Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Flash Mobs and the Participation Economy


Last week a few hundred people got together in LA for a bike ride. No big deal, right? The ride included over 500 cyclists and was organized in less than 24 hours with one short message: "Hey LA -- get out of your cars and get on your bikes. Time to ride. 7:30 tomorrow am. Griffith Park, LA Zoo parking lot. See you there."

The message was sent via Twitter by none other than Lance Armstrong. The next day hundreds of cyclists turned out to ride along side their hero. How often do you get to say you rode with a seven-time Tour de France winner? Some of the riders were said to have driven long distances to join the rare opportunity.

This was not Lance’s first time organizing a flash mob of cyclists. Recently in Dublin more than 1,200 cyclists showed up, some even dressed in work suits. The star power brought Dublin to a standstill.

Flash mobs like this are nothing new. There’s the Worldwide Pillow Fight Day, which started in New York, and of course London’s Silent Disco, where thousands of people listening to their iPods danced in public in eerie silence. There’s also a No Pants day where people commute to work without wearing trousers. 1,100 New Yorkers rode the subway without trousers during a snow storm.

These all point not only to the power of a good idea, but also to our desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to participate in something unique. Our award-winning TMobile spot Life’s for Sharing tapped into the power and energy of this thought.

Increasingly, we have the means to participate like this more and more, and faster and faster. The truly great ideas, for brands or for anyone, will be those idea that give us an opportunity to contribute and play a part.

Back in LA, Lance sent out a short message of thanks…and perhaps a new opportunity? "Great ride in Griffith Park. Thanks, LA! And thanks to the LAPD for the help. Off to Montreal. . ."

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