Why the fear of missing out? Well, there’s a lot of buzzwords that get thrown around the marketing world, some of which fade out faster than others. Strategies in areas from SEO to social content change faster than you can blink, making it almost impossible to keep up with best practices unless you’re glued to the screens, reading updates every week.

Algorithms change, and those trending growth hacks may do their job and then fall by the wayside. Marketing concepts that are built around how people function and think, however, have the potential to last through the years. Human psychology doesn’t change, so finding marketing tactics to address or evoke psychological responses can benefit your business for years to come. A great example of this is FOMO, or the fear of missing out, social media, and how to leverage it for your business.

In this post, we’re going to take a close look at the psychology of the fear of missing out and how marketers can leverage it to benefit their marketing campaigns.

What is FOMO?

“FOMO” stands for the “fear of missing out.” The alliteration is new, and it’s only recently gained a lot of attention thanks to its association with Millennials. While Millennials have thrust the FOMO principle into the forefront of society so much that it’s well-known, the psychology underlying the concept has been around for ages; it’s just been exacerbated by our over-connected, over-sharing social culture.

Essentially, this “fear of missing out” acts as a strong motivator for why people do what they do. Instead of thinking “I’d like to go to that conference this year and network and get the information,” some people will think “But what about all the people that might be there? What if this year, there’s an inside joke like last year and I’ll be out of the loop for six whole months. What if they have a really great speaker?” It becomes about fear, instead of a productive decision to move forward.

When I was a kid and used to give the excuse “but all my friends are doing it,” my mom would say “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do that, too?” Honestly, in this day and age, some people might answer yes, and they’ll make sure someone gets a picture of them doing it, too.

Psychologically, what’s the deal?

We’re just hearing about the fear of missing out now (it seems to coincide strongly with #YOLO (“you only live once”), but the psychology behind it is nothing new. When looking at psychological principles and behavioral economics, FOMO is rooted deep in loss aversion.

Loss aversion is exactly what it sounds like. People are motivated by their fear of losing something, so they’ll do what they can to avoid it. In some ways, this can be practical – it’s why many people willingly choose to purchase different types of insurance to protect themselves, their finances, and their assets. Since losses are at least perceived to be twice as impactful as gains in someone’s life, this can be a powerful motivating factor.

FOMO also has a lot to do with the need to fit in. Previously, when we lived in small communities we relied on for our protection, it was crucial that we fit into the group and didn’t risk extradition; our survival literally depended on it. Because this need is built into our genetics, even today feeling left out of the group can cause feelings of restlessness and anxiety because the amygdala – found in the brain and capable of detecting threats – registers this potential social isolation as a threat to our well-being. This actually causes psychological stress, and thus you’ve got the fear of missing out.

Now, we live in a world where we’re over-connected. Every time our friends go out to lunch, it looks like a grand adventure with the ten pictures they post about it. We don’t want to miss out on The Next Big Thing, whether that’s a product or an event.

How you can use the fear of missing out, social media and marketing to drive customer action

The fear of missing out, social media, and your marketing tactics affect what people do, including what they purchase. Whether you want to drive event attendance or sales, the fear of missing out, social media, and carefully constructed postings can help you do it. Even more importantly, you can use FOMO ethically, and without legitimate fear mongering.

There’s several ways you can leverage the fear of missing out + social media to drive customer action. This includes:

Using engagement-boosting tactics to build social proof. 
Social proof – likes, comments, shares, and public views – will work in your favor when you’re trying to use FOMO. If someone sees a Facebook post with 600k views, they’re going to want to see what the fuss is about. Facebook Ads that have managed to maintain high levels of engagement can be particularly beneficial, as users see them both as more trustworthy and more engaging.
Using engagement-boosting tactics with the fear of missing out, social media
Sell experiences, not products.
I don’t care if you’re actually selling a product. How can you make it about more than just a single, tangible thing? Instead of selling a truck, for example, Honda sold my friend on an “off-road experience.” A crockpot isn’t just a crockpot – it’s an instant all-in-one meal, giving you more time with your family.
Get more reviews.
If you’re able to get more public reviews for your business on social media, this will be one of the first things that users see when they first encounter your Facebook Page. If they see a restaurant with 500 reviews for 5 stars, they’re going to want to try it for themselves immediately.

get more reviews

Feature lots of UGC.
User-generated content (UGC) is seen as the most authentic form of media today. It also tells your followers that “this product/service/event was so great, these users took pictures and sent it to us.” It doesn’t really matter now that we’re all taking artsy Instagram pictures of our breakfast cereal every morning; the impact is still the same.


Try to make it seem exclusive.
Everyone likes to be part of the cool-kid’s-club, and FOMO is partially driven by this need. I was affected by FOMO earlier this year just because of exclusivity – I signed up for the Copyblogger certification when I was granted early access because it only comes out twice a year and there’s a waitlist. I was really busy with work, but I took the plunge because what if I missed it next time? (Glad I did it, for the record. But this can absolutely be an effective marketing strategy.)
Use copy to capitalize on the fear of missing out.
Copy like “You won’t want to miss this,” “Once-a-year event!” and “See what everyone’s talking about” is exceptionally efficient. It’s why there’s “only two hours left to this sale!” or “we’ve only got a few left in stock” appears on plenty of email and social campaigns.

Final thoughts

FOMO is a relatively recently recognized social phenomenon, and while it’s more prevalent thanks to our constant use of social media, the psychology causing it is universal. If you’re able to leverage FOMO to get more sales, event attendance, and followers on social media, you will have harnessed a powerful force for your business.

What do you think? Have you ever used the fear of missing out + social media for your business? Has it ever driven you, or someone you know, to act? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think!

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