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A New Social Media App, BeReal, Focusing on ‘Authenticity’ is Rising in Popularity

28 April 2022
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A New Social Media App, BeReal, Focusing on ‘Authenticity’ is Rising in Popularity

There is a new kid on the social media block and it’s capturing the attention of millions of new users who want a more grounded experience in the age of flashy, click-driven platforms populated by mega-influencers. BeReal is a French social media app that launched two years ago but is gaining significant traction based on its simple premise of sharing spontaneous, unedited photos.

Rather than uploading images and spending hours using filters and tools to create curated posts, users on BeReal receive an alert at a random time of day and have just two minutes to share what they’re doing. The app uses a smartphone’s front-facing selfie camera and rear camera to create two images that are then posted to feeds alongside content that friends have also just snapped.

BeReal’s rather novel approach to user-generated content aims to strip away the baggage that comes with other social media sites, such as editing tools, visible follower counts and advertising, to deliver a simple, authentic experience. This is resonating with younger audiences especially, who are perhaps growing tired of apps like Instagram that often present unrealistic standards of beauty and popularity.

Gen Z user, Nathan Carey, says BeReal allows users to be more “vulnerable” as they can see what people’s lives are actually like rather than what they appear to be. There is no preparation for content either, as BeReal pings users at different times each day. These alerts are sent just once every 24 hours. If a user misses that alert or is too busy, they can post photos later but other users can see how late they were. This has created a mad-dash mindset where users take snaps immediately, whether they are in class or on the sofa.

BeReal has followed Wordle as one of the breakout successes of 2022. It shares similarities with the popular five-letter word game, with its distraction-free UI and ephemeral features, but it is closest to Instagram and Snapchat as a platform due to its focus on image sharing.

The app was developed by Alexis Barreyat, who previously worked for tech company GoPro, and first launched on iOS and Android in 2020, but its user base has skyrocketed in recent months. BeReal says its app has already been downloaded 7.67m times this year as of late April, which equates to three-quarters of its lifetime installs. The number of monthly active users (MAUs), a key metric for social media sites, has also soared 315% since 1 January.

Crucially for BeReal, the app has already gained a loyal following in the US, which accounts for 19.7% of all installs, which is just shy of the leading market, France, with 20.5%. Its popularity stateside has led critics to ponder whether it will be able maintain its momentum and disrupt bigger platforms. Its position as a potential antidote to social media addiction and overuse has been praised, but it may still run into familiar problems even if it doesn’t want to be like the rest.

Ongoing engagement is crucial and BeReal will need to keep giving users a reason to load the app. The current alert system is interesting but will it be a novelty that will wear off over time? Media Psychology expert Pamela Rutledge notes: “Lots of apps are fun to try, but the point of a social-media app is to connect with others.”

Several other apps have been hyped before falling out of favour soon after, such as Frontback, an app with a similar camera format to BeReal, which launched to acclaim in 2013 before shutting down two years later. Dr Niklas Myhr of Chapman University believes that hot, new apps can struggle if they double down on a single feature rather than adding new ones.

BeReal does already have one innovative twist on familiar social media engagement buttons – the “RealMoji”. Instead of simply clicking a like, users can react to other people’s posts by recreating emojis in a selfie, though they are limited to one reaction per post. Features like these can help the app to differentiate itself from rivals, who regularly release new updates and formats to keep people engaged.

But does it have the potential, in its current form, to wrestle market share away from Facebook et al? Vice writer Jason Koebler is sceptical, after stating that the feeds on BeReal are just an “endless stream” of people doing mundane tasks like lying in bed or commuting on the bus or train. While this mundanity is what attracts its current user base, it may not be enough to reach hundreds of millions of users.

BeReal does have the funds to generate growth in the short-term, though, after raising $30m in a funding round last year. The app is already running an ambassador program and implementing paid user campaigns to increase the number of signups and potentially broaden its reach. It seems to be working, as 2.93 million people are logging on daily, while the app has an impressive 4.8 rating from thousands of user reviews on Apple’s App Store.

Whether there will be a place for marketers in the future of BeReal remains to be seen. The name of the app and the “Your Friends for Real” tagline gets to the heart of what this new social media platform is all about, but it suggests advertising and other forms of brand marketing may not be welcome.

For now, BeReal is providing users with a form of escapism away from traditional social media. It wants to offer something different to what it perceives to be superficiality from some of its rivals, which rely on editing and post processing to project “perfect” moments. BeReal still uses push notifications, so it is not entirely an “old school”, contained experience, but it could carve out a place as a unique alternative to today’s biggest platforms.

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