While traditional media spends most of their time dissing social media (it is a competitor after all), traditional agencies find social media a rich source for client campaigns. This post takes a look at how grassroots, user generated flash mobs got hijacked and became agency created, professionally choreographed and danced by hired talent, to flog products. Note: A flash mob is organising for a group of people to show up at a time and place, in public, undertake a noticeable action (live) then walk off as if nothing had happened. Gobsmacked live audience, hidden cameras, YouTube fame. If married to a product, a viral video ad ensues. Or so we are told. Particularly note below that the first Flash mobs were user generated with thousands of participants in Circular Quay and Martin Place (2008) – now they are agency created with small dance troupes, and small audiences (eg Circular Quay 2010 Cruise Liner promo)

This is an agency created (won ad of the year) flash mob for T Mobile – Saatchi and Saatchi. This is not how flash mobs started out.

Compare to “real” viral video. No professional PR/Organisers/Agencies lurking behind the scenes.  There’s a difference between a real flash mob and an agency created dance installation. Of course the term has been hijacked now, but you know what I mean.

Compare this professionally run RockYourBox created About page on YouTube with the one later from the user generated, amateur Sydney Flash Mob group.

Say Cheese! Saturday September 4th – Sydney. Click to book tickets now: http://www.saycheeseparty.com.au/tick… Almost 100 dancers surprised shoppers in Sydney’s Queen Victoria Building (QVB) on Thursday August 26th.  Starring one of Australia’s most famous & delicious drag queens JOYCE MAYNGE, this video was made for less than $500 and everyone volunteered their time.   DJ Dan Murphy and Lee Jenkins send HUGE thanks to all the dancers, camera-people & crew!

Want to be part of the next one? Join Rock Your Box: http://facebook.com/group.php?gid=121…
Party Details: http://www.saycheeseparty.com.au

Starring: Joyce Maynge http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?i…

Choreography: David Olsen http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?i…

Camera: Frankie Shin Nic Hutchings Mark Chisholm
Direction & Organisation: Dan Murphy & Lee Jenkins http://www.facebook.com/DJDanMurphy
Sound Equipment: Shan Soley, Slave International http://www.slave.net.au
Contact: rockyourbox@mac.com

The QVB Glee flash mob is not strictly a flash mob. It’s a music video (albeit lipscynched karaoke) where you don’t rope off the pedestrians but let them move around you. The dancers are volunteers but it has a slick production. The comments reflect this on YouTube: UMMM flashmobs are random not so well organised was one. Is Mardi Gras a flash mob? Or a well organised, slick, machine that has a parade and a party? What bout the ANZAC Day march? Where do we draw the line?
Let’s look at some comparisons:

Professionally Created:

You’ll never see “Official” on anything social. Ever. RockYourBox want to be clear that their version of the video is “better” than any bystander video. Pure-at-heart (yes I’m being pedantic) flash mobs want as many videos as possible. End of video – well the comment from YouTube was: “Well done – great venue and looked lots of fun – but flash mobs are a bit yesterday. Time to create something new. A big no to the Corporate Sponsors at the end.”

Social Created:

Circular Quay 2008: Hundreds of normal (heh) people recruited from the internet. Flash Freeze in Circular Quay.Grassroots, basic. Have a look at the Facebook page – the way Sydney Flashmob organise their events:

SydneyFlashMob have a website

Sydney Flash Mob

… but organise everything through a Facebook group. Because, hey it’s about being social, not flogging stuff.

I particularly like how Sydney Flashmob organise infrastructure like filming
We are “Sydney Flashmob” !

◄ Creators and hosts of the annual Sydney “No Pants” Train Ride ►

Inspried by the original Flash Freeze at Grand Central Railway in New York staged by our good pals at Improv Everywhere, and more recently the Martin Place Flash-mob in mid-2008.  What started innocently as a bit of fun, has now morphed into a group of likeminded individuals, from ALL postcodes, with odd sense of humours and a penchant for performing pranks on the unsuspecting public.

• An eccentric sense of humour.
• An open willingness to voluntarily particpate in public art/pranks staged by members.
• You DO NOT have to attend every event.
• Pick and choose.
• At the very least advertise our events if you can’t make them.
• Invite friends to particpate.

•• We are currently accepting ideas for pranks during Feb March and April.
Put your ideas in the “Discussion” section with a full briefing on how you intend it to go down.

