Let’s “Be Real” About BeReal

Author: Rohan Ganguli, Graphics: Acasia Giannakouros

The BRB Bottomline:

BeReal is a social media platform that has quickly taken a hold on younger generations. In the span of just two years, it has risen to the top of a fiercely competitive social media market against massive and long-standing competitors. Much of the app’s current success can be attributed to its skilled marketing team and the unique strategies it employs to gain traction. However, even after its initial burst of success, BeReal at this stage still has numerous challenges to overcome, such as gaining revenue, further increasing market share, and combating users not using the app as intended.

The Rise of BeReal

The Social Media Landscape Before BeReal

In the time leading up to social media platform BeReal’s release, the world of social media was getting slightly mundane, with the same big players dominating the market. During that period, Instagram and Facebook had maintained a steady foothold on the “personal social media” market in America. But, in 2020, BeReal threw its hat in the ring and shook up the market, by offering its unique twist on Instagram and Facebook’s existing photo-sharing features.

Of course, more social media platforms exist, but they aren’t as personable or authentic as BeReal. For example, there is LinkedIn, which focuses on professional development, Pinterest, which is mostly used for aesthetic image sharing, and Twitter, which serves more as an announcement platform for people to catch up on current events. However, these social media platforms all lack the authenticity that BeReal champions in its claim to fame. 

None of these competitors — LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Twitter — came close to unseating the long-standing kings of Instagram and Facebook. The outlook for new platforms in this seemingly competitive and brutal market did not appear to be very bright. That notion was reinforced when the sensational app Vine collapsed in 2016, after only having been released three years prior; it seemed as if there was no space in the social media market for new competitors to flourish. 

The Signpost for BeReal’s Rise

However, in 2017, a new app seemed to be blowing up — Musical.ly. It wasn’t like any other social media platform, and quickly gained a large base of young users. Seeing the potential, Chinese company ByteDance bought Musical.ly for around $1 billion in late 2017, and rebranded it to “TikTok.” TikTok now has a user count of over a billion, and has staked claim to a significant portion of the social media market. And critically, the app’s rise and dominance signaled potential for new social media platforms to exist and thrive.

This Summer’s Sensation

This past summer saw another new app squeeze into the mainstream social media scene: BeReal. In just the time between April and October, its download count jumped from 7.67 million to over 53 million. People were eager to share their exciting, depressing, and mundane summer moments in real-time, and BeReal offered just the method to do so.

Within two years from its release, after securing large amounts of venture capital funding, BeReal was able to implement a unique marketing strategy in early 2022. The company started using college campus ambassador programs to market itself to this social media savvy and influential crowd. This allowed it to gain massive traction over the coming summer, and carve out a place in the saturated social media landscape. 

Current Events

What is BeReal?

BeReal’s edge in the market comes primarily from its unique photo-sharing feature. Here’s how it works. 

BeReal sends a notification at a random time to all of its users worldwide. After this notification is sent out, individuals have two minutes to photograph what they are doing using the back camera of their phones. At the same time, the app takes a picture using the individuals’ front camera and posts the two photos overlaid on one another. The app also notes whether a user posted their BeReal on time — so everyone can see who is “lying” to them regarding the time they took the BeReal. There are no photo filters available, and the amount of times the photos are retaken is shared.

The focus of BeReal, intuitively, is to “be real.” It offers candid looks into random moments in the lives of each user — because both cameras are used, and the app’s notifications go off at the same time for everyone within the same time zone. This realistic insight into people’s lives allowed BeReal to quickly grow in popularity, especially among university students.

Who’s Using the App

BeReal is being rapidly adopted by younger people. Nearly 40% of Americans in the 18 to 24 age range have used BeReal, and an additional 24% in this demographic are interested in the app. While statistics aren’t available for ages under 18 yet, anecdotal evidence shows high schoolers and middle schoolers (age range of 12–17) are quickly catching on and using the app as well. 

Business Scope

How is BeReal Making Money?

Well, it’s not. 

BeReal is fully funded by various VC firms. While it has a valuation of over $600 million, backed by a rapidly growing user base, it has generated zero revenue and is currently operating at a loss. In recent years, VC firms have given many startups that are not profitable the much-needed cushion to focus on building a user base before making money — in fact, huge names like Lyft, Uber, and AirBnb are still not profitable.

However, these big-name companies are all on track to become profitable in the near future, and despite not generating profits, still generate revenue — BeReal hasn’t done either yet. Its lack of a profit engine is a pressing issue, as one of the reasons for the downfall of Vine was its inability to generate revenue. Vine lacked monetization and advertising options, which social media apps typically make revenue with. As BeReal has not announced any plans to monetize its product, it will likely not be making a profit anytime soon.

