The fear of missing out, or the phenomenon known as “FOMO,” certainly has its hooks in western society, and not just in young adults. It describes those feelings of anxiety we get about being left out of a group, missing a significant event, or not being part of the story people are telling. Social media has lit a fire under the idea of FOMO and FOMO marketing, being that we have a 24/7 curated peek into everyone’s lives, but FOMO has existed as long as humans have. As funny as it sounds, FOMO started as a survival mechanism.
It stems from the brain’s limbic system, or more specifically, the amygdala, whose job is to detect threats to our survival. There was an evolutionary advantage to being a part of a group or community for early humans — a better chance at securing food, water, shelter, protection, etc. The loneliness of FOMO is really our brain saying, “Don’t get left behind!” Ultimately, when we get the impression or feeling that we’re not part of the “in” group, our “fight or flight” response kicks in. Community, while still vital, doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing anymore, but we still desire and need human connection.
Now, social media has muddled (or, at least, complicated) the definition of FOMO. It’s no longer just the urge for connection; it’s also the potential for a better connection. We have many social options these days — you could go to dinner with friends, the movies with your family, or a networking event for work. And then, after the fact, you compare the choice you made with the posted memories of everyone you follow online.
These days, FOMO isn’t merely a psychological concept. It’s also a marketing tool — a modern-day keeping up with the Joneses — and it can be done both skillfully and ethically. In some ways, it can seem manipulative — to tap into our primal fears — but it doesn’t have to be so predatory. Open and honest communication with your audience is a huge part of ethical FOMO marketing. Everyone should be in on it, and while, yes, your bottom line is sales, the goal of content marketing is really to start a conversation about your product or brand.
For more details on generating FOMO at your next event, product launch, or major campaign, see part two.