•• Want to host your own event ? Read this first → http://www.facebook.com/group.php?v=app_2373072738&gid=45259799136#/topic.php?uid=45259799136&topic=12370
*** ADMIN STAFF : Position(s) available ***

What we need moving forward is a dedicated ‘backstage crew’ – What we offer is your name in lights on every mission you assist with and direct credit for your work to use in your portfolio/CV’s !
We currently require the ongoing voluntary services of people with skills in the following areas.

→ Camera operators : Anyone willing/able to assist with secretly filming missions, whether it be HDD, hidden cameras or mobile phone uploads.
→ Multimedia editors : Anyone who can assist with compiling videos for purposes of YouTube Viral Campaigns, are urgently required.
→ Still photographers : Anyone who is a student/hobbyist in the area of photography is strongly encouraged to get in touch.

Send your details to one of the admin team, where a live chat will be organised to discuss needs and skills offered. (read less)
We are “Sydney Flashmob” !

◄ Creators and hosts of the annual Sydney “No Pants” Train Ride ►

Inspried by the original Flash Freeze at Grand Central Railway in New York staged by our good pals at Improv Everywhere, and more recently the Martin Place Flash-mob in mid-2008.What started innocently as a bit of fun, has now morphed into a group of likeminded individuals, from ALL postcodes, with odd sense of humours and a penchant for performing pranks on the unsuspecting public.
REQUIREMENTS… (read more)
Privacy Type:
Open: All content is public.

Here’s the first user generated Flash Freeze that I remember: Martin Place 2008 – 2,200 participants, for a prank, hitting Martin Place after lunch for a freeze.

A tip: To the Public Relations firm, instead of hiring a choreographer, dance troupe, and agency to promote to media and get covereage after the event, build an online community with resources for flash mobbers. Calendars, video galleries, organisational tools, profiles and other stuff that Facebook fails on – let them build the ecosystem. Then you every so often set a challenge – create a flash mob to promote something that is in your campaign folder. Set it as a competition, or simply a politely worded request . That way the performers themselves will organise and promote the event, get coverage before and after, possibly be grateful to the brand for any prizes and publicity you throw their way, and actually feel connected to the event.

Or become involved in a contextually relevant social network and then put the flash mob idea to them as an option to promote a unified cause. RockYourBox have created a community and get professional sponsorship but there is a backlash as they move into the pro “entertainment agency” space.

Otherwise, keep throwing $$$ at agency created flash mobs until shoppers complain you are blocking their path.  You don’t have much time left before video views drop from millions down to a few thousand. Over it.

Agency Created

Circular Quay, 2010: Team of professionals? Agency created? To promote a cruise line? Rather disinterested live audience if you ask me and little online about it.

Community Created

Semi-professional, more community less client focussed. While some (ok, many) user generated Flash mobs are for a “prank” some have an awareness raising mission or at least a community focus.

Circular Quay Aug 2010 – Nearly 700 NSW public school students launched education week with simultaneous flash mobs at Circular Quay, Miranda and Orange at midday Monday 2 August.

I like that one better – the audience are clearly parents enjoying themselves. Beats hanging around shopping malls waiting for the kids to go up on stage. And on a completely different tangent, when will shopping malls get social? eh.

So what do you think? Flash Freeze with a bunch of strangers having fun or high budget flash mobbing with professional performance installation.

Next Step

When you are at a social media event – a conference, a workshop, a breakfast, drinks, lunch, seminar, bootcamp, you can’t move these days without falling over one – stand up and do the Macarena. Spontaneously. See how many social media people jump up and do it too. That’s a true flash mob. Here’s the moves in case you’ve forgotten them

You know you want to… 😛 I’ll cheer you on from the comfort of my seat. After you’ve finished,and uploaded the video online, compare the number of comments you get particularly from those you roped in, and the sentiment to the professional street performances.

Hat tip: this post came about because of the milky goodness of Twitter Dairy Milk Chocolate- in case you were wondering:

ME: “I wish agencies with trained dance troupes doing performance arts installations to flog products would stop calling ’em “FlashMobs”.”

@JohnLacey “I wish people would start seeing Flash mobs as the moronic exercise they are. They’re not cool or clever.”

@TheBrandBuilder Oliver Blanchard “@SilkCharm Should they stop calling every faux-fan video posted to YouTube that gets more than 1,000 views “viral” as well? ;)”

@ghostwhowrites Cameron Pegg: “@SilkCharm – examples please :-)”