The Reality of Mainstream Apps like BeReal
Nearly three years since launching, BeReal is topping app charts and was arguably the app of the summer. Currently estimated to have more than 22 million monthly users with over 450,000 Apple user reviews, averaging a 4.8 star rating, all eyes are on BeReal, leaving users blind to the dangers and vulnerabilities of the app, and its main feature to capture a photo utilizing both front and back cameras. While most apps would kill for successful milestone metrics like BeReal’s, these statistics also pique the interests of investors and bad actors who want access to real-time data as authentic as BeReal’s.
The difference that has many flocking to BeReal are people who are over glamorous, curated feeds of “filtered” content found on popular social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, where staged reality is the norm. BeReal is bringing the reality back or so the tagline says, “Your friend, for real,” speaks for itself.
To keep reality in check, BeReal controls when users post to ensure authenticity is the default. A single push notification is randomly sent alerting users, “Time to BeReal.” Users then have a two-minute window to capture a photo, limiting the time for any staging. When capturing your BeReal moment, the app accesses both cameras, front and back, to simultaneously capture your current status with a location stamp, unless settings are turned off. Within that single second capture, the innovative social capture also collects a lot of real-time data.
As BeReal has made its way up app charts, Overwatch analysts have been monitoring the accumulating indicators contributing to the rise in popularity and investigating the potential threats that grow alongside the mainstream attention that comes with the mission to oscillate the trend from content curation to real-time captures.
The Founding Fathers and Funders of BeReal
BeReal’s founders, Alexis Barreyat and Kevin Perreau, keep a fairly low profile with media and even on social media. Neither have conducted media interviews, which is right in line with their motto and mission of their app.
The strong purpose and story from founders was compelling enough to move the needle in drumming up over $30 million in Series A funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners and New Wave back in June 2021. This was the first of three funding rounds for BeReal, estimated to be valued at over $600 million, according to the Financial Times. Private equity firms familiar with the digital app space, like New Wave and DST Global, were quick to jump on BeReal seeking success from their previous investments, like WhatsApp, Spotify, and Twitter.
According to a Venture Prose blog, “Zenly and BeReal, what do they have in common?,” the success of BeReal stems from Barreyat’s aspiration to bring focus back to reality. Barreyat was previously working at GoPro, where he captured mountain biking events and observed the disconnect between capturing a moment and influencers curating moments. This aspiration became more of a need than a business objective.
The Grassroots Swell on U.S. College Campuses
BeReal’s popularity first rose in France, Barreyat and Perreau’s home country, and quickly gained traction in the U.S. from its grassroots ambassador program. The program was activated across college campuses, recruiting teams to help spread word-of-mouth. Ambassadors would receive a marketing budget to drum up downloads and reviews, paying anywhere from $30 per referral to $50 for an app download with reviews, according to Brown University students.
Many attribute BeReal’s summer success to the ambassador program as seen in the timeline below. Milestones escalated quickly with additional investors, organic brand activations, and media attention.
All Eyes on BeReal
After the summer, many indicators reflected that BeReal was now a player among mainstream media. The obvious indicator is capturing the number one spot on app charts the week of July 11, with 1.7 million installs that week, the largest weekly gain ever according to Sensor Tower, a digital analytics platform. Another public indicator was a dedicated skit on Saturday Night Live (SNL), a show known for leveraging cultural trends into comedic parodies.
Looking back, there were early signs of BeReal’s swell with strong indicators in social conversations and downloads. When the app was mentioned, it was interchangeable as both a noun and a verb. Dispo, another photo-sharing app, entered the space at a similar time as BeReal and towards the end of 2021, downloads showed a clear winner in user adoption.
Another gauge is when brands begin inquiring about an ad platform. With over 55% of BeReal’s audience being young U.S. Gen Z’ers, it was only natural for brands to follow where their audience was. To date, BeReal does not have an advertising platform, nor have plans been announced. This has not stopped brands like Chipotle from getting creative.
Most likely advertising has been, and may be an afterthought for BeReal, especially since the tagline is rooted in authenticity, a characteristic brands struggle with. This is the harsh reality when mainstream mayhem hits, meeting the demands of both investors and the community.
Now that the app has captured the attention of investors, Gen Z, mainstream media, and brands…it is only a matter of time before BeReal is included in the hook of a top 10 single.
Best Form of Flattery: Duplication
To date, the app reported a 315% increase in usage with more than a 1,000 percent increase in downloads. These are metrics that are causing other applications to have major FOMO (fear of missing out) or more fear of losing community.
And as Oscar Wilde said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness,” and it is very true for apps where features are not considered intellectual property and can easily be duplicated. The same curated apps Barreyat turned away from are jumping on board BeReal’s concept, cloning the feature to leverage both camera captures and encourage authenticity through a push notification. This is where first-to-market does not always win out and other social media platforms have an advantage of an existing community, algorithm and ad platform that may give BeReal less staying power.
Potential Vulnerabilities of Reality
Beyond staying power, the biggest threat is the appeal for bad actors, not only for BeReal but for this feature across multiple platforms. “Your friend, for real.” The tagline is catchy and has proven to be a success story but being in the spotlight is a slippery slope and as we all know, your friend may not be a real friend. Remember Snap Map, and the number of scams and security dangers unleashing this real-time location data to your “friends?”
Bad actors and AI will continue to create a presence where communities are built, and much like brands, they follow where content curation and engagement exists. The unique element of BeReal is the authenticity of capturing content at the same time, utilizing both front and back cameras – unfiltered, unaltered – capturing images, screens and documents you do not even want your best friend to see. If you pair that with open location settings, it does not not take a skilled open-source analyst to create a pattern of life for daily routines, starting points, or missing intel.
On a broader scale, there is the threat of hackers. Most successful apps from Meta to Snapchat are all too familiar with data breaches that can unlock more than your BeReal but also your account information. As BeReal enters its third year, it needs to proceed with caution and remember Snapchat’s third year, when it experienced two data hacks, iimpacting over 4.6 million accounts.
The reality is that you can be authentic while still creating a filter. Technology has advanced more rapidly than the education of those users jumping onboard to create and curate. An app to encourage authenticity is a step in the right direction but placing a tool that seeks to showcase an unfiltered reality in novice hands can lead to a digital footprint that cannot be erased. In the quest to capture an authentic moment, inexperienced users will unknowingly build a wealth of information like this that7y can be more harmful than entertaining. As a user rushes to capture their BeReal moment, they run the risk of inadvertently sharing sensitive data or images of unknowing participants without their consent.
Whether BeReal is here to stay, the feature and demand for more authenticity has arrived and will continue. Because of this, BeReal and the copycats that follow will become additional resources for analysts and bad actors to tap into and developers to expand upon, potentially enhancing the capture with audio and accessing users’ microphones, which is another perk for users, analysts and bad actors.
Lastly, wherever BeReal lands with its ad platform, investors will continue to see this type of content as the next digital revolution. If this is the case, vetting investors at each seed round and building security measures for platforms will only need to elevate even further to protect user’s data. Whether the content generated by BeReal, or the apps who copy the feature, it is truly content that showcases more information about people’s everyday lives.