No filter, no algorithm, no video, no likes, no ads and no curated “aesthetic.” It’s time to BeReal, the latest social media app that’s all about authenticity.
BeReal sends out a notification to all its users at a random time each day, and they have a two-minute window to post two simultaneously snapped pics: one facing out to show their location, and a selfie to convey their mood. With its low-fi look and lack of time to find the perfect pose, it’s being hailed as the anti-Instagram. The app has taken off with a predominantly Gen Z userbase, in part due to its lack of polish.
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“Everyone’s kind of burnt out on content creation fatigue,” said Sierra Moore, creative director of social marketing firm Open Influence, citing the current levels of curation on both Instagram and TikTok. “The snapshot levels the playing field.”
Even TikTok, which started with an air of spontaneous authenticity, has become highly produced. There are fewer people dancing in their sweatpants and more scripted content.
“Now the threshold is higher to create a TikTok just from a creator lens,” said Geoffrey Goldberg, chief creative officer of content agency Movers + Shakers. “It doesn’t give you that same level of transparency into just normal everyday life. BeReal we see as filling this new, previously unmet need for Gen Z to just really have a crazy level of transparency. The fact that it’s growing so fast shows how hungry this generation is for that level of visibility into each other’s lives. It’s really hit a passion point for people.”
Launched in 2020 by Paris-based cofounders Alexis Barreyat and Kevin Perreau, BeReal received a $30 million cash injection from Andreessen Horowitz and Accel last year, and a second round was reported earlier this year valuing the company at $600 million. BeReal started to boom earlier this year and sits atop the Apple App Store in the U.S. with more than 28 million downloads so far.
With its simultaneous, surprise notifications, it’s also gamified social media in a way that encourages everyone to play along, similar to the frenzy of Wordle last year. But the limited posting time frame makes it more challenging for brands to present curated content to the world.
E.l.f. was the first beauty brand to post on the platform earlier this month. The company spent weeks exploring and “just learning the ropes,” said chief brand officer Laurie Lim, and worked with Goldberg’s Movers + Shakers before launching a secret promo code to 150 followers. Lim said the campaign was a success, but added they had no expectations or metrics.
“We definitely did not have any ‘we need to hit this many fans’ [target], it was just making sure we put something out there and just really waiting to see how the community responded to us,” she said. Lim noted that E.l.f. has been an early adopter on other platforms, including TikTok, Triller and Clubhouse, among others.
“With BeReal, we see a real opportunity to just give fans this unfiltered, authentic look at E.l.f.-exclusive content: what’s going on behind the scenes, what the office looks like. So [early adopting] is allowing us to listen to what our consumer and community will respond to, but also give them a level of transparency that we feel that not a lot of brands have offered yet,” she said.
Contemporary brand PacSun has traditionally been an early adopter of social as well. But in a meta-move this time around, it posted simulated BeReal on Twitter, which led to followers trying to find them on BeReal.
“It shows there is the hunger there, or at least a curiosity,” said PacSun senior manager or influencers and social media Tyler MacDonald. BeReal itself has been meme-ified, with people creating fake posts with film or historical characters. PacSun saw it as a moment to be in on the joke.
“For us, the most important thing about organic social, and why it’s so exciting, is it just gives us the opportunity to explore alongside the consumer. So we really want to be activating as they are figuring it out as well,” he said.
PacSun plans to launch on the new platform “within the next couple of months” and, like its Gen Z users, not overthink it. “We’re not trying to make sure everything is perfectly placed, and that speaks to the future of social too. It’s a little bit more, ‘Let’s just have fun and get it out.’ That’s really been our approach to a lot of these newer platforms,” MacDonald said.
It’s a chance to be a little more quirky or daring — showing off incomplete designs or works in progress, for example. “Brands have been saying they actually like the idea that it is less permanent, so that they can do a bigger play, whether it’s a discount code or sharing a sneak peek versus putting it out on the larger platform where there’s millions of people getting a look at what they’re working on that they might not want to share yet,” Moore added.
But while BeReal might be all about transparency and sharing, its founders Barreayat and Perreau don’t give interviews and the company is secretive about its growth plans, leaving analysts to speculate about how they might monetize without alienating its young users with ads.
Brands could pay for verified profiles if they will be providing codes through the app, or a subscription service similar to Patreon where fans could get exclusive content. That model could also work for influencers; Instagram rolled out a similar subscription feature in July.
“I think just as anything starting out, [brands are] a little nervous to put too much of a dollar amount toward it until they know if it’s going to be worth it. But it can pay off if you’re the first adopters on it,” said Moore, comparing it to the initial days of TikTok.
Social media stars have burned bright and quickly burned out before — who can forget Clubhouse? It turns out a lot of its former users. That app peaked at more than 4 million users in early 2021, but dropped below 900,000 less than six months later after it failed to attract brands and influencers.
According to McDonald, the question is less around the BeReal’s potential longevity or an investment than finding ways to strengthen PacSun’s connection with consumers. “There is manpower that goes behind it, but I also think there is a little bit less of a risk,” he said, noting that they’ve been sharing real-time content during photo shoots over Instagram, and have returned to Snapchat showcasing employee takeovers.
They are exploring similar ideas for BeReal. “[The platform] is an opportunity to show just a more raw look,” MacDonald said. Giving the account to interns, or the photo department for a day, are options they are considering.
Lim also said E.l.f. is looking at the idea of putting the account in the hands of its interns, or perhaps asking for customer input on a new lipstick shade, for example, as a way to strengthen the direct connection with its followers.
While Instagram has morphed into a shopping platform and TikTok launched a new e-commerce ad suite that juices the algorithm for brands to get their ads in front of more eyeballs, BeReal positions itself as a return to the “IRL friends only” nature of early social networks.
“The way the BeReal algorithm and friending works, it’s not really conducive for a brand to go out and truly recruit new audiences [and] I don’t see it as conducive for an influencer to build a following,” said Goldberg, noting it connects via a phone’s contact list and a user can only see others’ content if they have posted their own.
And unlike Instagram and TikTok, which fill one’s feed with videos or content from creators they don’t follow, BeReal is positioned as a more intimate way to build community among superfans of a brand rather than push product. In the app’s own words: “BeReal won’t make you famous. If you want to become an influencer you can stay on TikTok and Instagram.”
“That’s a totally different paradigm,” added Goldberg of the app’s approach. For now, users need to seek out the brands they love, though he believes the competing apps can fulfill different needs.
“Creators and brands can connect with the community they already have on TikTok, or Instagram, and share cross platform. It’s not necessarily one replacing the other, but going hand in hand,” Moore added. “As far as monetizing, they’re going to have to be careful, because the BeReal vision is not to become that.”
With that in mind, brands are trying to find the right balance between connection and commerce.
“It’s test and learn for sure, and what we want to do is make sure we’re keeping pace with what people on BeReal actually want. We always want to be there in an authentic and genuine way,” Goldberg said. “We never want to be that brand that’s crashing the party.”