Jan 11, 2012

Cash Mobs

I first read about "Cash Mobs" a few months ago.  The idea is simple - a group of people organize themselves through social channels and get together at a certain time and go shop at a local business.  Cash mobs:
encourage people to go into small, local businesses and spend their money, en masse, to give the business owner a little bit of economic stimulus. We’d help businesses grow, we’d make people happy, we’d get stuff for ourselves, have a great time, and maybe we’d get a drink to celebrate afterward.
One can follow the Cash Mobs twitter account and see these things in cities such as Cleveland, Houston, Ann Arbor, Kansas City - and that's just this week.  Carrotmob is another organization: "instead of organizing boycotts, we offer to spend money as a group if a business agrees to make a socially responsible change."

It feels like an emerging movement, if it can even be called that, and in fact some of these organizers resist it even being considered something more.
Cash Mobs” isn’t a political or social organization, a corporation, a movement, or meant to be an answer to economic crisis. By and large, those that organize Cash Mobs are simply people trying to make a positive impact on the businesses in their communities (and have fun while doing it)!
The book What's Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption posits that there is something hugely transformational in peer to peer commerce, sharing and consumption ("Peer-to-peer is going to become the default way people exchange things, whether it is space, stuff, skills, or services").  It uses examples of business that allow people to share excess capacity - Airbnb, Zipcar, Bag Borrow or Steal are the iconic ones.

But instead of sharing excess capacity around our stuff - our cars, apartments, clothes - what if the most powerful thing about collaborative consumption is organizational. For many decades we've been trained as consumers to receive offers - discounts, coupons, groupons, daily deals - from entities who want to sell us things.  Many of these offers are valuable.  But we receive them as they are marketed to us.

Instead, what if we defined the offers ourselves, around the local communities and merchants who make up the fabric of our daily lives?  What if people became their own self-organizing local marketers?  Maybe then the idea of Cash Mobs is so interesting because it is a reverse-daily-deal, a reverse-Groupon, type of business relationship.  One that, by shifting the production, marketing and distribution of the product to the users themselves, is entirely consistent with the peer-to-peer power of Internet and social connectivity.

It will be interesting to see where this goes.

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