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Social media newcomer BeReal is forcing disrupters like TikTok into copycat mode, but now comes the hard part

October 1, 2022, 8:00 AM UTC
BeReal on the App Store displayed on a phone screen and a laptop in the background with icons for Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok
TikTok isn't the cool kid anymore.
NurPhoto—Getty Images

Not long ago, TikTok was the only up-and-coming platform that had companies like Meta, Twitter and YouTube shaking in their Silicon Valley boots – so much so that both Instagram and YouTube “adopted” short-form video scrolling.

But even though TikTok remains at the top of its game with the most popular account boasting over 150 million followers, it’s now the one copying the hot new thing.

That hot new thing in question is BeReal, which launched in 2020, but rapidly grew in popularity in 2022.

The app’s unique concept has all its users in one timezone simultaneously upload pictures of what they’re doing at the moment they are notified. It lets you take images of both what is in front of you and a selfie so that your friends get a detailed point of view — but you only have a couple of minutes to do so before your post is labeled ‘late.’ 

Today, BeReal is No. 1 in at least nine markets, and in the top five iPhone apps in around 40 countries. It passed Instagram in weekly downloads in July, and was the most downloaded IOS app in the world for August with 11 million downloads, when it passed TikTok as well, according to the Washington Post.

In the U.S. – its current biggest market – it has had over 56 million downloads in 2022 alone.

Teenage Dirtbags rule

BeReal came to fame on the back of the “teenage dirtbag” zeitgeist—and then took it further.

The nostalgic trend began on TikTok, where influencers and celebrities posted pictures from their rebellious younger years—indicative of a growing rejection of the polished aesthetic that has prevailed online, especially on Instagram, for the last decade. 

Gen Zers tweaked the trend by turning the lens on the present, showing off a less pristine, edgier lifestyle—often portrayed in an Instagram gallery post of blurry late-night adventures clad in baggy jeans and dirty sneakers.

Now, BeReal has taken that one step further by forcing its users into the unvarnished now by submitting a candid snapshot with no editing allowed. 

Copycat creations 

BeReal’s spiking popularity has forced what were the disruptive platforms into a copycat role.

TikTok has recently announced TikTok Now a standalone app that sends a notification prompting users to upload a snapshot of their activities at that current moment in video or photo format, including a self-facing and outward-facing camera shot. 

It sounds a lot like deja vu for fans of BeReal.  

Another important aspect is BeReal’s dual camera feature which has caught the attention of Instagram, which subsequently introduced it on a global scale in August. 

While it is yet to pick up on the spontaneous posting function, it might not be far off. Last month, Tech Crunch reported that Instagram was testing “IG Candid Challenges.” 

The move can be expected from Instagram considering its history; it added “stories” in 2014 after Snapchat’s disappearing photos rose in popularity. More recently, Instagram was the first big platform to copy TikTok’s short video format as reels, followed shortly after by YouTube shorts. 

Snapchat is also one to watch, especially as the company is now in a ‘code red’ race for growth per a Business Insider report. The platform has already introduced a dual camera and it could seamlessly add a spontaneous posting prompt in the near future. 

Other large platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have previously copied their competitors with their own (in some cases, temporary) versions of stories, live video and audio features, meaning any attempts to replicate aspects of BeReal aren’t particularly difficult to the biggest players.

And that is where the danger finally comes in for this newcomer. It’s a huge feat to become a threat to TikTok, and by doing so BeReal has already reached beyond the achievements of viral apps Houseparty and Clubhouse which quickly fell away after a brief time in the spotlight during the pandemic. 

But for it to have staying power, it now must compete with the financial backing of the biggest players in the game. 

“Ironically, the thing that makes it popular now may be its downfall. Every social media platform needs to make money eventually, and it often does from its users, by selling ads,” says Chris Stokel-Walker, journalist and author of TikTok Boom: China’s Dynamite App and the Superpower Race for Social Media

“While some companies have set up BeReal profiles, the uncontrollable nature of the app means most are only doing it to earn plaudits. It’s difficult to see companies – needed to bolster BeReal’s bottom line – joining the app en masse.” 

Why do other platforms feel so threatened? 

BeReal has been praised by Gen Z fans and social trend experts for its encouragement to live in the here and now and to present an unfiltered perspective rather than the ultra-filtered lifestyle typically found on Instagram. 

“BeReal taps into the trend for authentic, unpolished social media presences,” says Stokel-Walker.

“You’re prompted to try and post whatever you see, wherever you are. It’s a world away from the carefully-crafted images that fill Instagram and other apps.”

“BeReal allows you to be more spontaneous online and gives a realistic insight into your friends’ lives,” said Gabby Pathmanathan, a U.K. based Gen Z student. 

“I really enjoy it because it removes the pressure to be perfect on social media and it lets you just live in the moment.” 

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