Generation ‘Real’: Why new social app BeReal is a sign of the changing times online

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‘BeReal time’, as it is lovingly referred to in my friendship group, comes once a day, with no warning. At the pub with your housemates. As the sun meets the horizon on your road trip. Or, most likely, when you’re sat at home with absolutely nothing going on.

Launched in 2019, the app has exploded in popularity over the last few months. The premise? Every day, at a randomly selected time, every user is given the same two-minute timer to share what they’re up to.

The goal is to take pictures, with both the front and back-facing cameras of your phone, as soon as possible. There’s no warning, no chance to prepare, and there’s even a counter that shares how many attempts it took to take your pictures, so friends can gauge the authenticity of the shot.

Uploading your photo unlocks an Instagram-style feed full of these impromptu updates from your friends. You can comment on posts and react with your own emoji-style selfies, but after 24-hours everything is wiped.

What’s different about BeReal?

There’s nothing new about a new app. Social media reinvents itself all the time, with new offerings like Poparazzi, Clubhouse, and Dispo appearing and dying out dizzyingly fast.

But there does seem to be something different about the rise of BeReal. Aside from the fact that its userbase has skyrocketed by 315% this year, the platform appears genuinely subversive.

Where Twitter invites you into a network of discussion and argument, BeReal restricts you to a select group of friends. Where Instagram has demanded carefully curated content, BeReal asks that you take it back to basics.

These subtle changes point to a larger generational shift. People aged 24 and under are becoming disenchanted with the world of social media they have grown up with. In fact, studies show that 64% of Gen-Z have expressed a desire to take a break from social media, and 34% want to permanently quit.

Rethinking how they interact with the online world, Gen-Z appear to be flocking to BeReal because they want a more casual, spontaneous relationship with social media – and their friends.

But what can we make of this? Where did it come from and what can we learn?

How did we get here?

Things perhaps began in the early 2010s, when platforms like Snapchat and Instagram began to challenge Facebook’s monopoly on the social media space. Tellingly, last month saw its number of daily active users fall by 500,000, the first time the platform has seen its growth plateau since its inception.

And everything changed with the explosive arrival of TikTok, an app that completely monopolised how we capture attention. Its addictive format has seen social media giants fall over themselves to follow suit, with Instagram’s Reels, Twitter’s short-lived Fleets, and YouTube’s Shorts all fighting for the same short-form, fast-scrolling niche.

But there are other factors at play that point to a cultural change, too.

This is seen most obviously on Instagram: users are turning their backs on highly curated feeds and carefully posed photoshoots in favour of what is becoming known as ‘casual insta’.

Pore-free, perfect content is out, and users – from friends to celebrities – are showing their more relaxed, ‘real’ side. You have only to glance at your feed to see signs of this change: blurry, un-edited photos, makeup-free selfies, half-eaten dinners. Dua Lipa’s ice cream recommendation earned her 4.3 million likes. Emma Chamberlain’s blurry selfie in a lift has been a hit with her fervent fanbase.

Spontaneous moments captured imperfectly are beginning to hold a cultural currency that is increasing in value. Investing in that currency and paying attention to the new ways Gen-Z like to interact with social media – fleetingly, playfully, obsessively – will have huge implications for users and brands alike.

 So what can be learnt?

Attention is an increasingly hard commodity to capture. As videos get shorter, scrolling gets faster, and trends live and die within days, the algorithm demands a breathlessly fast response if you are to keep up.

And with apps like BeReal attracting more and more of Gen-Z’s attention, their disillusionment with the facades of social media does look set to stay for the long-term.

BeReal’s immediate, spontaneous, and reactive style of posting provides a refreshing alternative to the rat-race of content. But it also points to unique challenges when catering to a generation so obsessively plugged into a fast-moving zeitgeist.

We can’t ignore these changes. Brands are already responding by jumping on TikTok bandwagons, posting behind-the-scenes content, and favouring the influencers who are cultivating genuine, relaxed connections with their fans.

Whilst some are more successful than others, it’s becoming that clear that, as social media users stop playing by the rules, brands (and indeed agencies) must follow suit.

Those that lean into the urge to ‘be real’ online and learn to generate content that feels genuinely authentic will find the most success with the generation searching for a less filtered existence online.

  • Josh Parker,
    Junior Account Executive