BeReal Won’t Save Us From Social Media—Yet

6 minute read

If you’re not already a BeReal convert, you might soon find yourself curious to see what all the buzz is about. A steadily rising number of people are flocking to the social media app to share one (and only one) snapshot of their life each day.

Touted as the anti-Instagram due to its candid photo policies, BeReal has exploded in popularity in recent months. July was BeReal’s biggest month yet, with digital analytics platform Sensor Tower reporting that the number of times it was downloaded increased 86% month-over-month from June for a total of 7.8 million. Global downloads of the app have reached 22.8 million to date (still a fraction of Instagram’s roughly one billion monthly active users), with U.S. downloads accounting for nearly half that total, according to data platform Mentions of BeReal have also exploded on other social platforms, with the #BeReal TikTok hashtag racking up nearly 685 million views and BeReal memes poking fun at what various celebrities and fictional characters might post garnering tens of thousands of likes on Twitter.

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“BeReal’s popularity, like the ascent of TikTok, proves that it’s still possible for newcomers to the social media space to make an immediate impact,” Sensor Tower CEO Alex Malafeev says.

Read more: What It’s Like to Use BeReal, an Instagram Rival That Lets You Post Only Once a Day

BeReal’s rise comes at a time when the dominance of social media giants like Facebook, Instagram (both owned by Meta), and Twitter is being challenged by the likes of TikTok. But BeReal isn’t without its own issues. The app has not only been plagued by technical glitches, but is also likely to soon face a myriad of challenges related to rapidly scaling in size.

BeReal did not respond to TIME’s request for comment on its plans for adapting to an influx of new users.

To attract more users—and keep them—during this time of uncertainty, BeReal will have to prove it’s more than a fleeting trend.

The trouble with keeping it real

BeReal urges users to share unposed, unfiltered photos from daily life. Every user gets a daily notification alerting them that they have two minutes to click a button within the app to simultaneously take a photo with their phone’s front and back cameras and then share the resulting post to a feed that can only be seen by their mutual friends. The app doesn’t allow for any editing, and if you miss the two-minute window, your post will be labeled as late. You also can’t view any of your friends’ posts until you’ve shared your own, a feature that’s intended to prevent “lurking.”

The platform’s efforts to promote more authentic and less-frequent posting are particularly resonant among Gen Zers and millennials, with reporting that, as of June, 55% of the app’s users are in the 16-24 age group and 43% are in the 25-44 age group. In April, Maxwell Zuanich, a 19-year-old college student at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told TIME that BeReal’s main appeal is the way it’s set up to alleviate the pressures of appearing “perfect” online. “You’ll be doing something cool and start thinking, ‘I hope I get the notification right now,’” he said. “But that just shows how you usually want to only post the highlights of your life. It keeps you in the moment.”

If they’re able to continue to operate successfully after carving out a niche, platforms like BeReal that “debut with a bang have hopes of establishing a foothold from which to grow,” Malafeev says.

However, Niklas Myhr, a clinical associate professor of marketing at Chapman University known online as “The Social Media Professor,” says that while BeReal’s core premise of a more authentic social media experience has staying power, the app’s current method of implementing that idea may need to evolve. “The premise of countering the stylized, staged, manicured, perfectionist, big-time influencer post is sustainable,” he says. “But the idea of taking a photo in a random two-minute time slot could get old.”

As BeReal grows larger and users’ friend lists expand, Myhr says it will be necessary for BeReal to find ways to keep things fresh so users’ feeds don’t stagnate. “After a few months or years on the platform, you may be happy with the friends you have and stop looking to grow your network,” he says. “But then your engagement may go down if you don’t see that much novelty.”

Pointing to apps like Snapchat and Clubhouse, Myhr says that once an idea proves popular, other platforms tend to create their own versions of it. “Clubhouse is having difficulties now that five or six networks are doing the same thing with social audio,” he says. “A lot of people might feel that they can do [what they’re doing on BeReal] on other platforms.”

Issues of this ilk could also grow increasingly glaring if BeReal doesn’t sort out its technical bugs. The first two weeks of July saw a 254% increase in the number of negative reviews for BeReal’s performance, according to data intelligence platform Apptopia.

The social media business conundrum

Myhr says that as BeReal attracts investors based on its prospects for retaining a large user base, it’s going to have to start generating profits—whether that’s through selling ads, monetizing subscriptions, or another method. In the summer of 2021, BeReal said it received $30 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners, DST Global, and others. Then, in May, Insider reported BeReal was closing a new funding round for $85 million in fresh capital, led by DST, that would quadruple its valuation to over $600 million.

“Since they’ve gotten investors, people are going to inevitably start asking the big questions: How are you going to generate revenue? How is this business model sustainable?,” Myhr says. “They’re going to face pressures. And there’s only a few ways you can make money online.”

These are challenges that have faced other social media heavyweights.

Over the past year, the Facebook Papers have led to a cascade of allegations, congressional hearings and news reports about how Meta’s platforms prioritize profits over people. Now, after recording its first ever quarterly drop in revenue, Meta is continuing a push to revamp both Facebook and Instagram to compete with TikTok. But these changes have resulted in some significant user backlash.

Whether BeReal will be able to survive commercially while staying culturally relevant is still very much up in the air, Myhr says. “It’s easy to dismiss them based on their current implementation,” he says. “But if they’re able to refresh ‘how to be real’ in new formats, I think they can stay around a while longer.”

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