BeReal is Gen Z’s new favorite social media app, for food and more
Students – some living on campus for the first time since the pandemic – are particularly eager at document their life experiences on BeReal. At the beginning of February, the application hosted parties on several US college campuses through its ambassador program and offered free admission to students who downloaded the app and added five friends. Student-directed marketing campaigns have helped BeReal climb the top App Store rankings and gain exposure to the public.
The app is simple to use. Once a day at a random time, BeReal sends you a push notification to post a photo. The BeReal photo – both a selfie and a head-on photo with no filters or editing options – must be taken within two minutes or the post is labeled as “late”. To scroll on the BeReal feed, you must post once and only once per day. Surprisingly, retakes are allowed. When you first join the app, you can only follow accounts linked to your phone contacts and react to BeReals with a RealMoji, an emoji image of your face at that time. You can also browse the Discovery Feed, a collection of random BeReals from around the world that anyone can post to.
Eitan Bernath, a 20-year-old TikTok food influencer and cookbook author, practically lives on social media. With 2.2 million followers on TikTok, he spends 15 hours a day on his phone filming short food clips and promoting his food content on YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. Between the bustle of his organized work on social networks and regular contributions On “The Drew Barrymore Show,” Bernath finds a few hours a day to unwind, which includes catching up with close friends and posting on BeReal. Right now, BeReal is one of his favorite apps.
“I love social platforms in general. For me, I’m like, ‘Oh cool, let me try this.’ he says. “If it looks like people are using it as a creative platform, I’ll follow suit. For now, he adds, BeReal “is just kind of a fun thing.”
BeReal markets itself as an “authentic, spontaneous and candid” social media platform. And the app is not afraid to challenge its competitors, and to reject performative culture, on the iTunes App Store: “BeReal will not make you famous, if you want to become an influencer you can stay on TikTok and Instagram. But in the world of online food, where influencers dedicate their day to meticulously curated spreads, can the so-called authentic philosophy behind BeReal really reflect their daily lives?
Bernath seems to think so. Every time it spots the BeReal notification, it captures a photo in the moment to make it look more “natural”. Through his BeReal, we zigzag through his busy life as a food influencer. His posts include a vulnerable moment with his dog Ernie and a photo of a New York rooftop barbecue. One BeReal features Bernath’s smiling face alongside partially prepared pistachio batter, crumbs and all. Would it be a babka, a rugelach or a date-coated pistachio pizza? Without further context from Eitan or the photo, BeReal keeps us guessing.
“Like everything in life, you can curate the look,” he says, acknowledging that some BeReal users intentionally post late. When he posts on it, “I literally am what I do. If they released the 360 version where you have like a 360 camera, that would be the most real, the BeReal plus.
Jeremy Scheck, a 22-year-old TikTok influencer who specializes in Italian cuisine and recently graduated from Cornell University, uses BeReal sporadically. When the app first took U.S. college campuses by storm in February, he used to post daily, sometimes in the middle of his TikTok shoots. Today, he opens the application when he wants, where he wants. Sometimes it completely ignores the notification.
“Sometimes I get the notification and sit on a couch watching TV. I say to myself, this is not a good photo,” he said. “I don’t do it for vanity reasons. They’re just my friends, so I won’t divulge a recipe.
Judging from BeReal’s college parties and the sea of young faces on its Discovery page, most BeReal users fall into the Gen-Z crowd and follow a circle of close friends. Still, that hasn’t stopped some food brands from migrating to the platform. In May, a Chipotle employee broke a BeReal with a fork and a reusable promo code for a free entry offered to the first hundred users. Within 30 minutes, all promotional codes had been claimed. After the success of its first BeReal campaign, Chipotle now has more than 2,000 “friends” – the term for BeReal subscribers – and appears to be carving out a BeReal social media strategy.
With a consumer base of mostly Gen Z and Millennials, it’s no surprise that Chipotle turned to one of the hottest new platforms for lightweight ways to engage users. According to Chipotle social media director and influencer Candice Beck, the company plans to use BeReal to feature employees and internal experiences not registered on their social media accounts.
Even with all these attempts to lift the performative curtain, some BeReal users have picked up habits from Instagram and TikTok. Bernath says he captures his BeReals with an outstretched arm, like a selfie. Allyssa Boes, a 21-year-old student at the University of Michigan, said when the BeReal notification came during a meal, she would move the bowls together to complete the food intake. At the end of the day, BeReal can help capture candid moments, but the user can also determine how authentic they want to be on camera.
Other social media platforms have dabbled in promoting authentic expression online, but none have achieved the cult following of BeReal. Casey Neistat spear Beme in 2014 to build the “Snapchat before Snapchat”. Once purchased by CNN, the app never took off. Popular apps like 1 Second Everyday, Snapchat, and LiveIn offer similar functionality, but not the full BeReal package.
BeReal is committed to centering authentic and spontaneous experiences, but the company recently raised a $30 million Series A funding round from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. When asked to provide more information about their fundraising and app development, BeReal’s PR team declined to comment. With that extra money and investor scrutiny, the app might be forced to monetize soon and change some of its favorite features.
Then there are the app skeptics. Bettina Makalintal, a 29-year-old writer at Eater whom the San Francisco Chronicle called “Food Media’s Biggest Luck Influencer,” manages the popular Instagram account @crispyegg420 dedicated to the daily shots of his colorful bowls. Makalintal is resisting the urge to download BeReal because she doesn’t know if the app will have any longer-term potential. None of his friends have installed the app either, a crucial step to enjoying BeReal.
Even without BeReal, she channels those anti-aesthetic, spontaneous vibes into her vibrant, bowl-filled Instagram account. She organizes her bowl items, often setting them by the window in the warm sunlight, but doesn’t follow a recipe calendar or add recipes to the caption. Nor does she set her bowl on white marble or haphazardly throw a linen napkin next to the dish. Every once in a while his blue crocs or his pantry slip into the frame and expose a part of his home life that usually remains unseen. Which makes you wonder: is @crispyegg420 Makalintal’s real me?
“I know I only show a tiny part of myself on social media, so I think they’re real and if you put them all together you get a better understanding of me,” she says. “But I don’t think anything is 100% authentic.”