How App Sensation BeReal Can Avoid Being a Passing Fad 

BeReal app logos
Illustration: VIP+

A new social media app called BeReal is being lauded as refreshing and authentic, and its popularity has spiked in recent months as a result. But just as it looks to cement its presence, BeReal’s resilience is being tested by more established rivals. 

BeReal users are prompted once a day at a random time to snap a picture of what they are currently doing. While the concept of snapping photos with both the front and back cameras isn’t a new concept, the unplanned nature of the BeReal platform came at a time when younger generations began seeking a more authentic and real experience online. 

BeReal has been around since 2020, but it didn’t start building a sizable user base until earlier this year. Interest in the app began to take off both in the U.S. and worldwide in April, according to Google Trends data.

Data from Sensor Tower showed BeReal app downloads rose 150% in April from the month earlier. The download growth hasn’t been quite as astronomical since but still remains steady. 

In August, BeReal was the 11th most downloaded social media app worldwide across Apple App Store and Google Play Store, according to Data.ai (formerly App Annie). It surpassed Twitter, which came in at No. 12.

Against the largest social media apps, BeReal’s total lifetime downloads are but a fraction of its competitors. As of Sept. 19, BeReal had 44 million worldwide downloads across Google Play and App Store, according to Data.ai. That compares with Facebook’s 6.3 billion downloads, Instagram’s 4.4 billion, TikTok’s 3.3 billion, Snapchat’s 2.5 billion and Twitter’s 1.6 billion. 

The recent success of BeReal hasn't gone unnoticed. Rivals such as Meta and TikTok have taken stock of the recent rise of BeReal, and TikTok even created its own BeReal copycat called TikTok Now, which is a new feature on its current app. 

The scenario of a new and hot social media app gaining massive popularity in a short amount of time only to be copied by other social media apps sounds eerily familiar to what happened with social audio app Clubhouse. 

It was 2021, and all kinds of influential people were connecting with audiences in a new way on Clubhouse. Everyone from Oprah, Elon Musk and even Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg joined the app and hosted their own Clubhouse conversations. The idea was fresh, and people felt connected to folks with whom they would otherwise never be in the same room. 

But then the rivals came for Clubhouse, and unfortunately the rivals won. Clubhouse is hardly part of the conversation anymore, with many preferring to host audio rooms on Twitter Spaces instead. It was a sharp rise and fall for Clubhouse, and it’s hard not to predict the same outcome for BeReal. 

Sure, BeReal is a fresh concept that is trying something different to disrupt the traditional social media landscape. But the future path for the company remains hazy. To compete with heavyweights like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, BeReal is going to have to figure out a real monetization strategy.  

It currently doesn’t really have advertisements on the platform. Not only does that mean one less possible revenue stream, but it’s also harder to attract content creators and brands to use the app.  

A recent Financial Times report stated BeReal was considering paid features and subscriptions to monetize instead of flooding users with advertisements like its peers. And hypothetically, if eventually BeReal does add advertisements on its platform, how would users feel about that? Would they feel like it goes against what BeReal stands for?  

That’s not to say BeReal cannot survive in this cutthroat social media app business. Look at Snapchat. Even though Instagram ripped off its concept and created Instagram Stories, Snapchat is still a very solid business in the social media game and has managed to differentiate itself from the competition. Same for TikTok. Just because another company rips off an idea, doesn’t mean it has to be the end all be all.

But that also doesn’t mean it will be easy to survive and even thrive. TikTok may have a direct BeReal knockoff, but Snap and Instagram have already also created similar features, too. Even as BeReal’s popularity grows, its reach is nowhere near the likes of TikTok and others. In the first half of 2022, TikTok was downloaded more than 373 million times compared with BeReal, which was downloaded 14 million times.  

If BeReal wants to continue to grow its influence and avoid a fate similar to Clubhouse, it will have to prove that it’s here for the long term with a differentiated appeal and clear monetization strategy.