Have we taken the fun out of Flash Mobs?

Last month, on a cold winters morning, I joined 100 other people on the banks of the River Thames to take part in a ‘Flash Squat‘ organised by the End Water Poverty campaign to highlight the fact that despite 2008 being the UN Year of Sanitation around the world billions were still denied access to the loo.
This week I’ve been invited to join a banana mob in London to celebrate the end of Fairtrade Fortnight. I’ll be going along, it seems like a fun way to make the end, and I hope the event will help to raise publicity and get more people demanding Fairtrade products in their shops, supermarkets and workplaces.
But judging by this comment in the London Paper it seems that the sudden love of a Flash Mobs by charities hasn’t been met with universal approval! The writer argues that by hijacking the idea, charities are guilty of taking the fun out of the flash mob. So should we plead guilty? Have we taken the fun out of Flash Mobs? I think we can confidently plead not guilty.
Campaigns have a long history of adapting mainstream ideas to get across their message, they’re cheap to organise (surely a bonus in these credit crunch days) and it seems that Flash Mobs still seem to have media currency¬† – something that can be hard to generate at the best of times.
From a policy change perspective, we probably need to be honest with ourselves that these events don’t have much impact on decision makers, although as my colleague remarked after the Flash Squat, I bet most MPs staff read the London Paper on the way home from the office, but from a publicity perspective they can work brilliantly and that seems like a good reason to do them.
At some point they’ll start to lose their when they lose their originality, but until that happens it, I look forward to joining in with many more flash mobs.

Upcoming Events

Some upcoming events that might be of interest.

Thursday 19th Feb – 5pm
Make Poverty History: Political Communication in Action
Book launch and debate at City University, London – more here

Saturday 28 Feb
6 Billions Ways – Making Another World Possible
London – more here

Saturday 28 Feb – 10am
Labour 2.0 – campaigning for the net generation
London – more here

Monday 2 March – 10am
BOND Campaigning Forum
London – more here

31 March – 1 April
eCampaigning Forum
Oxford – more here

And some campaign dates that should be in your diary
Fairtrade Fortnight
– 23 Feb to 8 March
Put People First-
March for Jobs, Justice and Climate – Saturday 28th March – London

Here Comes Everybody – group action just got easier

Here Comes EverybodyI went to hear a guy called Clay Shirky speak at the LSE earlier this month. More efficient people that me have documented what he had to say here and here.
I hadn’t come across Shirky before, but he’s the author of a book called ‘Here Comes Everybody’ and is regarded as a an expert at online collaboration/online movements.¬† He’s been advising the Obama team about how to keep the web outreach going now they’re in power. It was an enlightening 90 minutes, not all of it is necessarily relevant to campaigning, as much of it was about how governments engage with citizens.
This summary also comes with a ‘the room was full of tech geeks like me so does it work in the real world’ warning! But a few take home messages that got me thinking;
1 – The central premise of his argument is that the web is that ‘group action just got easier‘, and that the web has lowered the transaction costs. He pointed to the example of Facebook being used by students to close down HSBC a/c when they changed the T+C, suggesting that no longer do companies (and I think by extension but less so, governments) have the information and cooperation advantages that they used to have. The web makes it easier to cooperate and share the information you need (this case about how to close down your HSBC a/c).
2 – He argued that Obama was the first ‘platform candidate’ that is, he encouraged people to take his message and make it work for them. He contrasted the McCain online outreach, which was ‘here are some points to make on your blog’ with the activities that people like will.I.am and others had done to take the Obama message.
The challenge for me from this to campaigners, was how do we do this, albeit it on a much smaller scale. Do we needto more to just give our campaigners some key messages/points and let them work for them, or do we do this already?Are their any good examples to
3 – In the Q+As at the end he got into an interesting discussion about the ongoing value of newspapers, he was arguing that the newspaper model of making people pay for news is dying, because people will increasingly get their information from online sources, often ultra local and more interactive. I don’t know if I agree, but got me thinking about two things, a) what would our campaigning look like if we didn’t have newspapers to try to communicate our messages to decision makers, because that’s in part why we do reports, stunts, etc, and b) if paid for newspapers are dying what about the magazines we produce will people want something different from us, does it mean an end to print publications?
4 – He had some insightful stuff to say about the way that new media needs to be incoporated into an organisation. That it should sit somewhere between the technology and communication teams, but allowing space to innovate was criucial as was regular reviewing of what was working and not. He said that because the web changes so quickly it challenges the traditional planning cycles of many organisations.
5 – Finally he pointed to the recent campaign by mysociety on MPs expenses, as an example of one of the first completely web based campaigns.¬† More on their blog – Its a fascinating example of not only how to mobilise lots of people in a short time just using the web, but then getting them to translate into action, and one I think I’m going to come back to.

A penny for your thoughts

Welcome to the thoughtful campaigner……
This blog aims to be a space to highlight excellent examples of campaigning, to reflect on emerging trends and to keep a pace with what’s happening in the world of campaigning in the UK.
I’ve worked in the sector for the last 5 years, but can’t seem to find one place which draws things together into one place so I’ve started this blog. To keep my employer happy here comes the usual disclaimer, that all the views are my own and have nothing to do with anyone who pays me to do this!
You’ll spot a bias towards development and environmental campaigns, because these are the ones that I know most about and follow closely, but my aim is to bring together in one place the very best examples from across the UK and beyond.
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