Once you have received the BeReal notification, you have two minutes to post a photo of yourself and one of your surroundings. (You press the button to take the photo, and you decide whether to post it or not.) You can comment on friends’ posts or react with “RealMojis” (selfies that mimic emojis), but there’s no there is no love. If you post late so you can share your fancy dinner reservation or cool makeup look, the app punishes you by tagging your photo with a note about how long you posted later. BeReal also discourages prowlers. You can’t see someone else’s BeReal du jour until you post your own.
The idea may seem a little strange. We are not used to sharing the most mundane or embarrassing moments in life. Even our humble Twitter swagger is still swagger. Nonetheless, BeReal is steadily gaining traction with young people, especially on college campuses.
“You don’t glorify anything like you do on Instagram or Facebook,” said Juliana Cafarella, a 19-year-old student at Northeastern University. “You don’t just show the best moments; you show what you’re doing at 12:42 on a Tuesday afternoon.
Founder Alexis Barreyat launched BeReal in 2020. Previously, he was a video producer at GoPro. He’s spent a lot of time with social media influencers at work, which made him think more deeply about the glossy veneer of social media. “Every time he opened Instagram, it was filled with ads and influencers and everyone’s perfect life,” Elisabeth Schuster, PR at BeReal, wrote in an email to Protocol. “His life wasn’t as perfect as they always made it out to be.”
BeReal’s authenticity offering has resonated with younger users, first in France, where it was developed. It became one of the top 10 social media apps in France last March, according to Barreyat’s LinkedIn post. He achieved that goal “without spending a single dollar on marketing and acquisition,” Barreyat wrote. BeReal began to grow exponentially in the spring of 2021, especially among French university students. The app raised $30 million in funding by Andreessen Horowitz, Accel and DST in June 2021, after being seeded by Kima Ventures and New Wave. According to Schuster, the app has millions of users, most of them from Europe. But the number of US users is growing every day.
In recent weeks, BeReal has been hitting American college campuses. student newspapers, The Harvard Crimson to the The Iowan Daily, took note of the phenomenon. BeReal actively recruits students by organizing parties on campus and recruit ambassadors on American campuses.
The move makes sense. College is the perfect breeding ground for social media startups. It consists of a mass of young adults living nearby, away from the prying eyes of first-time parents. Snapchat appeared in a undergraduate dorm at Stanford. Who could forget Yik Yak, the gossip app that risen from the dead last summer? Perhaps the most infamous example is Facebook, which started as a site “hot or not” for Harvard students. Young people have the power to propel new social media apps to stardom – as long as they stick with the apps long enough for everyone to hear about them.
Alan Phan, 18, calls BeReal the “best Snapchat”. Phan, a Dallas-based student at Tarrant County College, loved sharing Snapchat stories and adding footage in middle school and high school. But as the platform grew, adding news articles and Snapchat followers, he lost interest. Phan likes the simplicity of BeReal. It does not overwhelm users with content.
“It really takes away the competitive component of social media,” Phan said. “With BeReal, there is a stopping point.”
Once you have received the BeReal notification, you have two minutes to post a photo of yourself and one of your surroundings. Image: Lizzy Lawrence/Protocol
BeReal’s daily pitch is a bit reminiscent of Wordle, the popular daily game that took the internet by january storm. We all marveled at how a simple little pun could inspire such joy. The game has since spawned dozens of spin off. Of course, small successful ideas are always noticed by giants. The New York Times bought Wordle after a month, saying he would initially keep the service free.
The same fate often befalls beloved social media apps. Today’s biggest apps started with a similar vision for authentic content, like BeReal. Evan Spiegel, CEO of Snap Inc. first blog post said Snapchat aims to “communicate with the full range of human emotions — not just what looks pretty or perfect.” Snapchat is a particularly apt comparison because it was one of the first apps to introduce disappearing pictures; BeReal photos disappear from feeds after a day. No one was talking about influencers, the creator economy, or app marketplaces. Facebook (now Meta) bought Instagram in 2012. Instagram is a long way from its early days of square photo sharing. Now Instagram has stories like Snapchat, reels like TikTok, and retailers like Etsy.
