Is Turning Off Social Media the Next Millennial Social Movement?

Posted by: Jeff Fromm

Dreaming of reaching celebrity status is certainly not a new cultural aspiration. For generations, people have gone to the furthest extremes to reach their moment in the spotlight; millennials are no different.

The world is different for the millennial generation, though.

A newly digital native society means everyone is connected, everything has a second life and anyone can shout through the social microphone. Considering the reach and sheer size of the infinitely enormous digital universe, that ‘spotlight’ has become much brighter.

This has fundamentally changed the way we think about the “celebrity” status as a cultural influence. Iconic movies stars, musicians and social figures will always be a focus of mainstream media, keeping us on the edge of our seats. But since the rise of user-generated content platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, we’ve quickly watched as “the people” determine social-celebrity relevance, paying for their ticket with clicks, shares, and most importantly, our attention.

But as soon as I might suggest the resurgence of digital democratic “influence,” I’m reminded of mindlessly skimming through the dozens of irrelevant and ridiculously artificial “characters” that live on my newsfeed.

“It’s not real,” young model and former Instagram star, Essena O’Neil puts it as she makes a larger cultural statement by deactivating her social accounts. Before permanently logging off, O’Neil posted a YouTube video expressing her painful relationship with social media and the duality of her IRL and INSTA lives. She ended by urging her followers to unplug, turn off their phones, go on a trip and talk to people face to face rather than through a black mirror.

Regardless of whether or not this was a social stunt (and there seem to be many varying opinions floating around) it is forcing us to ask the question we’ve been avoiding since the first Facebook update: Is unplugging from social media the next social movement?

While millennials are the generation with the highest number of all social media profiles, it is important to remember that not all millennials partake. According to a recent study from Battery Ventures that surveyed 1,000 adults between the ages of 20 and 35, 78 percent of millennials did not have an active Twitter account, 79 percent did not have an active Instagram account and almost all did not have an active Snapchat account. Although this was a relatively small sample, it brings to light an important issue concerning marketers and our end-all-be-all approach to social media marketing.

In our first millennial study, we found that in-person connections were a core value for millennial consumers. More than 40 percent of respondents agreed that one of the reasons they choose to eat out was to find a place to gather with friends and family and one in four millennials were more likely to go shopping with their friends than alone.

As millennials are ditching products as status symbols for experiences as status updates, brands are encouraged to create share-worthy opportunities. But at what point does over-sharing become a real disadvantage for brands that have built their digital communities on a foundation of cheap content and paid residents?

Great modern brands have the unique opportunity to build a more authentic connection with digitally native millennial consumers online by pushing them offline.


Many brands recognize the consumer movement and push to unplug as young adult social media use has consistently crept upwards – causing concern about screen time, tech usage and privacy for the next generation of digitally immersed individuals. These brands also understand the significance of addressing real-world consumer anxieties, like pushing for a greater balance between the digital and physical worlds rather than adding to the endless chatter. And what better place than the very thing they’ve come to question: Social Media.

REI pushes us out the door

REI’s latest campaign #optoutside is shutting it’s doors on Black Friday this year and instead encouraging shoppers to spend time outside with loved ones. While this is not a direct ask to “unplug,” the idea is that Thanksgiving has become so inundated by material goods that many families have forgotten the true value of spending time together.

Coca Cola reminds us that real life is better now

Coca-Cola has also released a spot that uses common social language overlaid on top personal gatherings. The concept reminds people that sharing on social stems from real-life experiences and encourages viewers to focus more on what’s real rather than what’s digital.

Chipotle tells to put down our screen and read

Chipotle took a different approach and created the Cultivate Thought author series where the brand featured original essays and written thoughts on the sides of cups and bags for people to read and talk about while sharing a meal. The goal of the campaign was to “provide a little analog pause in an otherwise digital world.”

We certainly must recognize how technology has changed our lives for the better, but not at the cost of our digital independence. While social media will continue to evolve, it will not soon expire. But the trend towards unplugging is clearly picking up momentum; endorsed by our digital “celebrity” influencers like O’Neil.

How will marketers adapt to this new push? Stay tuned.

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About Jeff Fromm

Although not a Millennial as defined by his age, Jeff Fromm is the Millennial Marketing Guy. Jeff is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at...See Jeff's full bio.