“Take the flash-mob phenomenon, give it a financial spin, and you have a “cash mob” — in which civic-minded citizens use social media to organize spontaneous visits by paying customers to small, local businesses. Cash mobs, in which participants are typically asked to spend $20 or more at the selected business, began sweeping the country last year. Most are grassroots efforts, but the movement recently gained civic backing when the city of Denver helped organize one such effort.

“What we do know is that cash mobs give businesses a chance to wow their new customers,” said Sallie Burnett, an adjunct professor of marketing at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. “You get an e-mail address, and you have a way of connecting with them and continuing the relationship.” A cash mob can be just as much a social stimulus as an economic one. “Cash mobs are empowering,” Burnett said. “The economy is so bad, we don’t feel we can change it, but we feel through mobs that we are taking control of our community. Seeing your favorite place survive makes us feel good about ourselves.