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A couple of weeks ago I received an email from our building manager titled “Subject: Flash Mob at DC Locations on Friday”. Immediately my mind began racing, putting together various outrageous definitions for what this “flash mob” might be; is it violent? Is it dangerous? What is the flash? Alas, I found myself, the in-house guru of lingo, forced to do some lingo learning of my own.
As it turns out, a flash mob is not a protest or a riot, but rather a spontaneous public performance by a group, or “mob”. The mob silently amasses in a public place, indistinguishable from normal passer bys, and then performs a bizarre action, quickly invoking interest from the unknowing spectators. The action might be a synchronized dance or a giant pillow fight. The most popular form of flash mob is a “frozen mob”, popularized by Improv Everywhere when they organized 207 people to freeze in place for five minutes at Grand Central Station in New york. When it’s all over, the mobsters quickly disperse, making their scene a simple “flash” of fascination in an otherwise normal day.
At this point, I am sure many of you are asking “what does this have to do with non-profits or social media?” Touche. My answer is: everything. While the original flash mobs were organized for artistic expression, non-profits around the globe have hijacked this strategy as a means of promoting awareness.
The mob mentioned in the email header above was a frozen mob, organized by Project Nur, a student led initiative of the American Islamic Congress, to promote solidarity for the downtrodden protesters in Iran. Utilizing frozen mobsters wearing “Live United” t-shirts has also become a signature technique for the United Way in promoting their “Day of Action”; and in Austin, Texas, the mobsters from the “Keep Austin Beautiful” campaign dressed as maids and janitors while they vacuumed trees and dusted park benches.
What’s so amazing about flash mobs is their organization. Ten years ago, coordinating tens, even hundreds of strangers to perform a synchronized action at a random time at a random place might seem slightly burdensome. With the birth of Web 2.0 and the explosion of mass communications tools like facebook and twitter, however, it is even possible to organize a simultaneous flash mob around the globe. Here’s how you can use social media to put together your mob:
- Facebook: Create a facebook event with all the details of the event and invite everyone you know. Tell them to invite their own facebook friends to incorporate even more mobsters. You can update the event or send messages to participants if plans change.
- Craigslist: Put an add on craiglist for all those interested who don’t have facebook accounts. Having your event on more platforms means more outreach.
- Twitter: Write a couple of tweets explaining your event and linking to either you webpage, facebook event or your craigslist add. People will retweet your tweet, adding a viral effect to your outreach, whereby you’ll multiply your participants more times than you thought imaginable.
- YouTube: When all is said and done, post a video of the mob on YouTube and link to it in your blog / website. Others will embed the video or link to it, thereby exposing your cause to many more people than were reachable at the event itself.
- Flickr: Post pictures of your mob on Flickr for the world to see. If you license them under a Creative Commons license, others will use your pictures online and spread your message themselves.
Like Web 2.0, flash mobs are a recent phenomenon which are just now starting to grow. As non-profits begin to exercise their creativity and learn the utility of flash mobs, their events will become more interesting, more outrageous and more effective. I would like to challenge all non-profits out there to come up with their own flash mob to support their cause. Send the Case Foundation a link to your photos or video and we’ll help you share them with the world. Not only will you get the word out about your cause, but you’ll get some great reactions along the way.
More mobs and examples of organization: