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Thursday, April 1, 2010

In a Flash, It's a Mob

I wanted to give you a quick update before moving on to today's topic.  I have been diligent about preaching that small busiensses and non-profits can use social media to help their PR efforts.  Yesterday I received this email from a local television news producer:

    From:     djshaw@cbs.com
    Subject:     FW: Grassfire in Colorado Springs is a reminder that wildfire season is upon us - 

                      Allstate provides tips to ease wildfire fears
    Date:     March 31, 2010 1:17:18 PM MDT
    To:     cdgallegos01@earthlink.net



Chris – here’s a great example for your blog.  About 12:15pm, we found out about a grass fire threatening homes near Colorado Springs.  We just got this press release.

This is a great example of a local business staying on top of breaking news.  Allstate did a great job of finding out about the news event (I'm assuming from KCNC's Twitter feed) and they jumped on it as a way to generate information about their organization.  They sent a press release (not pictured) that provided useful tips about wildfires based on a news story that hand't even aired.  They were on top of this and they benefited from it by being noted in the news coverage later that day.  An A-plus for Allstate in this situation!


 And Now, Our Regularly Scheduled Program:

Social media is an interesting world.  It allows you to reach out to long lost friends, make new ones and spread a message, thought or concept to the world in an instant.  Social media helps bring people together, can tear them apart, spurs debates and is a wonderful resource for information.

But every now and then social media has a darker side.  For small businesses and non-profits, security is always a concern when using social media regularly.  You information is out there for the world to see and sometimes you have to take extra precuation to guard your privacy.

And then there's this story out of Philladelphia recently:

Violent Flash Mobs Becoming a Problem in Philly


Flash mobs are usually associated with randomized fun (or pantlessness), but in Philly, they’re basically akin to randomized violence. Last night, Mayor Michael Nutter and District Attorney Seth Williams took to the streets to spread a message to the city’s young, social media-savvy inhabitants: Flash mobs will not be tolerated.

As always, you can click on the link above for the entire article on Mashable.com (I went to the Philly paper, but the article had been removed.  The Mashable article has links to other Philly papers for more research if you're so inclined).

Flash mobs have long been popular among social groups to raise awareness, to shock or simply for fun.  As the photo above in the article shows, anything can happen during a flash mob (they're involved in an impromptu pillow fight).  But recently, flash mobs in Philly have been more violent, causing damage, vandalizing local businesses, etc. 

I suppose this shouldn't be a HUGE surprise, I mean, "mob" is right in the title of the event.  I don't know about you, but generally, a mob isn't something you want to be involved with, or be the target of.  Still, a flash mob can be a useful tool when trying to get attention for a cause or business.

Recently I was having beers with some friends at a local bar and chatting with a fellow who happened to be a juggler.  Really, a juggler.  This individual was in the process of putting together a burlesque, juggling, musical.  I know, it sounds strange, but intriguing.  He was lamenting the fact that promoting the show was going to be difficult.

I wasn't so sure about that.  Jugglers aren't mimes.  People like juggling.  It's fun to watch and when it's performed by people who REALLY know what they're doing, it's amazing.  I floated the idea of a flash mob by him.  Here was my thinking on this:

1.  The National Western Stock Show was in town
2.  The stock show had thousands of visitors every day
3.  The individual could rally a hundred jugglers and performers to simultaneously show up and 
     juggle
4.  The flash mob would definitely grab the attention of those in attendance
5.  Members of the flash mob could bring spectators into the mob and teach them something fun

It would definitely make an impression on those in attendance and, since it was the stock show, it was a sure bet that TV cameras would be in attendance as well.  It seemed like a perfect opportunity to get some free publicity and be memorable at the same time.

Sadly, the individual didn't take me up on the idea, but I stand by the fact that it would have been successful.  No matter how well-planned and executed your social media efforts are, face-to-face interaction is always going to be a key element to building an audience or customer base.  The problem is, sometimes face to face interaction can be risky.

Let's assume for a minute that the juggler followed up on my idea.  He rallies a hundred jugglers and performers and hits the stock show.  There's a risk that maybe someone might have been hurt by a stray bowling pin.  There's a risk that security might not have been as "cool" with a juggling flash mob as the attendees might have been and tickets may have been issued, or worse, arrests might have been made (although this could be mitigated by performing the flash mob right outside the gates of the stock show where people are exiting and entering).  What if people just weren't impressed by the display of juggling prowess?  What if.... 

There are a lot of what if's when you decide to create a community outreach event designed to force face-to-face interaction.  It is a risk.  But there's a risk anytime you are in public as a representative of your organization.  Maybe someone doesn't like your tie, or the way you talk, or smell or look.  That's why social media can be such a powerful tool.  It's a representation of your organization online.  There are still risks online, but you can control some of those variables in a virtual environment.

In person, those variables tend to be out of your control.  That's why it's so essential to take time and care when putting together any kind of community outreach event.  The last thing you need is to make a bad impression, or worse, have a violent mob on your hands.


What This Means To You:

As a small business and non-profit, you have spent time creating an image online and on various social media platforms for your organization.  This image should carry over to any public event you participate in or create.

Here are some tips when putting together any kind of community outreach event:


1.  Keep it manageable - Dont' let it get so big you lose track of who is involved

2.  Maintain your online image - If you have branded yourself online, keep that brand in public

3.  Know the players - Know the participants in your event.  Make sure you know and trust everyone
     who will be an active participant in your event

4.  Stay on top of the little things -  Generally, it's the overlooked details that mean the difference
     between success and failure.  The last thing you want is to be surprised by anything during your
     event

5.  Keep your message clear - Events have a way of taking on a life of their own and when this
     happens, your message can get lost.  For instance, PETA does these public events about animal
     cruelty, but most of the time, the focus and buzz is just about scantily clad, attractive women in
     cages.  The message gets lost to most people.  You want to avoid this issue.

Community outreach events should be part of your social media and public relations campaigns.  Use a flash mob if it's appropriate.  Just be aware of the dangers.  Events like these can be a huge boost if used correctly and done well.  They can also be damaging if you lose control of them.

The last thing you want to do is try to explain why a mob of teens tore apart a neighborhood as part of a pr stunt.  That's just not good for business.

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