How Social Media Generated FOMO Wires You To Spend More

Have you ever bought something or planned an event because of something you saw on social media? Believe it or not, you’re in the majority. Most people experience a dangerous envy and fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) cycle when they scroll their friends’ and influencers’ feeds on social media. Seeing that highlights the reel of everyone you like causes most people to look around at a modest life and feel incomplete.

Even if you’re living well, even if you like every piece of furniture in your apartment and live comfortably, seeing your old friends on a summer cruise or your cousin looking glamorous in a new car immediately triggers the desire for more. And that makes our shop. In a study of 900 Canadians through RateHub, participants reported that 25% of their debt spending, and the included interest rates, came from a FOMO reaction to social media. What’s important to realize is that social media platforms are doing this on purpose.

Advertisers Are The Customers; Users Are The Commodity

Social media sites generate ‘traffic’ which is a valuable resource for online advertisers. Advertisers then buy space from the social media platform, – making the advertisers into the customers. Because users play for free, we are the commodity.

How does it work? The more people who click targeted ads on social media and make purchases, the more social media platforms earn. So it benefits the platforms to show you things that make you want to shop – then use your data to provide targeted ads based on your envy inspirations.

FOMO And The Envy Algorithm

Have you ever noticed that social media platforms tend to evoke certain emotions? Facebook is notorious for showing people what their exes are doing. Instagram highlights the most glamorous and filtered images of your favorite influencers, Twitter is a hotbed for hashtags and social outrage, and Pinterest shows you beautiful multi-million dollar homes. All of these platforms have one thing in common: The Envy Algorithm.

While the calculation may vary from site to site, your feed is always full of what you most want to see – and what will inspire you to buy. When you see your friend’s highlight reel of their latest vacation or whirlwind romance, this sparks envy. When you see someone’s new ride or cool art in their apartment, you want it.

Even if each of your friends has only one nice thing, your feed shows them all at once, rendering your modest apartment shabby. While at that moment, someone else is feeling envy over pics of your recent car, relationship, or piece of art.

Envy Becomes Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)

Envy itself isn’t always powerful enough to make us buy, but FOMO is. FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out is that feeling that everyone else is having a good time but you. That feeling you’re standing just outside the party.

Maybe you’re in another city from your partying friends but want to feel that same party – so you buy some drinks with acquaintances instead of staying in that weekend. Or maybe you’re seeing a friend’s birthday party and wish you could have that much fun, even though your birthday is still a few months away. FOMO doesn’t have to make sense only to make you feel.

FOMO Leads To Impulse Spending To Feel Better

That empty feeling is, unfortunately, aptly soothed with shopping. Buying something that makes you feel successful or like you’re having the same amount of fun does make you feel better. But only until the next spike of envy from your feed. Is an old friend posting pictures of the new baby? You may splurge on a pet or a fancy date to ‘keep up’ emotionally. Members of your graduating class appear on your feed with their new three-story? Suddenly your proud little starter home doesn’t seem big enough. Old buddy showing off the car he’s been modding for three years? Suddenly you want some new wheels without the elbow grease.

The envy algorithm then combines with targeted ads to increase your potential for clicking when your envy and FOMO are agitated to a frothing need to fill that sense of inadequacy compared to the best moments of everyone you’ve ever known. Each glitterati moment isn’t a fair comparison because you see only the proudest or most glamorous or filter-laden moments of dozens of different lives to become jealous.

Scroll, Envy, Shop, Repeat

The trouble is that it never stops. It would be one thing if you were keeping up with one sibling or group of friends. But you can’t impulse shop to compete with the best moments of everyone you know. You can’t have a house like your most hard-working friends, a car like your mechanic friend, an interior design like your artist friend, AND go on mad vacations like your business travel friend.

One person can’t do it all, but social media makes us feel like we’re missing out if we don’t try. Every time you scroll your feed, something will go by that makes you think, “Man, I want that” or “I wish I could be there.” That will create a feeling of emptiness and will somehow pair perfectly with the targeted ads along the side or bottom of your feed. You’ll click, you’ll shop, you’ll feel better and decide to check on what your friends are doing. Scroll, envy, shop, repeat.

How To Protect Yourself From Social Media Spending And FOMO

There are only a few ways to protect yourself from generating unnecessary debt and spending from social media FOMO. Most people can’t break away from social media because too much is going on. You plan events and meet coworkers on social media. You stay connected with distant relatives and keep in touch with your best friends in other cities. But you can protect yourself from that envy cycle.

First, install an ad-blocker that at least reduces the ads you see during scrolling. Next, remove influencers that primarily make you feel that jealous FOMO sensation. If your feed is feeling sparse, throw in a few motivational quotes and cat-picture accounts to make you smile without making you want to shop to ease the pain.

Delay your purchases. If you feel the FOMO and want to buy something right away, take a deep breath. Write down the inspiration and the item to buy. Then give it 24 hours. If you still think the purchase is a good idea that would improve your life, buy it. If it seems silly or unrealistic in the light of the next day, then you just dodged a psychological spending trap.

Finally, help your friends escape the same trap. Post modest pics about enjoying nights in and share your trick for delaying impulse purchases. Not only will you be reinforcing your good habits, but you can also build a circle of friends who spend (and post) more responsibly and with greater satisfaction.

Social media may generate envy and FOMO to boost advertiser dollars, but you don’t have to fall for it. Get control of your impulse spending by resisting the manipulative pull of envy-cycle shopping.

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