Inside Yik Yak micro-influencers: “How do I turn this Yakarma into cold hard cash?”

Grace Jackson, News Editor and Yik-Yak Micro-Influencer

Illustration by Madeleine Stolp.

12,048. That is my current Yakarma. You start with 100, so that means the 11,948 are individual comments and upvotes on my posts. For Whitman, mine is pretty high, as far as I can tell. Posts at large state universities get well over that number of upvotes, while posts at Whitman rarely get more than 60 upvotes. 

Yik Yak is an anonymous, location based messaging app that relaunched in 2021 after it was shut down in 2017. I was a big Yik Yakker at Model UN conferences in high school, so I was very excited to see that it was back.

Many of my friends like to guess which posts are mine. Sometimes they are right and sometimes they’re wrong. People occasionally bring up Yik Yaks in conversation and I have to judge how heinous they are before I reveal that I posted them.  That’s the point of Yik Yak, you don’t know who on your campus is starting trends.

“I would say I’m a big Yakker,” first-year Carsten Wallace-Bailey said. “I make jokes that I check it like the morning news everyday, which is kind of embarrassing because it is one of the first apps I open when I get up in the morning.”

Recently, Wallace-Bailey has been seeing his name a lot more during his morning scroll. Wallace-Bailey, along with his older brother Christian, are what Carsten calls Whitman Yik Yak’s “white boys of the month.” It started when they both performed at the sex week Reid campus center takeover earlier in the month. Carsten said a few of the posts joking about the “WBB” or “Wallace-Bailey Brothers” were his friends but that he is still unsure of who posted the bulk of them. 

“We just kept sending them back and forth to each other; we enjoyed it. We’ll see a new one and we’ll send it to each other and be like who do you think did this,” Wallace-Bailey said.

He particularly enjoyed a Yak posted by his friend that read “she Christian on my Wallace till I Bailey, she Carsten on my Wallace till I Bailey.”

Junior Buddy Moench said that the first Yak he saw that mentioned his name also took the same form as the Yak Carsten enjoyed about himself. And then came what he called “weird puns” based on his name. 

“Went camping last weekend… got moenchia from buddy waters,” said a post from eleven weeks ago which incorporated Moench’s name read. 

“To this day I have maybe one or two suspicions about who it might have been, but I have a feeling that it was also like six people,” Moench said.

At one point, Moench emailed the student listserv looking for bedding, leading one Yik Yak user to post about how they did not realize Moench is a real person. 

“I spend a lot of time online and the idea that someone is talking about you, or someone knows who you are, it’s bound to happen,” Moench said.

Moench was already a frequent Yik Yak user before people started posting about him. His Yakarma is currently around 6,400. 

“Before my name was getting posted, I would go on and try and start arguments or say my obscure political beliefs. I would post about Karl Marx and stuff like that. That was fun but I was usually doing it when I had way too much coffee and it was kind of like a manic energy and a waste of time,” Moench said.

At first, he suspected his friends or girlfriend were the ones posting about him until he looked through the Yik Yaks that they posted. The posts escalated when he took to Yik Yak and identified himself, asking the person or people that were posting about him to come forward. 

Immediately, people started claiming to be Buddy in posts with odd and unpopular opinions.

“My (Buddy) favorite meal you ask? A room temp bowl of clam chowder,” one post read. 

While posts including names are technically in violation of Yik Yak’s community guidelines, both Moench and Wallace-Bailey said that they are not offended by the posts about them and neither of them have ever reported posts including their names. People have approached both of them asking about the Yik Yaks.

“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and be like ‘have you seen the Yik Yaks about you?’ and like, of course I have,” Wallace-Bailey said. “But it’s a conversation starter with people that I don’t frequently talk to.”

Both think that trends on Yik Yak are often steered by a small group of people. Moench said that he and his friends on the Associated Students of Whitman College (ASWC) finance committee have attempted to create conversation about their work on Yik Yak in what Moench called “psy-ops,” or psychological operations, a military tactic to control information.

“We just blasted Yik Yak with finance committee jokes,” Moench said. 

I didn’t post much on Yik Yak until this semester, when my housemates and I started riffing off of each other. Senior McKenna Williams is a frequent visitor to my home and began posting with us a few months ago. She now posts a few times a day and has accumulated around 8,760 Yakarma.

“I was definitely a content consumer but not a creator for a while. I initially downloaded the app after seeing the first Wire article about it being back on campus because I don’t like feeling left out and I do like social media so I downloaded it. I was really apprehensive about posting yaks initially,” Williams said. 

Williams said that on some days, Yik Yak unifies campus more than others. She guessed she gained around 2,000 Yakarma on April 20th, the day that senior Justin Ferland began his performance art piece, or went into the box, and marriage pact results were released.

“I was just shouting things into the void and the masses were just receiving it with such open hearts and arms to an unprecedented level. I think a lot of people probably had a similar experience,” Williams said.

Other days, like the day news of the possible overturn of Roe v Wade was announced, tend to devolve. Conversations about Greek life generally turn contentious as well. Williams and Wallace-Bailey both try to stay off the app on those days, while Moench said he often tries to derail offending posts in the comments sections.

“I briefly engaged [with posts about sexual assault] and I’ve never felt like I was part of a less productive discussion I would say,” Williams said. “I think there are certainly spaces for conversations like that and I understand why anonymity would make people feel more willing to share different things but I’ve really rarely seen those sorts of conversations on Yik Yak yielding great returns.”

Moench said that he uses other message boards like 4-chan, but finds the location-based nature of Yik Yak makes it a more overall positive community. 

“Yik Yak is exactly the same [as 4-chan] except only a certain subset of people can post on it and they happen, because we’re on a college campus, to be almost the same set of people,” Moench said. “So because there’s so much similarity between the people that are on it, they have a shared ground, and they don’t do the kind of evil fight starting and they’re not all as checked out as a 4-chan user would be.”

Yik Yak often steers off-line conversations around campus, according to Williams. She said that some of her friends do not use Yik Yak and she feels a little sheepish about talking about the things she’s seen on it. Sometimes Williams posts jokes she’s genuinely proud of, while other times she said she “panders” to things people generally respond to. 

“I’ll be like, this maybe isn’t the funniest thing ever but it’s going to resonate with a lot of people and it’s going to get upvotes and sometimes it’s just a numbers game. It’s like when artists sell out, except it’s selling out without any tangible rewards, other than like, Yakarma,” Williams said. 

I once asked Yik Yak: “How do I turn this Yakarma into cold hard cash.” It got about 20 upvotes but I also have not gotten any tangible results. 

Yik Yak recently launched a feature that allows college students to jump locations and post in their college towns. I graduate this semester and I haven’t decided if I’ll try and stay connected with the Whitman herd or if I’ll move on to greener pastures. At the very least Carsten, Buddy, McKenna and I will all have a fun fact to share going forward: we were once Whitman Yik Yak micro-influencers.