In the overproduced and hypermanicured world of social media, a unique prospect in the form of an app that focuses on authenticity is making waves and taking hold across college campuses — BeReal.
Founded in January 2020 by French former GoPro employee Alexis Barreyat, the app asks users to post unvarnished glimpses of their everyday lives during a constantly changing 2-minute window each day. Posts come in the form of photos, which include snapshots taken simultaneously from a phone’s front-facing and back-facing cameras, which are then posted in the feeds of users and their friends. Users who don’t post can’t see what their friends have uploaded.
The app, offering little in the way of new technology but standing apart with its pared-down style and functionality, has seen a surge of interest this year. Daily downloads of the app have grown by 315 percent since January, according to Apptopia, an app analysis company. And since April 1, BeReal has been one of the top 10 most downloaded free social networking apps for iPhones nearly every day, according to SensorTower, another app tracking company.
“You can see a whole other side to people that isn’t just their presentable side to social media,” said Errin Mathieson, 21, a college student in Dundee, Scotland, who began using the app after a friend showed it to her a few weeks ago. “It gets really tiring and exhausting for people constantly like scrolling through Instagram and seeing people having these perfect lives.”
The organic growth it’s enjoying is helped by millions of dollars in investment and growing hype around the app. BeReal has garnered positive headlines in reviews and recently raised $30 million in a funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, one of the biggest venture capital firms. And as Apptopia pointed out, the French company has been actively promoting itself on colleges across the United States via a campus ambassador program, in which representatives are said to be recruiting with free drinks and events.
It’s easy to be skeptical about the hype around the app, though.
In previous years, viral apps such as Vero and Peach have seen flash-in-the-pan growth that didn’t last. Comparatively, however, BeReal’s growth has progressed at a relatively steady pace that isn’t letting up, according to data provided by Apptopia.
Tegan Sullivan, 23, considers herself an early adopter of the app.
“When I first joined in January, there was like no one on it. It was me and like me and the friend who got me into it,” she said. “Now I think I have like 30 friends on it.”
“It’s just so much more casual in terms of just like, I almost feel like there’s not an expectation that you’re doing something fun,” she said.
Sullivan said the pressure of traditional social media has become draining.
“You take photos and then you spend three days editing them and then you have to post it at that peak time,” she explained of Instagram. “And BeReal, it kind of goes back to that idea, if it’s just like you just click it and post it.”
Social media analyst Matt Navarra said that Mathieson and Sullivan’s observations fit into a larger trend among young people seeking “authenticity” in their social media experiences.
“There’s this change in the way that social media apps are used, what people want from social media apps, particularly the younger generations,” he said. “There’s an interest in something authentic and less staged, and that actually don’t require huge amounts of investment to participate in or be a member of.”
Despite the app fitting with what’s wanted at the moment, he’s skeptical that BeReal can translate current interest among consumers into a lasting audience.
“I’d be surprised if it’s around in a year’s time,” he said. “Much like the viral apps before it, they could fail for a number of different reasons.”
Navarra says the primary reason BeReal could struggle is that its core product isn’t all that interesting.
“After a while, you’re kind of seeing the same people at work at their desk or lying in the park and walking to the pier — that doesn’t last very long, that doesn’t keep you hooked in.”
To survive beyond the moment, Navarra says, he’d expect to see innovation at BeReal soon.
“It needs to bring on more people. It needs to give people more functionality and features in there. It needs to create an environment that’s going to give space for advertisers to do what they need to do,” he said. “You’ve shown us a trick, now what else have you got for us?”