Is digital connectedness giving you the FoMo’s?

Our Senior Researcher Emma (who is just a tiny bit addicted to social media) and our intern Emmy have taken a look at the ‘Fear of Missing Out’.  Personally, I have more of the FoGO’s, the ‘Fear of Going Out’ than the FoMo’s but each to their own… Have a read at what the girls found from analysing FoMO data!

Through the use of social media, we are staying more connected and updated than ever before. According to a report from BBC from 2014, Britons are now spending more time using technology devices than they do sleeping. The ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FoMO) is more talked about than ever now that we are living in a digital age., a site helping people to monitor and control their personal and private information online published a study in 2013 covering online behaviour and FoMO – you can read more about it here.  56% of the surveyed participants reported that they are afraid that they will miss out if they turn away from social networks. Further, 27% of participants revealed that checking their social networks was the first thing they did when they woke up in the morning. More than half of the surveyed participants stated that they were aware that their behaviour was close to being addictive and they reported that they had, on different occasions, considered “a vacation” from social networks but most of them had not gone through with this, simply due to the fear of missing out.

A similar study found that the major factor that brings on this FoMO is the risk of not being seen as “in the know.” 45% of those surveyed stated that they could not go more than 12 hours without checking their social networks, with 20% admitting that it was actually no more than one hour. However, this study also found that this fear actually drove purchase intent. Furthermore, the survey found that high income respondents were more likely to experience FoMO compared to low income respondents.

Fast Company last year, our social network activities provide consumers with the same shot of dopamine that we get from food, sex and exercise. Although this might sound like a positive thing and engaging in social networks might be an easy task to undertake in order to benefit to feel good about ourselves, there is more to it.  Perhaps it is a more of a vicious cycle, that to get the dopamine kicks we have gotten used to we need to spend more time connected. The University of Oxford social scientist Andrew Przybylski recently conducted the first empirical study, published in Computers in Human Behavior in 2013  His findings suggest that FoMO occurs mostly in people with unfulfilled psychological needs in realms such as love, respect, autonomy and security. All in all, we are afraid of missing out on love and on feeling that we belong.

This is a further reason of why FoMO is affecting more people. Not only do we use social networks in order to be updated on what is going on in the lives of our friends and in the world at large, but we also engage on social networks to define ourselves and make ourselves feel good. For consumers, to talk about their thoughts and experiences online and get likes and retweets starts the brains reward system.

Taking all of this into account, we decided to analyse the data containing the hashtag #FOMO to see where and when people were discussing the term. Using the Brandwatch Analytics Platform, we analysed the data for the two week period 26 May 2015 to 9th June 2015. In this period, the hashtag was used 3876 times. Removing spam and other irrelevant comments resulted into 1046 useable mentions of #FOMO.

The Findings

 We found that the hashtag #FOMO was used to describe three main situations:

  • Being left out of the crowd

 This described situations where people who are known in real-life to the user, are experiencing something that the user is not included in, such as a wedding, holiday, or meet-up with friends. The lack of inclusion was usually due to physical distance, an inability to attend due to other commitments, or a lack of money.

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  • Following the crowd

This involves communicating about missing out on something that has recently become popular or generated a high level of conversation on social media, such as new television shows or concerts. This is usually used when people have missed the latest episode of a popular television show, or when there is a high level of conversation around something that a person does not already watch.
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  • Becoming part of the crowd

This category identified self-promotion and personal justification as to why users choose to stay up to date with technology, either by having the latest gadgets, the newest apps, or the ability to understand and use new technologies. A key conversation topic was the fact that Android users were unable (at the time) to use Periscope, the new Twitter streaming service and therefore felt like they were missing out on technology that others could use. Users also used the hashtag to show that they had joined new social networks including Snapchat after missing out on sharing experiences with friends. The data showed that even the purchase of a smartphone may be trigged by a fear of missing out what everyone else was experiencing.
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The data offers some valuable insights. Firstly, we confirm that people using the hashtag have unfulfilled or unmet needs and seek to follow the crowd.  In a commercial sense, we can see that #FOMO can be used to help identify trends, wish lists, and build buzz around a television programme or event. It also emphasises the importance of social relationships both on and offline. It also helps to understand what motivates people to try new apps or to update their existing technologies.

Brands and organisations can therefore learn more why people post and share information online. It can also give brands an opportunity to join in the conversation. If someone is tweeting about a FoMO because they don’t have your product or service, or watch your television show, how can you turn that around and turn that person into a customer or a viewer?

These uses of the hashtag #FOMO are generally a fairly casual and relaxed use of the term ‘fear of missing out’. It is unlikely that the person tweeting about missing Game of Thrones really feels any anxiety or stress around this.  However, the phrase itself remains of relevance when considering behaviours on social media, particularly around the need to be constantly online and always alert and up to date with trends.

Inc. Magazine published a few suggestions for keeping gadgets and FoMO in check. These include attempting to take a digital detox (slightly difficult when you analyse social media conversations for a living like me), or taking control of the feeling of being ‘out of the loop’. There are also apps such as Quality Time that can help you to track how long you spend online and help you to manage it. Deleting the worse offending apps from your smartphone can also help you reduce the time spent online.

As for me, I’m yet to download the Quality Time app, and I definitely won’t be deleting my Facebook or Twitter app anytime soon. However, on my holiday, I am going to challenge myself to keep away from social media for the duration of my break. I’ll report back on my return!



© Disruptive Insight 2015.