BeReal: What is Gen Z's new favourite social media app and how does it work?

BeReal markets itself as a more authentic social media. Credit: BeReal/britorres

An increasingly popular new social media app is attempting to break with the likes of TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and is encouraging users to show a more "authentic" presentation of their lives.

Unlike the current giants which frequently come under fire for the pressure some users feel to portray a 'perfect' version of their lives, BeReal has no like button, no filters and no ads.

So what is it, how does BeReal work and just how popular is it?

One photo every day

The concept of BeReal is simple: users share one photo with their followers every day.

But there's a catch - unlike Instagram where users can spend hours taking photos to try to get the perfect one, on BeReal users have just two minutes to send their picture.

Why are young people ditching their social media apps for this new one? Here's the story

BeReal markets itself as a more authentic social media app. Once a day at a random time, users receive a notification, letting them know it's time to share what they are doing right now with their friends. The two minute timer starts as soon as the user gets the notification.

The app takes a picture using both the front and back cameras on a phone, so you typically see a selfie on top of a photo of what the user is doing.

Those who miss the two-minute window can still upload a photo, but other users will be informed that they were late.

How many people are using BeReal?

BeReal, which launched in 2019, had nearly four million downloads globally on the App Store and Google Play between January 2021 and February 2022, according to analytics data company Sensor Tower.

The app's popularity has surged in 2022 though, with nearly two million downloads in January and February alone.

What data does the app collect?

The photos you take on BeReal are geolocated, which means users can share their exact location with their friends, or an approximate location when photos are shared onto the app's public feed.

It also collects your name, date of birth, phone number, password, email address and data from your phone's camera, as well as photos stored on your phone.

How is it different from Instagram?

Aside from the time limit on how long users can spend capturing their photo, BeReal looks very different to the reigning king of photo-sharing apps, Instagram.

While Instagram users can expect to see a carefully curated feed full of aesthetic photos, BeReal's ambition to show people's real lives means you may see photos of your friends doing mundane activities like washing dishes, sitting at their desks or lying in bed.

BeReal users get a notification at a random time of day and must drop what they are doing to take a photo. Credit: BeReal

The app doesn't include filters either, and users cannot edit their photos at all before they are shared.

And users are encouraged to use the app to connect with their friends rather than trying to gain followers who they don't actually know.

It's a far cry from apps like TikTok that regularly see videos go viral and receive millions of views.

"BeReal won't make you famous, if you want to become influencer you can stay on TikTok and Instagram," says the description of BeReal in the App Store.

Why is it so popular with young people?

BeReal's sudden popularity with Generation Z can be traced back to how the app defines itself in opposition to the existing social media giants with a unique selling point of "authenticity", internet trends expert Clark Boyd told ITV News.

He added the lack of filters meant the app gave no opportunities to create a "consistent aesthetic" like you might on other platforms, which was appealing.

"Young people have grown up with social media. They maintain less of a distinction between online and offline identity as a result.

"This means they are fatigued with the increasingly bland demands of maintaining that Instagram aesthetic. TikTok is more spontaneous and eclectic, but it doesn't place emphasis on 'real' life."

He added authenticity was something "Instagram influencers talk about a lot without truly demonstrating".

"I really like it - at the beginning I just thought it would be another app I'd waste my life on and get addicted to", one user told ITV News.

"I've only added people I'm actually quite close to that I see every day, it's people I'm very comfortable so I just post whatever."

"You only post your highlights on Instagram whereas on BeReal you can literally be in bed eating and watching Netflix", another said.

What else is driving the app's sudden growth?

BeReal's sudden popularity does not only come from the fact it has tapped into a desire for people to express their real lives.

Mr Boyd said the owners also "targeted aggressive growth through colleges, just like Facebook did".

"It sponsors college events and offers free entry to people who sign up and add five friends. That number is not random, they will have calculated that people need five plus connections to keep coming back to the app."

The universities BeReal have targeted have all been in the United States so far, Mr Boyd said, and include prestigious colleges including Harvard and Yale.

The challenge for BeReal now is "staying true to their spartan approach to social media posting, while making it interesting enough to come back to every day", he continued.

For expert analysis and insight on the biggest stories listen to our podcast to find out What You Need To Know