Is BeReal dead? We asked two social media experts and the app’s COO to find out

By Fleurine Tideman

Published Mar 12, 2024 at 11:01 AM

Reading time: 6 minutes

In all my years on Instagram, I’ve never taken as many photos of my coffee mug as in my brief time on BeReal. Only, instead of a Louvre-worthy foam leaf, it was the dregs of a homemade cappuccino, perched unassumingly in front of my laptop screen. On the reverse side—the selfie side for all you millennials—you’d find me forcing an unnatural grin, while simultaneously trying to hide my double chin.

This is what my half-dozen friends on BeReal saw on a daily basis after I, like most of the world, downloaded the app in an attempt to cultivate an authentic online presence. I diligently uploaded my in-real-time photo, day after day, panicking as the timer counted down. I reacted to my friends’ equally mundane posts and celebrated our somewhat misguided bravery in sharing such moments. Whenever I had actual plans in a day, such as a concert, I would ensure I ‘saved’ my photo opportunity for that moment.

It was exciting at first. I’m self-employed, so sometimes days go by without me seeing anyone but my roommate and the cute they/them barista. Suddenly, through one app, I had a glimpse into my friends’ lives. There is Liv* on her morning run, while I’m watching TikToks in bed. There is Adam* staying late at the office yet again, deep in the throes of capitalism. And, of course, Ginny*, always with a perfect face of makeup and conveniently close to a full-length mirror holding a Rupi Kaur book of poetry.

The excitement wore off quickly. I stopped posting daily, and then it only happened when I had something ‘worth’ showing. My friends also stopped posting as often, yet we all kept the app, determined not to delete the reminder of our attempt at authentic social media. Classic.

For a moment, BeReal was the talk of the town, the doorway into a new era of social media. But just as quickly as it rose, it seemed to fall from grace. No scandal marred it, but rather a simple, capitalistic, 21st-century loss of interest.

But, has the reign of BeReal really ended? Has Instagram reclaimed its rightful throne? Is there a place for authentic social media, or do we merely wish that this was the case? Is it time to delete the app and make space for Candy Crush once more? SCREENSHOT spoke to Romain Salzman, COO of BeReal, as well as two social media experts to find out the truth.

@beowulftiktok

the app was supposed to be for friends. why am i following southwest airlines 😭 #tech #techtok #bereal bereal update does anyone use bereal

♬ original sound - Nathan Espinoza

What made BeReal different from the rest?

Digital media in the 2020s can be a brutal place. It’s not like 2010, when Instagram hit the market and could easily rival the internet’s leading lady, Facebook. Nowadays, we have TikTok, X (let’s be real, Twitter), Threads, Pinterest, and Snapchat—yes, teens still use it for courtship and Snap Originals. How was a brand-new player going to get past the App Store bouncer?

As Salzman explained, “BeReal was founded in January 2020 as a counter to what social media had become. We wanted to build something that fought against the toxicity, doom scrolling, and FOMO that surrounded social media and instead think about how to bring people together with their closest friends and family.”

You’d choose which friends to follow, and at a specific point of the day, everyone would be asked to share what they’re doing at that moment—a photo of your front view and a selfie. Salzman described it as “a picture that celebrated the mundane day-to-day and the occasionally exciting single moments, the highs and lows.”

What makes it so different from the rest, namely the other photo-focused social media platform we’re all so familiar with, Instagram? Well, you only share one photo a day, and many of us don’t even manage that on Instagram. It’s all private accounts, so friend requests only. Plus, it’s always of one picture of one moment, not a snap chosen out of a dozen possibilities and poses.

@bereal

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♬ son original - .

Shauna Madden, the Head of Social and Paid Media at ilk Agency, believes that BeReal’s success was all about timing. “The timing was key, of course. Frustration around Instagram was increasing, as it seemed to just continually ruin the user experience with every update; more ads, a clunky ‘immersive’ feed which played videos on full volume, and far less content from friends,” the expert explained.

“As Instagram became less and less about us, and more just a place where people get sold to; BeReal felt like a real antidote to that,” Madden continued.

Despite being the newest and most ‘groundbreaking’ social media app, Madden views BeReal as “a sort of hark back to the way of social media and internet usage of old—the sort of space that craved reality, authenticity, and reliability.”

It’s true, my unflattering coffee snapshots are almost a #throwbackthursday to early Instagram when we’d use purple-hued filters, a dozen hashtags, and had no concept of spacing. You think millennials are bad on social media now? You should’ve seen them back when selfies were first invented. Scary stuff.

