Over the past two years, almost 6.8 million people have downloaded the BeReal app, as per Sensor Tower, a mobile-market intelligence company (1). The app makers pitch it as an authentic and unfiltered alternative to curated posts on TikTok and Instagram (2).
The social media app is gaining popularity among younger demographics, especially university students. According to Apptopia, most users of BeReal have joined the app this year.
The France-based app is available for both iPhones and Android devices. It pings users once every 24 hours to snap a picture using their phone’s front and rear camera. The timing of the prompt is unpredictable for users and changes every day.
Unlike the most dominant social media platforms, no photo fillers are allowed on BeReal. The platform also has no ads and follower tallies.
The limited approach to posting and perusing BeReal is highly in contrast to its popular alternatives. Both Instagram and TikTok, which counts over a billion active monthly users apiece, shove their resources into making their products more engaging for users.
On the other hand, BeReal has a different pitch. Make a quick post, scroll, and continue living your life. Some Gen Z users are finding the idea magnetic!
Once BeReal sends an alert, the user has two minutes to snap a picture. If they are too busy or in places where they should not take pictures, or bathroom, for instance, BeReal also allows posting outside of that time frame.
But there is a catch: the app will tell their friends the photo is late and even shows precisely how late they are. It has caused people to snap pictures while on the road and in class, and often BeReal also ends up with images of the photographer looking down at their feet.
The app also prevents users from lurking; if users want to see anyone’s photos, they will have first to share their own. If a user posts late, they don’t have much time to look at others’ pictures. All posts on the app get reset when the next notification goes out (3).
The goal is to share real-life when it is happening with friends.
It establishes a judgment-free environment where users can see what their friends are up to daily, regardless of how dull or fascinating their posts are. “It’s extremely spur-of-the-moment, so you feel like you’re truly seeing what your friends are doing at a given time,” Mackenzie DePinto, an 18-year-old high school student in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, says of BeReal.
She says one of her favorite BeReal features is the opportunity to send reaction selfies to her friends’ posts instead of “liking” them. “It adds a lot of personalization,” she explains. “It’s always so fun to see the little images of my friends reacting.”
BeReal, Being Real
According to social media experts, the thing BeReal has going for it is its spontaneity and authenticity. It is a mix of Wordle, a popular word game users can only play once a day, Instagram without those filters, and SnapChat with its fleeting lifespan of the posts (4, 5, 6).
Users are resonating with this combination as they continue to shun the curated videos and photos that dominate feeds on several social media networks.
BeReal has been hailed as an antidote to the pressures of appearing “perfect” online, with social media giants like Instagram and TikTok under greater scrutiny for the ways their platforms adversely affect young people’s mental health (7). “BeReal will not make you famous,” the app’s description adds (8), “but if you want to be an influencer, stay on TikTok and Instagram.”
“Today’s biggest social media apps, including Instagram and TikTok, also started their journey as ways for people to share updates with their friends. However, they evolved to feature more idealistic versions of their lives, big economies of creators have emerged, and influencers keep posting highly curated content to attract more followers and sponsors,” said Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center (9).
“The change means that users often see more commercial posts, creating a hole that apps like BeReal could fill,” added Rutledge. Yet, she believes that new social media networks, including BeReal, will only have staying power if they can keep people and their friends using the app.
“There are many fun apps to try; however, the point of any social media app is to connect with others,” said Dr. Rutledge.
BeReal wants users to portray their lives, not share images to amass influence, said its spokesperson. “BeReal aims to make its users feel good about themselves and their lives.”
BeReal: One-Time Hit or Here to Stay?
Although BeReal offers an alternative to TikTok and Instagram, without addictive elements, it will need a strong business model. Otherwise, the social media platform emphasizing authenticity may find it challenging to stay relevant over the upcoming few years.
In 2022, BeReal has been on a huge rising trend. According to data.ai, the app has been downloaded 5 million times worldwide since its inception in late 2019. However, about 65 percent of those downloads, or 3.2 million, occurred this year alone.
BeReal has grown its footprint on college campuses in recent months thanks to a student ambassador program that uses grassroots marketing, similar to how Facebook grew through word-of-mouth among college students.
Even if more people download BeReal, users believe that following too many people defeats the app’s purpose. “The more friends you add, the longer it takes every day to go through everyone’s posts,” explains Maxwell Zuanich, a 19-year-old college student at SMU, Southern Methodist University. “It would take up so much time.”
According to data.ai, BeReal is presently rated fourth in mobile app downloads in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, after Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest. According to Apptopia, its monthly active users have climbed by 315 percent since the beginning of 2022.
While the number of downloads is a decent indicator of an app’s success, it doesn’t indicate whether the app will last, according to Niklas Myhr, a Chapman University professor of social media, digital, and global marketing (12).
BeReal’s ascent has been compared to other once-popular apps like Yo and Frontback. The latter software allowed users to capture images with both the front and rear cameras, then combine them into a single image. It gained a lot of traction after its inception in 2013, but it was shut down two years later as users moved on to the next great thing (13).
Dr. Myhr believes that once-popular apps might fail if they heavily depend on one feature and don’t develop additional features to keep users engaged. That was the case with Yo, which launched in 2014 to allow users to say “Yo” to their friends. The app received updates that included profiles, links, and hashtags, but they weren’t enough to save it.
BeReal’s users may enjoy the daily dopamine rush, but they would want more from the app than the “RealMoji” to keep it interesting.
The Privacy Concerns
BeReal’s goal of encouraging more real and less frequent sharing resonates particularly well with younger generations. However, the privacy concern remains about how the app collects data and may utilize it in the future.
Some users are concerned that BeReal would amass enough personal data to build a complete profile of their everyday activities, like its more mainstream competitors (14). According to the app’s terms of service, it will not sell user data and will not be sold to any third party (15). However, if that policy changes, it might lead to privacy concerns ranging from targeted advertising to spying.
We have received no response from BeReal regarding its privacy goals.
However, the challenge for BeReal is maintaining its authenticity goals. If it succeeds, it may be a tough competitor to Instagram.
Currently, Instagram has about 1.3 billion daily users. But its “influencer” culture may contribute to its expiration.
Last year’s global monthly user growth dropped 16.5 percent, and this year’s growth is predicted to be another 5.8 percent lower (16).