Potential Revenue Generation

Incorporating advertising into the BeReal feed and other empty spaces on its interface is likely the option the app will go forward with in order to become profitable. Additionally, the discover feed may slowly become a space that BeReal lets businesses market on — under the guise of “being real.”

Targeting a more financially stable user base that spends more freely on premium features can pay dividends as well. The app’s primary user base of college students may not be as large a source of revenue compared to middle-aged spenders. 

BeReal seems to have already started focusing on this middle-aged market — Saturday Night Live recently premiered a short on BeReal, where actor Miles Teller uses the app during a bank heist. Nearly 47% of adults between the ages of 30 and 44 watch SNL, and this was likely a sponsored marketing push toward a more diverse user base than simply young people and students. 

Competition & Copying

Copying has always been an issue in business — and it’s particularly egregious in the social media sector, as social media features typically lack intellectual property protections such as patents. After TikTok’s user base rose rapidly, Instagram and YouTube both released new features: Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts. Both are video components of their respective apps and blatantly copy core features of TikTok. Instagram has also copied Snapchat’s features before, including the incredibly popular stories feature. These examples all point toward the ability of established companies to easily incorporate features from new competitors into their apps. 

While TikTok and Snapchat are still thriving — likely due to the lateness at which competitors copied their features — BeReal is in a critical stage where if Instagram or Snapchat implement the same features effectively, it could possibly lead to the collapse of BeReal. TikTok has already copied BeReal’s functionalities with their new feature TikTok Now, but anecdotally it doesn’t seem to be as effective a competitor (user statistics are currently unavailable for the feature).


How “Real” are People on Other Apps?

Instagram’s users have already tried to incorporate realness into their profiles. “Finstagrams” and “spam accounts” — which are more personal Instagram accounts where users post more casual content — are mainstays of the platform. The “photo dump” trend that started near the beginning of this year (and is still continuing) was a similar movement of simply posting recent pictures that were more “real” than the typical stylized and carefully selected Instagram post. 

However, most of these devolved into the typical “fakeness” of social media. Photo dumps became highly curated, and spam and “finstagram” accounts can be cumbersome to maintain along with individuals’ main Instagram accounts. TikTok is also full of people that portray themselves as making quick videos and posting informal content, but generally aren’t; filters, makeup, long searches for the right lighting, and other planning and setup typically fill the behind-the-scenes for many videos on the platform. 

So Are People Being Real on BeReal?

The crux of BeReal relies on its “real” aspect — it’s live and in the moment. Furthermore, it’s literally a moment users don’t get to choose. But how real are people actually being on the app?

My answer to that question is: “kind of.” My answer is currently anecdotal — there doesn’t seem to be publicly-released statistics on how many people post late or are setting up “BeReal-able” moments. But from my personal experience, the number seems to be increasing. Many users wait until they’re doing something more interesting in their days to post, and while the timing of their posts give them away, there is no further deterrent that stops people from posting hand-picked scenes out of their lives. 

But to give credit to the app, BeReal is still much more candid than most apps — and is hopefully able to push forward towards a less curated age of social media, allowing people to be more raw and unfiltered when sharing moments in their lives. 

Take-Home Points

  • The social media market has a degree of saturation, and the scope for new competitors in this seemingly fortified market has always seemed weak. Many apps have short-lived lifespans, but after the rise of TikTok in 2019, the social media landscape seemed to have space for new apps. 
  • BeReal used unique marketing strategies, such as using college campus ambassador programs to market their app to a social-media-savvy and influential crowd, allowing the app to gain a large user base over the Summer 2022 period. 
  • BeReal’s unique and core feature is that it sends a notification at a random time to all of its users worldwide — you have two minutes to photograph what you’re doing using the back camera of your phone, and at the same time it takes a picture using your front camera. 
  • BeReal’s has a valuation of nearly $600 million, but it actually generates zero revenue and is operating at a loss. In order to survive, it may require incorporating features to generate money, like ads or sponsored content availability. 
  • The crux of BeReal relies on the “real” aspect — it’s live and in the moment. In fact, it’s a moment users don’t get to choose. But it’s debatable on how “real” people are being on the app — late posts and setup for BeReals seem to be becoming commonplace.

1 Comment

  1. BeReal is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms of 2022, with 10,000 daily active users in March 2021 to more than 15 million as of October 2022. BeReal encourages people to be more authentic, with unedited photo in real time. Only time can tell if BeReal can maintain its growth sustainably.

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