The Rise (and fall?) of BeReal

Chances are, this time last year, you weren’t familiar with BeReal. But now, you are. Unless you’re living in the 1980s or don’t use a Smart Phone, that is. The self-proclaimed “anti-Instagram” app has rapidly risen to prominence since the beginning of this year, and if you ask us, it was much needed. 

But let’s go back even further to 2020. The year that was taken over by the pandemic. And the year that saw a 10.5% rise in social media usage compared to the previous year. (We were stuck in our houses all day, what else were we meant to do other than mindlessly sit on TikTok or paint on a face of makeup just to take a selfie for the grid?) But aside from said harmless scrolling, research has emerged that there was a link between higher use of social media and an increased risk of depression during the COVID crisis. Coincidence?

While the French entrepreneurs (Alexis Barreyat and Kévin Perreau) who created BeReal weren’t expecting a global pandemic, 2020 was almost the perfect time to develop and launch a photo-sharing app that disrupted the negative side of social media. (Despite only recently going viral, we’re all still dealing with the impact of the last two years, and some light relief is much needed.)

The goal was to re-establish social media’s original intentions: to connect with our friends and families without worrying about filters, followers, and likes. Rather than being saturated with unrealistic expectations of body image and the hyper-curated ideals of Instagram, BeReal encourages the opposite. To post once a day within a two-minute window and capture your authentic self – whether you’re still in your pyjamas or not.

What does it mean for the future of socials?

While Gen Z is currently favouring the app, it’s not the first time they’ve rejected the shiny, algorithmic nature of Instagram. If you remember, the late 2010s saw an influx of private “finsta” accounts, where young people would share funny, candid – and most importantly – no-filter images with their friends. Of course, IG capitalised on this later with its Close Friends feature,  but regardless, with new apps like BeReal still infiltrating the space, it suggests that there’ll always be a place for authentic platforms. 

While the download and monthly user figures haven’t quite reached the mammoth IG/TikTok/Twitter levels (according to Statista, April 2022 recorded one *billion* active Instagram users), it doesn’t mean that the app still isn’t making its mark. 

For some context, we’ve found out the install stats for this year. The numbers alone are a dream for most app developers, never mind how BeReal has made such an impact on the major players in the social media space…

As of October 2022, the installation numbers are at over 53 million. This was a massive increase from August when the download figure was 28 million, and even more so than July and April, when the numbers were 20 million and 7.67 million, respectively. 

Plus, the app has made the “I’ve made it” crossover, with it being mentioned virally on other platforms. For example, the #BeReal TikTok hashtag racked up over 685 million views, and it also generated plenty of memes on Twitter and IG that poked fun at things fictional characters and celebs might post on their accounts. 

As it stands, BeReal is only going up, and it’s taking an independent stance as it does it.

Will they introduce ads?

To be fair to BeReal – IG, TikTok and Snapchat have realised their popularity and potential and have all released features that capitalise on what makes the photo-sharing app stand out: its front and back camera set-up and its one-post per-day strategy. 

Which is why people are obviously now wondering if BeReal will follow in the footsteps of the major apps and figure out a way to monetise it. Aka, will it introduce ads? According to the Financial Times, the people behind BeReal are looking to monetise the app without swamping users with – let’s face it – these irritating ads.

However, the BeReal executives are apparently keen to keep their team small and focus on improvements unlike rivals like Snapchat and Facebook. These larger apps are known for raising large sums of cash from venture capitalists in order to continue expanding globally.

This non-negotiable (i.e not ruining the user experience plus avoiding the “one-hit wonder” status of other apps like Houseparty or Clubhouse) has seen investors urging BeReal to look at potential paid features or subscriptions to start gaining an actual income.

This would see the core product remaining free for users, but providing them with optional extras that you have to pay for. It would look similar to the social platform Discord – mainly used by crypto enthusiasts and gamers – which charges a cheap monthly subscription (from $2.99) for bonus content, like digital stickers. 

These monetising extras aren’t likely to be accessible until late next year, sources have said, though. This is because the small team (not as many people to pay) and its capital reserves mean there’s no rush for the app to start scaling up cash-wise. Plus, the main priority right now is focusing on the momentous growth.

Brands are using it

While you can’t buy an ad on BeReal (just yet, anyway), brands have found a way to infiltrate the space. For example, Chipotle, the American restaurant chain have started experimenting with the app by sharing coupons on it. Encouraging their customers to add them on BeReal, they’ve been sending their social media team out to locations such as Times Square and capturing their one-a-day snaps. 

E.l.f Beauty, the cosmetics brand that’s enjoyed viral success on TikTok has also jumped on the BeReal bandwagon as well. They’ve been “treating” their followers to exclusive access to the goings-on at the beauty brand, including BTS photo shoots and product drops. When they launched their BeReal account, they promised their best-selling Holy Hydration 5-piece skincare kit to the first 150 followers and superfans through a post with a promo code. 

Other brands that are utilising the Gen Z hangout space include SourPatch Kids, Trident and PacSun – all of which have been posting BeReal-style photos on their other platforms. 

However, the app has found a way to limit this kind of promotion. While accounts like Chipotle and E.l.f Beauty haven’t been kicked off BeReal altogether, they’ve currently got “too many friends”, which means no one else can add them. And that means there’s no way for any more people to view their content and be influenced to buy their products. 

In the long run though – just like the investors’ plea to monetise the app – it’s unlikely that BeReal will be able to fend off these big brands if they want to stay relevant and keep up with the bigger apps. It would be a bad move money-wise to reject the big advertising budgets, too.

Is BeReal here to stay?

Putting the hype aside, the app still only hots an average of 9% daily users, which is significantly lower than that of Facebook and Instagram. But regardless of whether BeReal fizzles out over the next year or two or makes its permanent mark on the social space, there’s no denying it’s done wonders to shift the way we view social media, and has highlighted demand for more realness and less curated content amongst Gen Z in particular.

And for this reason alone – no filters, comparisons, unrealistic beauty and lifestyle standards –  it makes us think that people will continue to “BeReal” for a long time. 

It’s whether BeReal sticks to its OG roots that’s the question. While features introduced to monetise are likely inevitable for the longevity and security of the app, hopefully, the founders keep as much creative control as possible when it comes to scaling it up. That’s the ideal scenario – we all get to keep posting pictures of our keyboards and our lunch for ever and ever, and ever and ever.

Ellie Mckenna

Content Executive

MSc Digital Marketing & Communications. All things pattern and design. Find me eating pizza in a floral print 🌸🍕
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