Anti-curation and anti-filter, social app BeReal promises in its irreverent app store description that it won’t help anyone become an influencer. But that hasn’t stopped influencers from making their BeReal snaps the latest social status symbol on bigger apps.
In the past two months, a growing number of BeReal photos have been finding their way onto the TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat posts of influencers and celebrities with millions of followers. Created by former GoPro employee Alexis Barreyat in 2020, in backlash to the “fakeness” of other social platforms, the app is designed to discourage pre-planned posts: Users are limited to one a day with no editing allowed, and strongly encouraged to post within a random two-minute timeframe alerted by the app each day. With perceived spontaneity becoming prized over the filtered “Instagram aesthetic” even on Instagram itself, BeReal’s format has become content gold across platforms.
Katie Feeney, a TikToker with nearly 7 million followers, took part in an “It’s time to BeReal” trend in May of uploading a TikTok slideshow of BeReal photos. The trend went viral among both influencers and mainstream users. These pictures ranged from typical social content, like going-out photos with friends, to images showing the more mundane aspects of life, such as picking up a food delivery bag or making a trip to the salon. Feeney adheres to the BeReal ethos by showcasing a range of what happens in her day. Since joining BeReal in March, she’s also frequently posted her photos from the app on her Snapchat.
“I choose pretty randomly. These can range from photos where I was productive or did something cool to [photos where] I’m watching Netflix,” she said.
With the transience of Snapchat, the unfiltered rawness of TikTok and the spontaneity of the early days of Instagram, the app has quickly caught on with Gen Z. The app’s format enforces informality through both rules and social conditioning. Photos must be taken through the app’s own camera, with no uploads allowed, and both the front and back cameras take photos simultaneously. Photos are only available for 24 hours and can be set to either public or friends only — but to view your friend’s photo, you must take your own first. Users are technically allowed to post outside the two-minute window, but the app notes how late they were. They can also do retakes, but once again, followers can see how many times someone tried to perfect a shot.
TikToker Pressley Hosbach (7.5 million followers), who joined BeReal in April, also participated in the TikTok trend in May, sharing a slideshow with both casual car selfies and trendy Coachella shots.
“I’ve only shared my BeReals on TikTok once or twice, but I love posting my favorite ones on my Instagram Stories so my followers can see what I’m doing,” she said. TikTok influencers Maddy Taylor (2.6 million), Emma Macdonald (828,000 followers), Mack Truex (377,000 followers), Emma Krajewski (319,000 followers) and Etalie Culverwell (169,000 followers) are among other users who participated in the BeReal slideshow trend.
In addition to influencers, celebrities are also getting on board: Tyler, the Creator posted a BeReal photo on his Instagram photo dump last week.
“Once you’ve curated enough BeReal photos, you’re essentially curating a ‘photo dump’ of your daily life, which can be fun to stitch together to show your unfiltered lifestyle to your audience. Since BeReal is a newer app, sharing these slideshows is a great way to drive curiosity from your audience on other platforms to join you on BeReal,” said Jake Webb, president of talent agency Slash Management. The agency works with Hosbach and other influencers including Nikita Dragun (14.3 million followers across platforms), Tati Mitch (5.3 million followers across platforms) and Snitchery (3 million followers across platforms). Webb said many of his influencer clients are now posting on BeReal.
As BeReal starts to infiltrate the feeds of mainstream social media platforms, brands are trying to figure out how to be present and active. While Chipotle and Delta have been the first to do branded content either on or about BeReal, beauty companies have yet to participate.
Jade Beguelin, co-founder of 4AM Skincare, likes to share BeReals on her personal account. She posted a well-timed poolside shot on her Instagram last week. But she doesn’t yet have BeReal plans for her beauty brand, she said.
“We thought about how we might use BeReal for 4AM, but honestly, we haven’t quite figured out how we would go about it and we don’t want to ruin the core value of the app,” she said.
For years, Gen Z has been turning away from the unrealistic curation of the standard social media feed, and it’s been credited with killing the Instagram aesthetic. This includes Gen-Z influencers, who are fans of the platform’s spontaneity.
“I love so many things about BeReal, but the main thing I love is that it’s not about how many followers, likes or comments you get. It’s about sharing what you are actually doing, so you and your friends can see what each other are up to,” said Hosbach.
The app allows a Snapchat level of privacy, with friend requests rather than one-way follows. Friend numbers are not public, and photo comments are visible to friends. The format remains simple and free of photo tagging, video, ads and links.
“The popularity of this indicates Gen Z is yearning for real connection and looking to free themselves from the pressures of overly filtering content to achieve an impossible-to-attain-in-real life aesthetic,” said Webb.
But old social media habits die hard, and influencers are already joking about how BeReal’s rules are putting more pressure on them. Jokes abound from people saying they kept their makeup on all day or stayed out at the bar later than they wanted, in order to make sure their BeReal popped off. Granted, this commentary is mainly tongue-in-cheek, for now. But if you look at the way Instagram has radically transformed the way people travel, dress, put on makeup and even eat, it’s not so hard to see an always-on mentality emerge if BeReal’s app usage becomes more widespread.
In the words of writer Elena Cavender at Mashable, “BeReals are the new selfie.” In her view, this means the app is “now just another way to commodify your life.”
With major influencers and celebrities on board and $30 million in Series A funding led by Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners and New Wave in June 2021, the formerly niche app has the potential for a much bigger digital presence. According to a representative for the company, executives are not available for press interviews.
But even fans of the app aren’t sure if it’s a true Instagram or TikTok replacement just yet.
“I don’t think there will be a world where it becomes as big of a portion of our lives as Instagram or TikTok,” said Beguelin. “It will continue to be a minor part of someone’s digital persona, but will become much more widely used.”