Cash Mobs

There is a danger of “echo chambering” when bloggers blog about other bloggers’ blog posts. And anyone who reads this blog knows I do it all the time. (It saves having to think up stuff.) That said, here is a stunningly cool idea, the ramifications of which for the arts I can only vaguely imagine.

On the Technology in the Arts blog, Andre Bouchard introduced the idea of Cash Mobs. In a nutshell, it is a flash mob that shows up at a local store and buys stuff to support that business. From the Cash Mob website (you read that right), we learn that:

The general idea is to encourage people to go into small, local businesses and spend their money, en masse, to give the business owner a little bit of economic stimulus. We’d help businesses grow, we’d make people happy, we’d get stuff for ourselves, have a great time, and maybe we’d get a drink to celebrate afterward.

They even suggest “rules.” My favorite is #8: The business must be within one block of a locally-owned watering hole. (That’s because another rule is that everyone goes out for a drink afterwards!)

The reason I’m bringing this forward should be obvious. It’s a *great* idea. And, since arts experiences represent (potentially) attractive gathering points for people, there is certainly going to be a way to make use of this in attracting people. But here is why I’m grinning as I write this. There is no (effective) way for the beneficiary of the mob to set it up. How artificial (and sleazy looking) would that be? It demands that some one or ones outside the target business think supporting that business is a good idea. (And I would warn anyone considering a trip around that bit of etiquette to consider how easy it would be to be “caught out” and how bad that would look.) This means that the most effective way to encourage people to “cash mob” you is to develop relationships with them! Two-way, meaningful relationships. I just can’t wipe the smile off my face.

I continue to believe that relationship-building with many, as Arts 2.0 can facilitate, is one of–if not the–best means of attracting financial support to the arts, one small bit (but many, many bits) at a time. Here’s a possibility. But heed the implementation warning. Reaping the benefit of a cash mob has to be a spontaneous outgrowth of sincere engagement.

Engage (and prosper)!


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  1. Devra Thomas says

    Oh, goodness. Doug, I normally am right there with you, but this is a terrible idea. As someone with umpteen years of retail experience, plus five in arts management, year-to-year numbers are one of the key metrics retailers look at when setting budgets, writing schedules, and planning inventory. Having one day where the sales soar makes planning difficult for the next year. That’s why holiday sales are so predictable: retailers can depend on those spikes coming in every few months or so. I put this in the same category as the online-coupon idea: while it may get people in your door ONCE, it does nothing to keep them coming back.

    And, yes, I know that’s where the responsibility falls to the business owner (and I’m using that term for both the for-profit store and the nonprofit arts organization) to engage the customers and give them a reason to return. However, in all likelihood, the customer is there as part of a fad, rather than a real desire to support a local establishment.

    • says

      OK. I see your point. Perhaps I fell victim to the “shiny object” nature of this idea. (And I still thinks it’s a shiny object.) But my real point was that this could be a nifty little “indicator” that an organization was successfully engaging with its community. I never meant that a goal should be set to get cash mobs to happen. And with regard to the issue of skewing the numbers, assuming it’s a rare thing (which I would assume), couldn’t an asterisk highlight the moment for exclusion from the calculations?

      • says

        In response to Devra: Think of a cash mob as a part of a marketing campaign rather than a revenue source. Of course arts organizations will have to continue with engagement and work towards deepening relationship. A cash mob is simply a way of getting a lot of new faces in the door, what we do with them when they are there is certainly another matter and speaks to the necessity of having the right content. A cash mob is not a solve all, but it is a cool trick to get people in your doors.

  2. says

    Just thought I would add my two cents! I started Ca$h Mob Wind$or on March 1st of this year and we have had two very successful events so far. Our intent is to engage the public in a conversation about the importance of locally owned small businesses in addition to encouraging them to shop. Both events were attended by over 60 people as well as many more who visited the locations in the week that followed. The owner of the first store we “Mobbed” has reported that business has increased 50% over this time last year and that customers tell him daily that they heard about his store through Ca$h Mob Wind$or. I would also like to note that many of the people who attended our first Mob also came out for the second. We have also been fortunate to gain a local sponsor – Wheeler’s Printing – who support our “Mobbed” business by giving them 20% of sales from the Mob in free printing, marketing or promotional services. Doesn’t sound too terrible to me – it’s all in the definition and delivery of the message! Ca$h Mob Wind$or plans to keep “Loving it Local” in our city, hope you do the same in yours!