What Does FOMO Mean?

How to use this popular acronym

FOMO is a popular online acronym that stands for:

Fear Of Missing Out

Missing out on what, you ask? It could be anything—from a party or a wedding, to a career opportunity or a trip overseas.

FOMO Explained

Stemming from social anxiety, FOMO represents the negative feeling you get when you're convinced you're missing out on a great experience—as made evident from friends who are actually experiencing it. The acronym is often used online to help describe (and even intensify) the attraction of doing certain things or being at certain events, which are typically shared on social media.

A woman holding a smartphone that says #FOMO on the screen.
marchmeena29 / Getty Images

People tend to share their best experiences online while often omitting negative and mundane experiences, turning their feeds essentially into highlight reels of their lives. To their friends and followers, however, they appear to be constantly having the time of their lives. This distorted interpretation is what conjures up feelings of FOMO.

People also have a tendency to have more regrets about what they didn't do rather than what they did do, and FOMO is an expression that captures this feeling perfectly. Now that everyone shares their best experiences online through carefully curated Instagram posts, Snapchat stories and Facebook updates, those experiences seem more glamorous and enticing than they actually are in true reality.

How FOMO Is Used

When used in a sentence, FOMO sounds like it's some kind of negative condition you can catch or feel coming on suddenly. Similar to having the chills, a headache, the flu, or even just a sunburn, you can have FOMO too.

Examples of FOMO in Use

Example 1

Friend #1: "There's free food at this place! All you can eat buffet!"

Friend #2: "You're giving me serious FOMO right now..."

In this first example of two friends messaging each other, the first friend appears to be at an event and decides to message another friend who's not at the event about the opportunity to enjoy free food. The friend who isn't at the event experiences FOMO, just from being made aware of what was going on at the event.

Example 2

Friend #1: "Did you see Sarah's latest story on Snapchat?"

Friend #2. "Yeah, now I've got FOMO."

In this example, a Snapchat story is at the source of Friend #2's FOMO. The story could have featured anything at all — as long as it looked like it was some kind of positive experience.

Example 3

Twitter tweet from a brand account: "Don't be a victim of FOMO! Our sale ends tomorrow night at midnight, Eastern time."

This last example demonstrates how more businesses and brands are using the FOMO acronym to relate to their customers more while marketing their products and services to them. FOMO can be used to evoke a sense of urgency to act on a sale or limited time offer.

The Origin of FOMO

FOMO is a very modern acronym that really only started gaining steam online back in 2011 to 2012, but believe it or not, FOMO has its roots in consumer psychology.

Dr. Dan Herman coined the term in 2000 when he published an article about it in the Journal of of Brand Management. Another business expert and Harvard MBA, Patrick J. McHinnis helped propel the use of the term in the mid-2000s in relation to business decision-making.

It wasn't until 2011 when the New York Times published an article on FOMO in the context of what we see shared on social media. The article is likely the first to describe the relatable notion of regret people feel about how they've chosen to spend their time only after they've been exposed to their friends' posts.

Since then, the FOMO acronym has taken off and can be found used almost everywhere online. Even though the feeling is very real, its use in tweets, Instagram captions, Facebook status updates and even blog posts is often done in a sarcastic way for comedic effect.

Tips on How to Beat FOMO

If you're suffering from FOMO, here are some things that you can do to help minimize that feeling:

  • Keep in mind that everyone's social media feeds is just a highlight reel of their best experiences, captured at a specific moment in time and perhaps even altered (edited) to look a certain way.
  • Realize that you can't be multiple places at once.
  • Develop confidence in how you're choosing to spend your time by engaging more in activities that you enjoy or that add value to your life.
  • Consider unplugging for a certain period of time or going on a social media detox.