It feels like a day doesn't go by without someone extolling the virtues of a more authentic social presence. Whether it's a photo dump on Instagram, or the "My taste in music is your face" trend on TikTok, being "sincere on main" is a growing trend.
This attitude has opened the playing field for influencers, seeing brands eschew sizeable followings for niche social currency. This is by no means a new phenomenon, but rather something that has bubbled in the background for a few years, exacerbated by the disillusionment with traditional influencers.
In turn, this has sparked lots of new applications of social media – think Dispo for spontaneous photo capture, and Clubhouse for unfiltered streams of consciousness. While these apps have had their moment in the sun, none have caught the heat quite like BeReal.
"Your friends for real," reads the BeReal tagline. It continues: "Every day at a different time, everyone is notified simultaneously to capture and share a Photo in 2 Minutes. A new and unique way to discover who your friends really are in their daily life."
It sounds like a compelling alternative, sure to pique the interests of early adopters. This may attest to why BeReal has seen a 315% increase in downloads this year alone.
BeReal launched in February 2020 (how's that for timing), claiming to be the antithesis of social media. At this point in time, Instagram was the leading social app – but we were reaching peak influencer, a bubble waiting to burst.
Conversations swelled around time well spent and digital detoxes. This was a ripe time for an alternative to launch, but the pandemic marked a stilted start for BeReal. Because, even if we want to show our authentic selves, our 9-5 lives are distinctly less interesting than our weekend presence.
But pivoting toward the staider, more mundane aspects of our lives may just be the tonic that the younger generations are gasping for. TikTok has massively stripped back the precedent for a polished aesthetic. This may be why TikTok itself is the current core traffic driver to BeReal, where users praise the anti-social social platform.
While cross-posting across platforms isn't novel, it's rare we see praise for a competing app break through the algorithm. It further positions TikTok as the ultimate facilitator for social connections, unphased by the success of competitors – as long as they are driving their own niche. Meta, however, could never. I would bet good money that it is currently working on a copycat feature.
While apps like this are designed to be consumer first, you can't help but wonder which brand is going to be brave enough to enter the BeReal universe first. Though you are encouraged to add just your friends and see their lives, influencers gaining popularity on the app cannot be far behind, ready to monetise their two minutes.
There's a clear opportunity for the mass of ecommerce brands. We see ads from brands that appear to be repurposed user-generated content, but often aren't at all. Rather, the ads are shot by influencers or agencies to give the illusion of authenticity.
This isn't the only trick of the trade being employed by these companies – make-up brand Kaja has built into its site UX an ambassador programme that encourages you to make a TikTok featuring your purchase. In exchange, you get paid $1 per 100 views. Both cases indicate brands could covertly enter the BeReal world through their community.
And community is the end goal for BeReal, as it is for any emerging social platform. In a bid to be the number one app among college students globally, they have an open application process to their ambassador programme.
While the rewards of joining this programme aren't explicit, there are promises of being given the tools to host parties and manage marketing budgets. You can't buy social capital, but you can certainly incentivise it.
So, while we have seen many apps try and fail, BeReal seems to have an oddly compelling formula that's catching momentum. Organic, authentic and skewed to a younger audience who are reaching peak social saturation are all indicators of success. If it succeeds, it marks another obstacle in how brands operate in younger skewed social spaces.
But, with that, we see more opportunities to become more creative in how we implement social media marketing. One thing is for sure though, community and authenticity continue to reign supreme. Being real is dead; long live being real.
Olivia Wedderburn is head of social and influence at TMW Unlimited