A social media platform for consumers

When business partners Dave Sachse and Justin Webb head to the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, on Friday, March 8, they’ll be following in the footsteps of some of the most successful startup companies to date – including social media platforms Foursquare and Twitter.

At the annual technology-based conference, where Foursquare launched in 2009 and Twitter gained popularity in 2007, Sachse and Webb plan to launch their own social media platform dubbed Yappem.

The entrepreneurs, based in Sheboygan, developed the social platform to open up a space in which consumers can share feedback about specific brands and businesses they interact with.

“The ultimate goal of Yappem is to empower the individual voice,” said Sachse, executive vice president of the company. “It’s the voice of the customer and the experience they have with businesses, brands and products.”

While existing platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pivot around personal interaction among family members and friends, Yappem aims to foster interaction among consumers and U.S.-based businesses.

“(Social media platforms) weren’t originally designed for communication with businesses and brands, but because they got so popular, brands wanted to join the party and capitalize on that,” Sachse said.

Yappem offers businesses a new party platform to join.

Sachse and Webb, who serves as chief executive officer, initiated discussions of the platform in fall of 2011. By February 2012, Yappem grew into a full-time endeavor for the business partners, and they dove into an extensive research process to understand consumer trends, learn how people shop and gain insight on how people convey their shopping experiences online. Throughout their nearly 10 months of research, the two talked to both customers and businesses to pinpoint specific industry trends.

The free social platform, supported by $2.5 million in private funding, is currently in beta testing and, once launched, will be available as a website or app compatible with the iPhone, iPad and Android.

In connecting consumers with businesses and other consumers through networks and brand-specific communities, Yappem seeks to reward its users in a fun and creative way.

Through a gaming element built into the platform, users can acquire virtual coins for sharing content about brands and businesses. For example, Yappem rewards users with coins each time they check into a business location, take and post pictures of brands to express themselves, post a question asking for a recommendation about a brand or business, post their own recommendation regarding a business or brand, or share their Yappem content via other platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

“It’s really any touch point of any business or brand where you feel the need to express your voice,” Sachse said.

Users are also able to distribute coins among each other by posting what is known as a bounty. For example, users can post a question asking for input about a brand or business and offer coins to others for answering it. Or, users can create compare posts, in which users present two products or businesses side by side, and reward others for voting for their favorite.

Users can also rake in coins by completing missions crafted by Yappem. During a custom mission, Yappem might instruct users to visit a certain business and document their visit by tagging their location or taking a photo and then sharing that tag or photo externally through Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

The missions are action oriented and aim to drive real world activity, Sachse said.

“We want to get people out into the world experiencing different brands and products,” Sachse said.

Once a mission is complete, a user will receive a certain value of virtual coins, which they can bank or cash in on participating brands’ gift cards. Yappem has partnered with another social platform called Gyft that allows users to buy, send and receive gift cards via smartphone. Through the gift cards, Yappem users are rewarded for posting their own content.

“The thing that’s important to us is that we’re actually rewarding real value to users beyond a badge, a sticker or a thumbs up,” Sachse said.

And although Yappem allows brands to reach out to users by identifying their preferences or zip code location, the site is committed to user privacy, Webb said.

“If you use Yappem, the relevant information that you want to be shared with businesses and brands will be shared, and the information that you don’t want to be shared won’t,” Webb said. “Privacy is a number one concern for Yappem.”

To generate revenue, Yappem currently relies on advertising and commission-based link share programs like Commission Junction. When users post content about a particular product and brand, Yappem creates a link to that brand’s website or other shopping site. When other Yappem users click that link, the brand then pays Yappem a commission.

While Yappem is not charging early brand participants for missions or other social capabilities within the social platform, that will likely change, according to Webb.

“This is our ‘thank you’ to our most trusted and early brand adopters,” Webb said. “However, as Yappem reaches scale, new brands will be required to pay a fee to create custom missions.”

Yappem has already gained attention from household brands with companies like Amazon, Gap, Old Navy, American Eagle, Target, Game Stop, Fandango, and Foot Locker agreeing to offer gift card options to users ready to cash in coins.

“(Businesses and brands) want to be able to interact with their most loyal consumers and they want to be able to reward them, and the current platforms don’t really afford them the opportunity to do that,” Webb said.

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