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A new tool to drive organizational change
What does it take to gain attention to a message and then spur the desired response? The answer may lie in a centuries-old phenomenon with a recently coined name: FOMO, the fear of missing out.
While we no longer spread company news via a photocopied memo in everyone’s mailbox, today’s typical organizational communication styles and strategies still lack effectiveness in the modern workplace. Internal corporate communicators, such as HR professionals or anyone with an internal audience, often struggle to elicit engagement and action from the same type of communications that worked in years past. What does it take in today’s hyper-informed environment to gain attention to a message and then spur the desired response?
The answer may lie in a centuries-old phenomenon with a recently coined name: FOMO, the fear of missing out. Implementing FOMO in corporate communications strategies helps to get the new information to the workforce in the way they want to read it and the way in which they are accustomed to receiving it. As a result, organizational messages can command closer attention and are better able to drive change and spur action.
Tracing the origins of FOMO
Though FOMO has been recently popularized, mostly through the proliferation of social media, it has existed throughout history. The tulip bubble burst, or tulipmania, of Holland in the mid-1630s makes a fascinating study not only of finance and economics but also of social behavior and the human psyche related to FOMO. More recently, think of any sort of fashion trend or fad. The big hair of the ’80s, ripped jeans of the ’90s, and more. These trends do not serve any actual value; they are not safer, warmer, more efficient, or necessarily improved in any way. Then why are humans driven to adopt them? FOMO.
FOMO is universal and timeless, and cuts across age, class, and race. From the idea of conspicuous consumption to the popular idiom “keeping up with the Joneses,” the comparison of oneself to peers has been a recurring cultural phenomenon for centuries. This age of social media has made it easier to make such comparisons and more pronounced to experience FOMO.
Though social media has popularized FOMO, it is a concept that should not be trivialized. FOMO is a powerful phenomenon that can drive large-scale groupthink and affect decisions with considerable economic impact, as seen with tulipmania and our other examples. This same emotional response could have equally large implications when harnessed in the workplace.
Why should the corporate sector care about FOMO?
The current working environment is changing more quickly than in perhaps any other time in history. The companies that are likely to come out on the other side of the digital revolution are those that are most equipped to evolve and roll with the changes, which includes developing strategies that work for the modern workforce. Companies that are not able to effectively communicate to their workforce or aren’t able to adapt and respond to changes in an agile manner will likely get left behind and become less and less able to compete in the market.
Another complication facing corporate communicators is the diversity of the current workforce, including an ever-growing generational gap. As a result, it is increasingly difficult for communications to reach and resonate with this widespread group of employees. Many internal communications are too monolithic, too frequent, and too general and miss the mark in effectively inspiring action or encouraging knowledge sharing—key components of a productive work environment.
(Eppler and Mengis 2004)1
1 Eppler, M.J; Mengis, J. “The Concept of Information Overload: A Review of Literature from Organization Science, Accounting, Marketing, MIS, and Related Disciplines.” The Information Society 20.5 (2004)
Breaking through, Being heard
Corporate communicators, then, have several factors working against them: too much information being sent, over too many media, which requires individuals to apply their own filters to decide what to pay attention to. To get through the recipient’s personal filter and on their way to generating FOMO-like appeal, communications should be targeted, purposeful and, above all, strategic.
- Limit the number of messages sent.
One way to integrate FOMO and harness its power is by proactive filtering. Before the individual has the chance to employ his/her own filter, the corporate communicator should be the one to limit the number of communications that are sent. This scarcity automatically increases the value of each message.
- Target how messages are sent.
Implementing FOMO in corporate communications strategies means getting information to the workforce in the way they want to read it and the way in which they prefer to receive it. While email has become the corporate default, another vehicle may be more effective. It may take some research or polling on the communicator’s part to uncover preferred, effective communication methods, but using an unconventional communication method could increase attention, engagement, and FOMO.
- Be strategic about who sends the message.
Another method of filtering and increasing the value of a message is to strategically choose who is sending the communication. Information coming from a peer or direct superior with a personal connection to the recipient will likely be much more effective in eliciting action than a figurehead with no personal connection with the staff.
- Be exclusive about who receives the message.
While inclusivity is typically regarded as a positive trend in the business community, it can have a negative effect on participation. In the context of change adoption, staff may have the tendency to delay action, under the premise that someone else is currently acting as or will be the early adopter, so they do not need to act. FOMO helps directly combat the problem of change apathy and lack of action by persuading everyone to want to be an early adopter and take immediate action.
In general, exclusivity is known to generate interest and buzz for most any object or event. Exclusivity can make the information or event more attractive to the audience because they know they are in a small group of “privileged” users. To create this feeling of exclusivity, the communicator should narrow the information or invitation so that it is highly specific and relevant to only a small group of people, and then make it available for only the select audience.
- Pay attention to how the message is crafted.
Choosing words that make information sound more exclusive can also generate more interest with minimal effort. Creating an air of accomplishment can also create exclusivity. Applying for and then being chosen to enter into a group or being part of a select few that is privy to certain information is something aspirational and makes the user stand out as superior. All of these tactics can add a measure of desirability to whatever information or event is communicated, thus generating FOMO within others who are not associated with that select inner circle.
Business email data from 2014 and projections through 2018, reveal that the number of emails sent and received is only increasing. 2
2 The Radicati Group, Inc.: Email Statistics Report, 2014-2018.
The bottom line: Work changes, but people will be people
FOMO is largely a product of human nature, a reflection of a widespread tendency to be influenced by those around us, to want to be “in the know” and involved in activities other people value. Corporate communicators can tap into these tendencies to make their messages more desirable, noticeable, and impactful. FOMO gives them a tool to plan, craft, and disseminate information in ways that can invigorate the workplace, prompt employees to take interest and ownership in the changes in their company, and compel