BeReal was supposed to be more than just another app on your phone, it was intended to be the start of something new. So, why did it slip off everyone’s radars?

How did BeReal lose its hype so quickly?

Quite like the Roman Empire TikTok trend, BeReal conquered the world and then disappeared into oblivion. I’m not sure what came after the Romans, perhaps the European Union? Dear Boomers, this is a joke.

Slowly, we stopped grabbing our phones the minute the timer went off. We were still curious to see everyone else’s posts, but that curiosity no longer outweighed the comfort of rotting in bed and letting the notifications pile up.

Madden summarised it perfectly: “The main reason for the decline, in my opinion, is that the novelty simply wore off.”

Don’t get me wrong, I still loved seeing glimpses of my friends’ days—I imagined it as if they were carrying me around in their pocket like a tiny Gulliver. But even these small thrills weren’t worth admitting the banality of my own life. My depression was making a bigger comeback than skinny jeans, and I didn’t want to admit that I was wearing the same stained sweater for the third day in a row.

Sam Budd, CEO and Founder of Buddy Media doesn’t see this fall as an inevitability; instead, he believes that the BeReal team is responsible for it.

Budd explained: “I think a big part of the decline in interest in the app was the move away from its values of authenticity. As an example, when it first launched, you only had 2 minutes to take the photo. But they moved away from that format and allowed fans to retake photos and extend the time limit. Which positioned the app closer to the likes of Instagram and watered down its unique selling point (USP).”

Perhaps BeReal flew too close to the sun, although the ones behind the app certainly don’t agree with this. Naturally, the team claim that they’re doing better than ever, although they do have a policy of not releasing any specific figures or data.

Salzman told me: “BeReal grew very quickly from that initial peak popularity to our over 23 million daily active users globally today. While we’ve seen a few incorrect third-party analytics reports and news pieces on our numbers, you’ll see from the above that we remain in a healthy stage of building and continue to add more users from around the world.”

Does authentic social media ever have a shot at making it?

Moving forward, BeReal isn’t going to stick to the same format as before. As the team knows all too well, in this digital age, if you’re not constantly evolving, you’re already forgotten.

The app’s going the tried and tested route of celebrities and brands, with new ventures which it’s calling RealPeople and RealBrands. Salzman described this as part of a larger shift towards authenticity online, stating: “Overall, brands and celebrities alike are leaning into a ‘real’ presence online, experimenting with brand voice on social and audience engagement. When a brand comments something funny, for example, it creates a level of connection to show there’s a real person behind the social handle that people can relate to.”

We all laughed about the Duolingo Owl’s crush on Dua Lipa and the savage responses of Ryan Air to its customers, so Salzman definitely has a point about humour helping a brand nowadays. As for getting celebrities on board, you can already see the likes of Joe Jonas, Dixie D’Amelio, and our favourite vampire girlie, Nina Dobrev.

Madden isn’t so sure that this will work. While the expert agrees that people “want to know more about the people behind the brands” in a search for transparency, she feels that “false authenticity is obvious, and perhaps was BeReal’s problem, so there’s a real scramble for brands to show these facets of themselves that they haven’t before.”

Similarly, Budd feels “this move risks diluting the platform’s celebrated authenticity and close-knit community vibe.”

And, as for me, the non-expert who just feels her life isn’t really worth documenting daily, I’m a little hesitant as well. I guess I just don’t believe in authenticity from celebrities and brands—they’re businesses, they’ll always be selling something. That being said, I’d love to be proven wrong, and maybe BeReal will do just that.

When I asked Salzman how BeReal would be any different to Instagram once you add influencers and businesses, his answer really stuck with me. Being more honest than I initially expected, the COO shared: “When you remove the pressure of looking the best, acquiring followers, and measuring life through likes, the dopamine rush of a good photo or video disappears. It’s uncomfortable at first, and we like that. BeReal is meant to be as boring or exciting as the real moments that make up life really are.”

I had always felt the issue laid in our society. We claimed we wanted authentic social media until we had it. It’s kind of like saying you want to start trying ice baths until you actually dip your toe in one. But maybe we actually do want authenticity, we’re just struggling with the discomfort of it. I claim to bare all in my articles, yet I struggled to show my depressive episode appearance to even my closest friends. Maybe the issue is that we’re still uncomfortable living a boring life, which makes documenting it much harder. We’re addicted to the dopamine of other social media platforms, and maybe BeReal is intended to wean us off it.

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