Apr 11, 2022 - Technology

Gen Z’s new favorite app

BeReal downloads, by month
Data: Apptopia; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Downloads of BeReal, Gen Z's hot new social media app, have skyrocketed in recent months, giving the world's mobile-first generation a new way to connect through the work or school day.

Why it matters: With so many apps fighting to get even a small sliver of Gen Z's attention, BeReal has pulled ahead by getting users not to over-think what they post.

How it works: BeReal encourages users to send one post every day to their friends to show exactly what they're doing in real time.

  • In a push toward authenticity, the app snaps photos from the phone's front and back cameras simultaneously, showing where you are and what you’re doing at the same time.
  • Because users have to send posts within two minutes of getting a randomly-timed notification, they don't have time to make fancy adjustments. Also, the app doesn't include any photo editing tools.
  • A user who misses the two-minute window can upload a picture later, but followers will be notified that they didn't post in real time.
  • Users also can't view their friends' pictures until they've uploaded their own, forcing them to participate daily instead of lurking.

Be smart: BeReal has gained popularity as an antidote to the pressure young users now face to be creative and look perfect online.

  • Over the past two years, there's been an explosion in short-form video products like TikTok, Instagram Reels and Snapchat Spotlight that place a premium on users showing off their talents to friends and strangers alike.
  • Instagram has long been viewed as an environment that compels users to present an airbrushed, idealized vision of their lives.

By the numbers: Monthly active users on BeReal have grown 315% since the beginning of the year, per data from Apptopia.

  • While the app launched in December 2019, a majority of its lifetime downloads (65%) have taken place this year. The app has relied mostly on word-of-mouth marketing on college campuses.

The app, created in France, is gaining steam globally, per data from data.ai (formerly AppAnnie).

  • BeReal ranked 4th in downloads in the U.S., the U.K. and France for Q1 2022, after Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest. 
  • While Gen Z is most likely to use the app, a large chunk of BeReal's user base is also millennials, per data.ai.

The big picture: BeReal is tapping into a wider internet trend of scarcity and authenticity online.

  • Because the app only requires one post per day, it doesn't overwhelm or overburden users.
  • Wordle, the viral puzzle game purchased by the New York Times, also hooks users with just one daily puzzle.
  • Live audio apps like ClubHouse and Twitter Spaces similarly rely on the scarcity of live conversations to drive engagement.

Yes, but: Dozens of apps from HouseParty to Periscope have set out to connect young users in real time, but many have flamed out after failing to create a sustainable business model.

Flashback: BeReal is only the latest in a long line of products promising authenticity to the young.

  • Two decades ago Facebook took off on campuses by connecting students to named real people rather than online pseudonyms.

The bottom line: In a world of so much choice online, less is proving to be more.

Go deeper