In an earlier post, Gavin discussed the church as a flash mob. That led us to wonder why people participate in flash mobs.
The creation of flash mobs is widely credited to Bill Wasik, senior editor at Harper’s Magazine. In May of 2003, Wasik began a social experiment by creating an anonymous email account and sending himself (to his known address) a mob-related email. Part of the email read as follows:
You are invited to take part in MOB, the project that creates an inexplicable mob of people in New York City for ten minutes or less. Please forward this to other people you know who might like to join.
From there he forwarded it to over 60 friends. The email included details and questions about the event. The key part of the email was a question within the FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions) section. It read:
Q. Why would I want to join an inexplicable mob?
A. Tons of other people are doing it.
The email audience consisted of grad students, writers, poets, musicians, actors and other “hipsters” between their early twenties to the middle thirties. The assumption was this was a core group of people who would not let be left out of the crowd. They wanted to be seen. Be early-adapters. Be popular.
The initial experiment failed, because the NYPD had been alerted. Apparently the word “mob” does not sit well with the police. However, with a few tweaks Wasik was able to succeed on a second attempt a few weeks later.
The second attempt assigned participates to four specified bars in New York City. They arrived minutes before knowing when and where the actual mob would take place. Once given the details, 200 people headed to Macy’s. It was a success.
Wired Magazine picked up the phenomenon and posted “E-Mail Mob Takes Manhattan”.
The mob that gathered in Manhattan on Tuesday night was looking for something they referred to (without explanation) as a “Love Rug.” Or at least that’s what the couple of hundred people who gathered in Macy’s department store told a bemused salesman, who may or may not have believed he was dealing with a commune of carpet-craving eccentrics.
Wasik went on to create multiple “flash mobs” of different sizes and missions. The success of these events led to Wasik receiving requests from major cities around the country. They started local mob chapters and Wasik, although anonymously, gladly agreed to assist and answer questions to get them started.
Bill Wasik eventually came clean in Harper’s Magazine in 2006. Through his research, Wasik is quick to point out technology, although it helped, it certainly was not a key component. Wasik stated, “one could have passed around flyers on the street, I think, to roughly similar effect.”
Wasik’s initial experiment may have been designed to make fun of “hipsters”. However, it took on a life of its own. The success of flash mobs depends on conformity. People want to be part of something bigger. They want to be on the ground floor of a new “in-crowd”.
The idea of flash mobs can easily transferred in to something bigger. How can you create a sense of belonging in your community? Imagine if you can get your customers to want to belong. In upcoming posts, we will show examples of companies and churches that have created this sense of urgency.
People want to be associated with this need. They want to be part of the “in-crowd”.
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