What is a cash mob? How did they start?

Cash mobbing takes its name from “flash mobbing”, a craze which started way back in 2003 in Manhattan, New York. In a flash mob, a group of people mobilise over social media and arrange to meet in a predetermined place. According to Wikipedia, when they get there they “perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression”. Flash mobs were themselves inspired by “smart mobs”, a term coined by Howard Rheingold to describe a group that, contrary to the usual connotations of a mob, “behaves intelligently or efficiently because of its exponentially increasing network links”.

Continuing the theme, a “cash mob” takes place when a group of people arrange to meet at a local shop or store. When they get there, instead of dancing, singing or carrying out other “pointless acts”, they spend a predetermined amount of money. Cash mobs are generally organised by people who enjoy the fun, excitement and novelty of a cash mob, or others who are concerned about the plight of local businesses and want to do something to help.

There’s a little dispute about when the first cash mob took place, and when the term was first used, but credit seems to go to Christopher Smith, a blogger from Buffalo, New York who arranged a cash mob at his local wine store on August 5th, 2011. Since then – driven by social media – events have taken place across the US and Canada, and increasingly around the rest of the world.

Why cash mobs?

Cash mobbing is great fun, but it does have a serious side. In today’s economic climate local shops and businesses need all the help they can get. Organising a cash mob helps by getting spending customers through the door. Christopher Smith, in an interview with NPR earlier this year, said that cash mobs were designed to “help bring communities together, help business owners build longer-term relationships with their customers, and help consumers rethink the value of locally-owned stores”.

Why Cash Mobbers?

A number of websites have sprung up over recent months encouraging people to cash mob their local stores, and a number of Facebook groups and Twitter feeds have been created to support their efforts. So far, people have either been given a few pointers and then told to go and figure out the social media bit for themselves, or they’ve been asked to propose local venues to local group ‘owners’ to choose from. We think differently. People want to create their own cash mob, not settle for someone else’s, and they want to be able to seamlessly push it out through their existing social media, not fiddle around creating new accounts. Cash Mobbers makes cash mobbing effortless (apart from having to actually get yourself out to the store, of course). All you need do is:

1. Think of a locally-owned or run shop or store that you love, or would like to help
2. Log into Cash Mobbers using your Twitter or Facebook account
3. Fill in the simple on-screen form
4. Click to post the details on your Facebook wall or to tweet to your Twitter followers
5. Log off. Then turn up, meet people, have fun, spend and help a local business

Do I have to use the Cash Mobbers website?

Not at all. If you already have a solid online following for your shop, business or company (a Facebook group or page, for example) then you might be better creating an event there. If that’s the case then feel free to make use of the other resources on this site, including any of the downloadable materials listed below. If you do decide to list your event here you’ll be given your own event page to promote, which is helpful for people not on social media, and you’ll help the wider cash mob movement by helping us build a directory of events that have taken place.

Which cash mobs have taken place so far?

The concept is still relatively new in the UK, where we’re based. In other parts of the world, particularly the USA, cash mobs are becoming increasingly popular. Our first organised cash mob took place in early August 2012 in Hackney, East London. You can read more about what happened there, here:

The Financial Times
Huffington Post
The Daily Telegraph

Is there any information I can download?

You can download PDF versions of our cash mob pointers, and our Frequently Asked Questions, and use them to promote your event among neighbours, friends, local businesses and the wider media. Cash mobbing is likely new to many of them, too.

Are there any rules?

There are no rules as such, but our friends over at Cash Mobs have laid down a few guidelines to help you get the most out of your event. Here’s all you need to know:

1. The business should be locally owned and run
2. Think small, family-run businesses like cafes, craft shops, book shops, butchers, etc.
3People need to be able to easily spend up to £10 (US$15)
4. Pick a date and time when people will most likely be able to make it
5. If you’re expecting quite a turnout, tell the shop to expect a surge in customers that day
6. Make sure you take your phone or camera with you and post photos from the mob 
7. Promote your event like mad to ensure as many people to turn up as possible

How do I get started?

You’re going to need a Facebook or Twitter account if you’re to make the most of social media to promote your cash mob. If you don’t, head on over and sign up.

Once you’re all set, click here to start creating your cash mob. It only takes a couple of minutes!

Who’s behind Cash Mobbers?

Cash Mobbers is the first site to be developed by Means of Exchange, a UK-based organisation focusing on methods of economic self-sufficiency. Our primary interest is how emerging, everyday technologies can be used to democratise opportunities for economic self-sufficiency, rebuild local communities and promote a return to local resource use. Over the next year a number of websites and mobile apps will be developed in support of this work. You can sign up for the Means of Exchange newsletter, and read more about this wider work, here.

Many thanks to Fenton for brilliantly managing the Cash Mobbers launch and media outreach, Jepson+Rae for their sterling efforts developing the website, and the talented Ian Rolls for providing the cool Cash Mobbers banner artwork.

Any questions?

If you’ve got any questions you can get hold of us in one of four ways. Take your pick:

Tweet: twitter.com/CashMobbers
Wall: facebook.com/CashMobbers
Email (safest): hello@cashmobbers.net
Online form: On the Means of Exchange website here