts either way.
Despite that lukewarm reception, since its debut in the App Store on April 1, Yo has built up 1.7 million users who have sent roughly 50 million Yos, including 2 million messages on July 2 alone, per Yo co-founder and chief executive (CEO) Or Arbel.
In fact, Arbel says because of all the media attention the app has generated, Yo is talking to additional investors about more seed capital after closing a round of $1 million more than a month ago.
It's precisely these eyeballs that captured the attention of Buffalo Wild Wings, which only recently expanded beyond Facebook and Twitter to Instagram.
According to Bob Ruhland, vice president of North American marketing at Buffalo Wild Wings, Yo presents a new opportunity for the brand to connect with its guests and to "remind people that we're out there and want to engage with them."
The brand revealed its presence on Yo to its 449,000 Twitter followers on June 30 in a tweet that generated 22 retweets and 63 favorites.
Evan Carpenter, senior community engagement strategist at creative agency Periscope, says Buffalo Wild Wings then sent out one mass Yo for the U.S.-Belgium World Cup match on July 1 and received between 75 and 100 Yos back.
He says Yo allows the brand to be part of the game with its fans and helps Buffalo Wild Wings "reach that audience of the future," or tweens and Millennials. He adds that the brand is "exploring and doing calculated tests" to see how and where it can best reach them.
According to Carpenter, one advantage of Yo is that it is a medium that does not require the creation of media and also that it is open to interpretation.
"When Buffalo Wild Wings Yos somebody, it could mean a variety of things. We think it's a great opportunity to go to the fan base and say, 'Are you watching the game?' or, 'It's 3:00 on Friday, get here,'" Carpenter says. "At that moment, it becomes whatever the receiver wants it to be."
Arbel says the French soccer team has also used Yo, along with GetTaxi, an iPhone and Android app that lets users book rides.
"The only way to use it now is by announcing that a special event is happening like a discount or a new product on the website," Arbel says. "But when you tell people to sign up, you have to tell people what happens with a Yo. It's a notification when the notification itself is the message."
That, Arbel says, will enable users to subscribe to whatever interests them.
According to a post from Yo about its open API, some potential uses include retailers sending Yos when new products are available, or a sports team sending a Yo whenever it scores.
Arbel says additional applications could include notifications at restaurants when tables are ready or from airlines when flights begin boarding, or even dry cleaners when clothes are ready to be picked up.
In addition, WordPress debuted a Yo plugin on July 2, enabling WordPress users to send a Yo to subscribers when they publish a new post. Yo rolled out an Instagram integration that sends Yos when select Instagram users like James Franco and Kevin Hart upload posts.
But despite these potential applications, marketing experts have mixed feelings about Yo overall. They say the real impetus for creating an account on the platform as it stands today lies more in the potential press a brand can drum up simply by saying it is using the app.
In fact, detractors say contextual messaging is already available on other platforms in better ways.
"Simply offering a way to send a shorter pre-defined message, with no context, with no link, with no images, will not provide any new value that isn't offered on an already existing channel. If the market wanted a shorter/simpler way to reach each other, we would see the average tweet size shrinking," says Mathew Sweezey, head of thought leadership, B2B marketing, Pardot. "But to think people would prefer to go into an app, which they have to install first, and then just Yo someone when they could just as easily send a text, tweet, chat, etc., is far-fetched."
He adds that sending a Yo about a blog post will require users to leave the Yo application, go to a browser, and then go to the blog. "This is very cumbersome for a user. We are also forgetting the entire way we already get blog posts. We get them from Twitter, RSS readers, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other existing channels."
Likewise, senior digital strategy advisor Augustine Fou pulls no punches in his assessment of Yo, saying, "So far, I can't believe this baloney, flim-flam, poppycock, tomfoolery, hooey hornswoggle is still getting PR."
Fou says he is far more optimistic about an as-of-yet unnamed feature from Snapchat that shows coupon images or other incentives when users are in a specific geographic area.
For his part, Bob Cargill, director of social media at online marketing company Overdrive Interactive, says there could be some utility in Yo in the future and it makes sense for brands to claim accounts in case the app does take off someday.
"We don't know what other iterations this app might take or what new features might be added," Cargill notes.
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Lisa Lacy is senior staff writer at ClickZ. In addition to ClickZ, her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014