How To Be Real

How To Be Real 📸

Surging in popularity, BeReal is a new photo-sharing app that encourages a more authentic use of social media. This week’s 52INSIGHTS explores why it’s catching on, and what it tells us about youth’s digital preferences.


At some point every day, at a different random time, everyone with the BeReal app gets a notification on their phone. You then have two minutes to capture and share a ‘dual’ photo (from the front camera and the back, simultaneously). As the developers put it, it’s a ‘new and unique way to discover who your friends really are in their daily life.’ The functionality on the app discourages lurking by only allowing users who post images to see their feed and friends’ posts. While not incentivizing likes, there are options to react and comment on friends posts and you can also choose to post late if you want (but this late time stamp will show up on followers’ feeds). Additional features include a Snapchat-esque map where you can see where your friends are in the world, plus popular WidgetMoji and RealMoji capabilities that allow for personalised reactions to posts.

Despite emerging trends of younger generation’s ‘dumb phone’ use (a backlash to smartphone addiction), new apps looking to break onto the social media scene are plentiful. Can Be Real really catch on? Maybe, if the latest figures are anything to go by. The app launched in 2020 but this year has grown 315% since Jan 1st. It’s amassed 7.67 million downloads year-to-date. Where are the users? France (where the app is based) leads with 20.5% of installs, followed closely by the US (19.7%). According to critics, however, it does have a way to go to prove it can sustain success and become embedded in the everyday app rotation - we’ve seen apps like Peach & Dispo become hugely popular with early adopters and then quickly fade into the background. We won’t know this until paid app acquisition marketing campaigns slow down and it's left to fend for itself.


I’m just now realising how addicting social media is in general. It [Be Real] highlights how you’re only trying to show the highlights of your life.” Matt Zoonich, app user

It’s an antidote to general social disillusionment: It’s no secret that younger generations are struggling with the negative impacts of social media - on mental health and general wellbeing. Research from JAMA Psychiatry found that teens who use social media more than 3 hours a day ‘may be at heightened risk of mental health problems’ and 20% of people who have at least one social media account feel they have to check them at least once every three hours to avoid feeling anxious (read more here). BeReal says its goal is to create an alternative to other social networks that are addictive and that focus on amassing influence - and its campaign provocatively asks ‘what if social media was different?’ Of course there is a slight irony to a social media app inviting users to ‘live in the moment’ - but also on their phone. However, the functionality of the app encourages no use of filters or editing, which, together with the random push notification, means that in general the content published is more real and raw than polished and perfected. This is echoed in feedback from app users:

"I've been feeling disillusioned with Instagram for a while. The filters that show you what you'd look like with botox and lip fillers feel so dystopian - BeReal is a nice break from the pressure of always appearing perfect online." Ellen Corrigan, Social & Digital Innovation Executive, THINKHOUSE.

The ‘less is more’ sentiment: The limited timing for the use of the app is something that people really value. This means that the time spent on the app is better spent - there is a greater content quality reward for just a few minutes of your time a day, even though there’s no way to amass followers and fame. This means the app isn’t as draining to the user's energy and headspace.

"I like BeReal because it's only really usable for a limited time in the day and there's no risk of overusing it - I'm actually excited to get the notification and see what everyones up to. I could find myself scrolling pointlessly for hours on other social media apps but you can't do that with BeReal. What's rare is wonderful!" - Holly, 25

"I love BeReal for the in-the-moment snapshot into its users' lives. There is less pressure to always feel like you are appearing productive - it's so much more personable than other social networking apps, only your closest friends get to see what you're doing day-to-day and you don't spend hours scrolling on the app." Fódhla O’Connell-Grennell, PR & Advocacy, Account Executive, THINKHOUSE

It provides a sense of intimate community spirit (and drives spontaneous fun!): The glimpse you get into people’s real lives via the app is something new for users - and some of them have actually found themselves learning more about their friends through the app. On the flipside some feel it might be encouraging them to be a little more spontaneous planning their day - just in case the notification comes through when they are doing something different!

"I really like BeReal because no one is using it to look hot - it's not an app for popularity or vanity. It feels like it's made for the average person, not celebrities or influencers. Plus, your friends can't lie about what they're doing!" - Niamh, 25

You never know when it's going to come in the day, so you need to be ready at all times. Now you want to always be doing something that makes you look good so you're out doing these things for yourself, waiting to get caught! I love the community element of everybody showing a mundane and previously unseen aspect of their daily routine, it's insightful and I feel like I'm actually learning more about my friends this way.” - Luke Dalton, Designer, THINKHOUSE.

For now, users seem to only be adding the people they are fully comfortable sharing unfiltered, realistic moments with. The big takeaway here at The Youth Lab is that young people feel like it’s going back to what social media was trying to be all about in the first place - a tool to bring people together rather than enabling people to become less social.

There’s supportive campus marketing strategies behind it: In the US, the BeReal marketing team has tapped into advocacy on college campuses. It recruits young users via a college ambassador program, which allows students to host events that educate others about the app. Ambassadors host parties (with a budget) and identify moments to create activations around in return for mentorship and salary. Yugo, a global student accommodation provider and THINKHOUSE client has a similar strategy to connect with its young audience. Nancy Olaoye, Social Media & Content Manager, Yugo explains: “Our Yugonauts programme is all about peer-to-peer connection, driving community and relatability. It's a group of young content creators who we engage (and reward) to spread the word about Yugo and how it helps all students live their best lives. The Yugonauts are the voice of the students, while helping build our brand of being the experts when it comes to knowing and understanding the needs of young students."


For those who think we need a new social media app in order to be truly authentic, maybe we should take that as a sign to be more authentic throughout our existing social media presence…" Ben Telerski, student, 21

Less curation, more living is the new aspiration on social media. While it is reminiscent of the early Snapchat days, the BeReal trend more broadly echoes a new generation’s approach to social media consumption and publishing. Aesthetic trends in general seem to be moving away from perfected visions of unrealistic lifestyles, to more real glimpses into your friends thoughts and realities. The rise of TikTok and the Instagram ‘photo dump’ are both symptoms of this cultural shift of more (seemingly) casual posting. It’s also a shift away from platforms that are more heavily advertised - again highlighting the preference for and strength in creator-led content and partnership strategies.


Intimacy is a hot commodity among young digital natives. It can even feel radical. When content feels more exclusive, the reward or return for engaging feels much higher. Think about how you could create a sense of intimacy in how you approach online content - this can be through visuals, tone of voice or targeting strategies. Everyone still loves a good behind the scenes, when it feels real.

When a new app starts to take off, engaging early on always garners the highest reward. To decide whether something is worth the investment it's all about knowing your audience and your goals. Even with a pilot test you can end up with worthwhile experiment learnings or a standout winning story. While the beauty of BeReal is that it’s all about close friends, there could be future opportunities for marketing on the platform via creators. We haven’t seen anything noteworthy yet, but individuals affiliated with brands (eg. beauty brand ambassadors around Coachella) have been active on the app. Brands can also take creative inspiration from the format of a dual camera visual (back and front camera) to reveal behind the scenes or use visual cues to connect cleverly with the audience we know are using BeReal.

Download & try out BeReal here.