Students – some of whom are experiencing campus life for the first time since the pandemic – are particularly keen to document their life experiences on BeReal. In early February, the app hosted parties on several American college campuses through its Ambassador program, offering free entry to students who downloaded the app and added five friends. Marketing to college students has helped BeReal climb the top charts on the App Store and gain exposure.
The app is easy to use. BeReal will send you a push notification once a day at a random time to post a photo. The BeReal photo – both a selfie and a frontal photo with no filter or editing options – must be taken within two minutes or the post will be flagged as “late”. To scroll the BeReal feed, you must post once and only once per day. Surprisingly, repetitions are allowed. When you first join the app, you can only follow accounts linked to your phone contacts and respond on BeReals with a RealMoji, an emoji image of your face at that moment. You can also swipe through the Discovery feed, a collection of random BeReals from around the world for anyone to post to.
Eitan Bernath, a 20-year-old TikTok food influencer and cookbook author, practically makes a living from 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 hustle and bustle of his curated social media work and regular contributions to The Drew Barrymore Show, Bernath finds a few hours a day to unwind, which includes hanging out with close friends and posting on BeReal. At the moment, BeReal is one of his favorite apps.
“I love social platforms in general. For me I’m like, ‘Oh cool, let me try that.'” he says. “If it looks like people are going to use it as a creator platform, I’ll follow suit.” Right now, he adds, BeReal is “just kind of a fun thing.”
BeReal advertises itself as an “authentic, spontaneous and honest” social media platform. And the app isn’t shy about slamming its iTunes App Store competitors and rejecting performative culture: “BeReal won’t make you famous, if you want to be an influencer, you can stay on TikTok and Instagram.” But can put the so-called authentic ethos behind it BeReal in the online food world, where influencers devote their day to carefully arranged food spreads, really reflect their everyday life?
Bernath seems to think so. Whenever he sees the BeReal notification, he immediately snaps a photo to make it look as “natural” as possible. Through his BeReal, we zigzag through his busy food influencer life. His contributions include a vulnerable moment with his dog Ernie and a shot of a rooftop grill in New York City. A BeReal features Bernath’s smiling face next to a partially made pistachio pastry, crumbs and all. Could it be babka, a rugelach or a pistachio pizza topped with dates? With no more context from Eitan or the photo, BeReal leaves us guessing.
“As with anything in life, you can curate the look,” he says, acknowledging that some BeReal users are posting late on purpose. 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 who recently graduated from Cornell University, uses BeReal sporadically. When the app first swept American colleges in February, he was posting every day, sometimes in the middle of his TikTok shoots. Today he opens the app when he wants, where he wants. Occasionally, he completely ignores the notification.
“Sometimes I get the notification and I’m sitting on a couch and watching TV. I think that’s not a good picture,” he says. “I’m not doing this for vanity reasons. It’s just my friends so I wouldn’t reveal a recipe.”
Judging by BeReal’s college parties and the sea of young faces on the Discovery side, most BeReal users fall into the Gen Z crowd and follow a tight-knit circle of friends. However, that hasn’t stopped certain grocery brands from migrating to the platform. In May, a Chipotle employee snagged a BeReal with a fork and a reusable promo code for a free entree available to the first hundred users. All promo codes were claimed within 30 minutes. After the success of its first BeReal campaign, Chipotle now has more than 2,000 “friends” – the term for followers in BeReal – and seems to be preparing a BeReal social media strategy.
With a consumer base made up primarily of Gen Z and Millennials, it’s no surprise that Chipotle is being drawn to one of the hottest new platforms for light-hearted ways to interact with users. According to Candice Beck, Chipotle’s director of social and influencer, the company plans to use BeReal to showcase employees and internal experiences not captured on their social media accounts.
Despite all these attempts to lift the performative curtain, some BeReal users have adopted habits from Instagram and TikTok. Bernath says he photographs his BeReals with his arm outstretched, selfie-style. Allyssa Boes, a 21-year-old student at the University of Michigan, says if the BeReal notification arrives during a meal, she’ll push bowls together to complete the meal shot. At the end of the day, BeReal can help capture candid moments, but the user can also dictate how authentic they want to be on camera.
Other social media platforms have attempted to promote authentic expression online, but none have achieved the same cult following as BeReal. Casey Neistat founded Beme in 2014 to build “Snapchat before Snapchat.” After being bought by CNN, the app never launched. Popular apps like 1 Second Everyday, Snapchat, and LiveIn offer similar features but don’t have the full package of BeReal.
BeReal promises to focus on authentic and spontaneous experiences, but the company recently raised a $30 million Series A 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 cash and investor oversight, the app could be pressured to make money soon and change some of its popular features.
Then there are the app’s skeptics. Bettina Makalintal, a 29-year-old writer at Eater whom the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed “food media’s biggest bowl-shot influencer,” runs the popular Instagram account @crispyegg420, dedicated to daily snaps of her colorful bowls. Makalintal resists the urge to download BeReal because she’s unsure of the app’s potential in the longer term. None of her friends have the app installed either, a crucial step in enjoying BeReal.
Even without BeReal, she channels those unaesthetic, spontaneous vibes on her vibrant, bowl-filled Instagram account. She curates her bowl posts, often placing them near the window in the warm sunlight, but doesn’t follow a recipe plan or add recipes to the caption. Nor does she set her bowl on white marble or randomly throw a linen towel next to the bowl. Every once in a while, her blue Crocs or her kitchen pantry slip into the frame, revealing a part of her private life that normally remains unseen. Makes you wonder: is @crispyegg420 the real me of Makalintal?
“I know that on social media I only show this tiny part of me. So I think they’re real and when you put them all together you get a good understanding of me,” she says. “But I don’t think anything is 100 percent authentic.”