FOBO is the new FOMO

FOBO is the new FOMO

FOBO is the new FOMO

As teens go, Marcus, 16, is pretty typical. Like many his age around the world, the São Paulo native likes hanging out with friends, shopping at the mall and watching football on TV. But there’s something else he has in common with many of his peers in other countries. Marcus needs to be connected online wherever he is, which means he’s constantly checking his phone for the latest texts, emails and status updates.

During the research for our recent study, “Coming of Age on Screens,” in which we commissioned culture experts Crowd DNA to do a study of people ages 13-24 in 13 countries, we found that Marcus’ FOBO, or Fear of Being Offline, is the new Fear of Missing Out.1 Globally, 70% of respondents in the study said they have to be connected wherever they are.2 This feeling is highest among teens and young adults in Brazil. As Marcus puts it, “I can’t live without knowing what people are up to and what they are thinking. If I am more than 10 minutes without my cellphone, it is so hard.”

We recently spoke with the lead researchers behind the study—Andy Crysell, Managing Director of Crowd DNA, and Jo Tenzer, Marketing Science Lead at Facebook—about FOBO, the 3 phases of growing up and what these and other trends among Millennials mean for marketers. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow:

Q: What surprised you the most in the “Coming of Age on Screens” study?

Andy: What surprised me is that we were really able to notice a change in how young people are using social media and digital devices so fluidly and fluently (see “Coming of Age on Screens”). The fact that people coming of age today are truly digital natives really came through. Of the teens and young adults we studied, 79%, for example, said they always or mostly use a mobile device while watching TV.

Jo: For me, it was the realization that there is a fear of being offline among this generation. When you’re offline, it’s harder to discover the things that interest you and more difficult to share what you’re doing with the people who matter to you. People growing up today feel the need to be online—and being online is really being on mobile.

Q: You found that people growing up today are quite optimistic—nearly 6 in 10 respondents describe themselves as such—despite many of them living in challenging times in their countries. Why do you think that is?

Andy: Well, you would hope that young people would be optimistic at this stage in their lives, despite the challenges. The Internet has always been around for even the oldest young adults that we studied. Because of it, there’s greater visibility into the opportunities that are out there. I think, more than ever, there’s a sense of proximity to opportunity for this generation. People growing up today are closer to their role models and youth icons, thanks to digital media.

Jo: When you’re young, it’s true that you’re much more of a dreamer. But this age group’s optimism isn’t blind optimism. It’s tempered with worry about the future. While a majority of youth is indeed optimistic, 56% also say they’re worried about the future. This group often gets a bad rap about being entitled or thankless, but young people today really do embrace working hard to achieve their goals—84% of youth globally say they want to do this.

Q: Another major finding is that although society might want to lump people in the 13-24 age group into one “young people” bucket, we observed 3 current distinct phases of growing up.

Jo: Millennials are often treated as one group, but it’s more nuanced than that. As they inch their way towards adulthood, their needs, behaviors and attitudes change. Our research shows that today there are 3 points along this journey, as young people find their feet, explore what’s around them and then settle into working life. (see “The 3 Phases of Growing Up”).

The Optimists (13-15) are very happy and very positive. One of the biggest things they have to worry about is school, and they are into technology. The Explorers (16-19) are the most forward-thinking, more education-focused and the most likely to say they are planning for the future. The Realists (20-24) are starting to settle down into that first job. Naturally, one or more of the big life decisions you face in your 20s, like getting a job or finding a place to live, are important to this group.

Andy: One of the reasons we felt identifying these phases was so important is that it can help brands as they think about developing content that will resonate for different audiences. One size doesn’t fit all, even for Millennials. Young people are expected to change, and they want to change. But now the phases are more apparent, with social media creating a powerful opportunity for young people to display personal change.

Q: With social media now playing a part in coming of age, it is no wonder that nearly half of all study respondents (46%) say they’d feel lost without it. Why has it become so integral to their lives?

Jo: Social media allows people to express how they feel without the awkwardness that teenagers can sometimes experience face-to-face. We found that the first place people coming of age today said they’d share the fact that they had a really good day is on social media (30%). Face-to-face was second at 22%. Millennials use social media to share the true versions of themselves. It’s important for people in this group to share what’s important to them and let people know who they are by using social media.

Andy: The other thing, of course, is that social media is essentially their lifeline to the world. Some 74% of respondents globally said that social media helps them stay up-to-date with their friends and family. Another 65% said they use it to get in touch with people they already see every day. It’s how they communicate.

Q: Your research shows that teens and young adults actually want to hear from brands online. But they have their standards. Can you explain?

Andy: So one interesting thing we found is that while teens and young adults still list their friends’ houses as their favorite places to hang out (70%), online is actually their second favorite (54%)(see “A Favorite Place to Hang Out”). Shopping malls came third (50%). And unlike some of the other places young people might hang out, online is a place where they not only expect brands to show up but where they also welcome them. For example, some 53% of young people agree they like it when brands they like speak to them through social media. But it has to be good content, which to them means useful or entertaining.

Jo: People coming of age today like things to be funny, and they have the same expectations for advertising. 72% of the people we looked at expect brand advertising to be entertaining. Trust is really important for this group, too. Some 56% of people coming of age today say they only pay attention to advertising from brands they trust. Relevancy is huge for this group. They’re eager for content that appeals to their values, and images and video play a big role here.

Q: Another finding—or confirmation, really—is that mobile is the first screen for this generation. What does this mean for marketers?

Jo: Mobile is so essential for people growing up today that a majority (60%) of young people we studied said they would rather give up TV than their cellphones (see “A World In Their Hands”). Marketers have a unique opportunity to be with consumers in their pockets. Because they’re reaching people on such a personal device, brands, however, want to be mindful about creating relevant content that’s designed for people on the move.

Andy: Mobile is the main way this generation connects. As a result, brands really need to have a mobile-first strategy. That means understanding how their message works on mobile and how it intersects with messaging designed for other devices. The big challenge for brands is to figure out how to tell their stories effectively on mobile. Often that will mean images and video—the visual languages that especially appeal to Millennials—that can often do a lot more work in small real estate than words can.

Q. While mobile is the first screen, this group switches among 5 screens on average. What’s the key to reaching people who are constantly switching devices and platforms?

Andy: This actually makes it an exciting time to be a marketer. There’s a fun challenge in figuring out how a brand tells a story in such a way that it works across different devices. The story has to be told in a way that is not confusing so that it doesn’t feel like you’re getting the same story over and over again.

Jo: The creative is really important for people who are moving from one device to another. The fact that people growing up today are constantly switching among devices means that the message has to be clear and relevant to them, regardless of what device they’re on. Brands need to know what matters to people coming of age today to resonate with this age group.

Learn more about how teens and young adults around the world are coming of age in a world of constant connectivity:


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Note 1: Source: “Coming of Age on Screens,” by Crowd DNA (study commissioned by Facebook). Survey of 11,165 people online, ages 13-24, across 13 markets, April-May 2014.
Note 2: Unless otherwise stated, statistics are averaged for all survey participants across all countries.