Is the ‘anti-Instagram’ BeReal coming to the new Instagram?

As social media app Instagram increasingly becomes a TikTok clone, opportunities are opening up for rivals to become the new photo app. Can popular French app BeReal, which emphatically markets itself as the ‘anti-Instagram’, fill the gap?

An introduction for those who are not yet familiar with BeReal which has been a hype in the social media land for quite some time. Once a day, at any given time, users get a notification telling them to take a photo within two minutes. Under the motto ‘it’s time to be real’, the aim is to make the image – what lies in a name – as real as possible. It is impossible to edit the picture, taking the picture again is out of the question.

The result is an overview with pictures of users on the work floor, on the sofa, looking or exhaling after training. This is exactly what the French creators – IT project manager Kévin Perreau and video producer Alexis Barreyat – had in mind when they launched the app more than two years ago. ‘Because I was annoyed by all the bullshit on social media, I decided to launch my own media. No likes, no followers, no ads, no filters, just what my friends are doing right now,” Barreyat framed BeReal’s creation on LinkedIn.

Technical and privacy issues

BeReal is not free from criticism. Besides the many technical issues – users complain about images not coming online or coming online late – there are also some comments about privacy. For example, the ethical hacker Inti De Ceukelaire has already warned against the many images from the workplace, which reveal more than intended. “It’s pretty cool, but I see so many people sharing internal emails, chats with teams, links to meetings or post-its with passwords,” he tweeted, citing an example from a Belgian university.

For months, BeReal, which raised more than $30 million from venture capital funds in a capital round in 2021, remained under the radar. Until the app suddenly topped the charts in the US App Store this year. An aggressive marketing campaign among college students did the rest. While the app was only downloaded 4,000 times in January, it had increased to 324,000 in June. In total, more than 20 million people use the app, according to figures from the analyst Sensor Tower.

The growing popularity can partly be explained by the dissatisfaction with the course rival Instagram is sailing. By emphasizing video on the one hand and introducing an algorithm on the other, the app from tech giant Meta is increasingly following the popular video app TikTok. “Many Instagram users are frustrated by that. Few of them want to put together cool videos themselves, a picture is more than enough. In that respect, there are opportunities for BeReal,” says Tim Smits, professor of marketing communication at KU Leuven.


In addition, BeReal smartly responds to another annoyance of young people: a feed full of perfect people with fascinating activities. ‘Instagram thrives on people’s positivity bias. We especially want to exhibit the good things in our lives’, says Lara Schreurs, researcher at the School of Mass Communication Research at KU Leuven. ‘There has been a trend for some time where young people start a second account with only their best friends as followers. Then when they have a party, they put a nice picture on their regular account and a hungover picture on their other profile, their ‘fake Instagram’ or Finstagram. BeReal behaves a bit like the other profile.’

Schreurs therefore sees the two apps as relatively complementary. ‘Everything revolves around the trade-off between authenticity and perfection that we constantly make. If the tendency to present ourselves as best as possible to the outside world is prevalent, then there is Instagram. We prefer to go to BeReal for authentic moments.’

The big question is how BeReal can convert the growing following into cash. The path to profitability is largely absent: the app is free, advertisements are nowhere to be found, and businesses are strictly barred by the terms of use. “In addition to the logical route, advertising, an acquisition is a possibility. In the past, promising tech players were often bought up by bigger players. But in fact, BeReal has already become too big. If Meta wants to buy the company, it would be difficult to get past’, says Smits.

Thanks to the solid growth that BeReal has experienced, it is in the survival phase.

Tim Smith

Professor of Marketing Communication KU Leuven

According to the professor, BeReal must focus on gamification – adding game elements – to make money. “There would be plans to add challenges. Think what we’ve been doing with the TV game ‘De Stoel’ for 20 years: take a picture with a can of Coke in the picture as quickly as possible. BeReal could thereby enter into paying partnerships with companies or brands’, says Smits, who in any case sees a future for the app. ‘Thanks to the strong growth that BeReal has experienced, it is in the phase with chances of survival. But of course you never know.’

The initiators do not want to say much about their growth plans. “We prefer to keep a low profile and focus on execution,” they said succinctly in French newspaper Le Figaro.

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