The word “mob” itself carries with it some dark and devious connotations, from mobsters to mob justice. But a flash mob can be as benign as a gathering of people singing the Hallelujah Chorus in a shopping mall or as impassioned as a group of people protesting policies they disagree with.
Does it cheapen the idea of a flash mob to try and make it work for your business? Well, I know some anarchists who would say yes, and I know some business owners who would eschew any association with “mob” activity. But I do believe that the concept itself should be understood so that it can be harnessed by businesses committed to using social media to expand their reach.
Twitter flash mobs feed off of three things: community, spontaneity, and risk. If we look at these three elements independently, then see how they connect under the umbrella of social media, we can understand how to make the philosophy of the flash mob work for your business.
Community: Twitter is a community. Your followers, friends, and the people you follow make up a community that, through repeated interaction, you develop trust in. This is why we’re irritated by spammers: not only do they consume our precious time with junk, they also interrupt our sense of community.
A Twitter mob gives us the opportunity to feel like we are part of something real. We’re meeting up with real people who we’ve shared something with–even if that something is just a hashtag or a trending topic. We still crave that human connection, and a flash mob gives us the chance to connect.
Spontaneity: This is a big one. It’s harder for some of us to be spontaneous than others, which is why flash mobs tend to cater more toward the youth. But I think there’s something to be said for acknowledging people’s desire to do something on the fly, without too much forethought.
And although spontaneity is crucial to a flash mob, there is also an element of anticipation to the spontaneity. Sure, a flash mob is spontaneous, but it’s not entirely unexpected. You might be following your favorite food truck on Twitter, just waiting for them to tweet their next location. It’s spontaneous, but anticipated.
Risk: To every Twitter mob there’s an element of risk. Even in the Hallelujah Chorus example above, participants are accepting an element of risk, and that makes participation in a flash mob more exciting.
If you’re willing to stand up and sing in a room full of people who aren’t expecting it, you’re taking on risk: risk of rejection, risk of disapproval. But because you’re taking on the risk you have a sense of control in the situation. The people you’re singing to didn’t know you were going to sing, and certainly can’t easily make you stop. It’s empowering and scary at the same time.
So what does this mean for your business? Well, acknowledging that you can build community, inspire them to be spontaneous, and invite them to take on risk with you is incredibly powerful. We see so many businesses who spend all their social media energy on linking back to their own products or sites, without interacting, without forming community.
This might work for some businesses, but these businesses are not taking advantage of social media. And remember, just because you’re inspiring your community to be spontaneous and to take a risk, doesn’t mean that you have to be entirely spontaneous. In fact, I recommend spending time planning your social media campaigns to avoid mistakes that other businesses have made by being a little too spontaneous.
Understand how to use spontaneity and risk in a careful, calculated way. No, I’m not being facetious. Plan a one-day coupon or special, and promote it on Twitter in a way that includes an element of spontaneity and risk. “Go to our site today and take this quiz TODAY! for a chance to win a free trip to Hong Kong!! Refer six friends and increase your chances! TODAY ONLY!!” You probably won’t be offering trips to Hong Kong, but you know what I mean. Groupon, Living Social, and other daily deals sites work off this same concept.
Guerilla marketing has always relied on flash mobs and similar types of word-of-mouth and legally dubious methods of getting the word out, but understanding the Twitter mob mentality doesn’t have to limit you. You’re carefully building your community, now create for them something they want.