As a social platform grows in power and user base, it’s tempting to add feature upon feature to keep people in the app. BeReal says it “works hard to keep the app as simple as possible.” Schuster wrote that users say, “BeReal is the only social media app I have on my phone because it doesn’t get me down.”
“Receiving this kind of criticism assures us that we are on the right track,” Schuster told Protocol.
Another, more common fate of social media is its loss of relevance. So many applications have been publicized and then quickly forgotten. Do you remember the fishing of 2016? The app’s breathless cover pivoted to claims it was over in a month. The company behind the 2015s Meerkat pivoted to Houseparty, which enjoyed a brief revival during the lockdown and is now also defunct. People were raving about the Clubhouse voice platform last year before it faded into virtual obscurity (except in Russia). The Dispo photo app has also faded away, but for different reasons.
Phan is a super fan of BeReal. But he admitted he had flirted with and then quit social media apps in the past – for example, bopdrop, a daily music-sharing app he used last summer. “After a few months, it kind of fell off,” Phan said. “My friends and I got a little bored. But I really liked this app when it came out.
BeReal feels different to him, however. The “Time to Be Real” notification encourages him to get out of bed sometimes. “I’m going to get up and run outside the house and say, ‘It’s a beautiful day guys, let’s go outside! ‘” Phan said. “Then I’ll end up starting my day there.” That’s exactly what BeReal wants, according to Schuster – although it’s interesting to see if its executives change their tune as more people download the app and they start monetizing beyond the VC money they are currently using.
“One of our core beliefs is that people should spend as little time as possible on their phones, including BeReal,” Schuster wrote. “The real world is out there and not online.”
BeReal users who spoke to Protocol – all students – said they would stay on the app as long as their friends were there, as expected. “I will continue to use it as long as it’s still a trend,” said Tulsi Patel, a 19-year-old student at Penn State. “I’m not going to keep posting on it if I don’t see my friends posting on it. Exactly.”
But everyone has different levels of friends, which makes it trickier to recruit friends for BeReal. Instagram seems contrived because most of our followers are acquaintances or strangers. That’s why so many people have turned to “finstas,” private Instagram accounts, to share more authentic posts with friends. BeReal content will only feel authentic if users feel comfortable with their audience. Cafarella doesn’t know who to be friends with on BeReal. Part of her wants to befriend everyone she knows in order to see what their real life is like. A bigger part of her enjoys the reality that comes with a small audience.
“It’s a good way to check in with my friends and see what they’re up to,” Cafarella said. “If someone’s been to bed for every BeReal in the last week, I can say, ‘Hey, are you okay? Do you need anything?'”
BeReal offers the possibility to share publications publicly or simply with friends. He is currently developing a feature that allows you to disconnect your account from your phone number, so that anyone who has you in their contacts cannot automatically find you. Schuster said more features that allow “users to control what they share and with whom” will be released soon. “We believe that slowly but surely people will realize that they don’t need to showcase a perfect life online to feel good and complete,” Schuster wrote.
Maybe we’re ready for more authentic social media. Instagram now allows users to create stories only for close friendsand Twitter is working on a similar feature. ICT Tac exploded during the early days of the pandemic, people bonding over the reality of being stuck at home. Phan said he thinks TikTok and BeReal have a similar feel when it comes to sharing real everyday life.
But there are still limits. A few days ago, Cafarella’s phone screen flickered as she attended her aunt’s funeral. “It’s time to get real. There are 2 minutes left to capture a BeReal and see what your friends are up to!” the notification read, happily.
Cafarella had worried the day before about the BeReal application being triggered during the funeral. Now it was actually happening. Luckily the service was over and people were queuing to leave. She quickly posted a photo of the chair in front of her with a small Bible on the floor, and a selfie of her puffy-eyed face.
“I was like, OK, well, that’s what I’m doing right now,” Cafarella said. “I’m sitting in a chair, crying. The people on BeReal are a group of my close friends. If they’re my best friends, they can see anything. It does not matter.
Cafarella knew that posting a BeReal right in the middle of his aunt’s funeral would cross a line. But she’s not opposed to her friends posting one at her house.
“If this was my wake and someone said, ‘Oh my god, it’s BeReal time,’ and all my friends came over and took a picture of a single falling teardrop and a picture of the coffin, it’s really honoring my heritage,” Cafarella said. “They would be absolutely right about that.”