Small businesses are making mobs a whole lot less cool.
Last year, consumers adopted the flash mob concept -- random strangers agreeing via social media to gather and burst into one joyful coordinated action -- as a means to support their local businesses with so-called "cash mobs," where a big rush of customers would coordinate to swarm a nearby small business to boost its sales.
Yet there's little spontaneity surrounding the Aug. 30 cash mob scheduled in downtown Stuart, Fla., organized not in typical grassroots fashion, but by the Martin County Social Media Group in cooperation with several local businesses. The event is pre-planned and the cash mobbers must pay in advance to reserve a spot. For $30, attendees will get wine and dinner at Osceola Street Cafe, a fashion show put on by The Gauze Shop, dessert at Hoffman's Chocolates and an after-party at Downtown Duffy.
"It's a little more organized," Sue Gaieski, the organizer and owner of Martin County Social Media Group, told The Huffington Post. "I see it as a complement to the cash mob, taking it to another level."
Gaieski, who helps local businesses handle their social media, said her clients and potential clients she approached about participating "had no clue what a cash mob was." Now they're on board and plan to offer coupons or raffles in hopes that customers will return. Gaieski agreed the event is sort of a synthesis of Groupon and cash mobs.
It signals a shift in the cash mob concept, from being customer-driven to business-driven. Blogger Chris Smith, who organized the original cash mob in Buffalo, N.Y., in August 2011, told NPR that he saw the cash mob concept as a reverse Groupon, in which mobs form via Twitter and Facebook and agree to pay full price rather than get "daily deals," in a pure show of support for local business.
Smith told NPR that he saw cash mobs evolving, but his vision for the next step was more of a mash-up experience, combining the musical joy of flash mobs with the feel-good shopping of cash mobs.
For her part, Gaieski wants to continue down a more planned, less spontaneous path of supporting local businesses. For her next event, she envisions a bigger cash mob that would help revitalize not just a few businesses, but all the small businesses in downtown Stuart. "I think I'm on to something here," she said.