February 5, 2023

Anna Dobbert

Hot Take: BeReal Is Confusing


BeReal, the new social media platform that blew up last year, has caught my attention. All of my friends who are internet-savvy hopped on it immediately. But what was even more interesting was the way in which my notably anti-Instagram friends were on the same page as the others. Everyone was talking about it. Yet one’s initial discovery of it typically begins with someone near them saying:

“$h*t, it’s time to BeReal, guys!”

Suddenly phones are pointed in every direction. Just as you think you’re safe from an impromptu photo — because your friend is posing on the other end as if taking a selfie — you find the phone turned around and focused on you. Rather than the perfectly posed smiling shot you thought they took, the result is one featuring you, 10x bigger on the screen, from the most god-awful angle.

“Don't worry, it’s just BeReal. So there’s like no one on there.”

This sentiment was relayed to me several times. And the scorn of it all caused me to resist hopping on the bandwagon until just a few months ago.

I’m not sure what inclined me, or rather who convinced me, but during one night out with friends I said, “Sure, I’ll be on board. The app’s premise seemed simple from an outside perspective; once a day, you get notified that it’s time to ⚠️BeReal⚠️ and you have two minutes to take a picture that captures both cameras at the same time. Sounds easy, right? Just a fun way to show my four friends that use the app what I’m up to, right?


I think of myself as a fast learner, particularly if it involves the areas of tech and social awareness. That’s what drew me to working in social media. I found observing the patterns of the intersection of friendship and the internet to be the most fascinating and defining characteristic of this modern life. All that to say, I thought this new app would be a breeze.

The second I got it, I was confused.

First, I wasn’t getting the trademark BeReal notification every day — despite getting constant notifications that someone else had posted. That immediately threw me off. Second, the camera doesn’t take both pictures at the exact same time; there’s a slight delay between the front-facing shot and the back-facing shot. This is important to note because when you take the picture, you need to either hold it in place for the entire delay period or quickly move it to get an intentionally different angle. And when I say quickly— I mean RAPIDLY.

I discovered this not from having a blurry BeReal one too many times but by watching my friend point her phone screen in my face and then quickly turn it around and point the other side of the phone in another person’s direction. I’ll be honest — it was a creative way to use such a rigid medium. It made for a cool picture.

And that’s the whole point, right? This hyper-strict format of when and how you can share an image inhibits creative content. (Most often, I see shots of someone’s sleepy face on one side and their computer on the other.) Yet it also inspires creative content by forcing you to complete the task daily. The brain naturally wants to break the monotony. You feel inclined to try to make your BeReal different, clever, something that works around the bounds of the software. That compelling drive to be creative is heightened by the fact that all of your friends will see what you post and bear witness to your monotony every day.

This creates an irregular boundary with social media. As we once knew it, it was something that was in our control (to a degree, of course). We could filter, edit, and polish anything before we threw it into the hands of the beast that is Instagram. But now, here’s a platform that encourages the opposite. I mean, the name literally says it.

Where does BeReal fit into the social media universe?

I think that BeReal is a reflection of not only what people of my generation were wanting but also what other apps were unable to accomplish with their formats. Let’s face it; Instagram is intimidating. I myself can’t post to the 500 random people I've met throughout my life any sort of an image without scrutinizing every element of it.

This is what leads to the oddity of all social media: the need to craft a digital identity. But hey, maybe that's a fault within myself. Maybe by viewing social media as this digital landscape in which judgment and likeability are the currency, I was setting myself up for failure.

But after seeing the real-life impact the internet can have, who am I not to put that same intensity on myself? I think BeReal thought they were bypassing this side effect of the internet, but I’ve come to find you cannot make a platform so simple that it is basically rid of all social expectations. There are still social expectations on the app; they're just new ones.

BeReal established that the point of the app is to be casual, personal, and real. It is the only platform in which a blurry, nonsensical shot is not only accepted but expected. But against the backdrop of already-established platforms, it is hard for users to rid themselves of the desire to perform for social media. BeReal just adds extra steps by not letting you know when this performance will need to take place. In this way, we could see a positive real-life impact. The app maybe passively inclines you to go somewhere new, wake up, and actually get dressed, etc.

From my observations, it seems to encourage you to still put on the performance but make it look even more effortless than before. I find this most clear in something I call the “BeReal pose effect.” This pose is created by holding your phone at a notably high angle above your head, making your body comically smaller than your now giant head. It is a naturally unflattering and silly pose, yet it is the perfect vehicle for showing your BeReal friends just how causal you can be. And, as the icing on the cake, you better nail your flattering-yet-unflattering pose on the first go since the app shows everyone how many times you attempted to retake the photo. In the end, the app is fun and lighthearted, yet it is fascinating to ponder these deeper implications.

What does this mean for marketing?

Well, at first glance, it feels almost unusable for brands to market on. But I’m curious, what if this has the potential to set the stage for an amazing campaign? It could only work once or twice —there’s clearly no long-term commercial value to the marketing world.

But picture this: The Kool-Aid man starts a BeReal. Each day, we see the mascot of this brand mimicking the aforementioned causal form of content that the app requires. Juxtaposed against the absurdity of the costume, this would create the perfect form of niche, broken humor this generation can’t get enough of.

TikTok would get wind of it and questions would begin to fly. Did they hire an intern to just sit in the Kool-Aid man costume all day waiting for the BeReal? Do they have secret ties to the company and get tips on when it’s going to go off each day so they can set up the shot?

I can see it so clearly; the internet would have a field day! People doing elaborate math to estimate the time it takes to get in and out of the costume. Old Kool-Aid man actors weighing in here or there. Floods of people running to the app out of sheer curiosity. It could be perfect.

But in actuality, the use is slim to none. By design, this app rejects the notion of curated content (despite users — as is to be expected — finding ways around it). Maybe a big brand could pull a Hail Mary Kool-Aid man fiasco, but I doubt they’d see any real value in it. At the end of the day, this app doesn’t want to be a part of social media marketing. It is too busy answering the calls of younger generations who want to take the severity out of social media.

In time, we’ll see how long it lasts.

The real question

Is BeReal the start of the new norm for the internet? Or is it just a fad that stands no chance against the force of social media giants?

I’d love to hear what you all think. Have you used the app? Do you see these same patterns?

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2 comments on “Hot Take: BeReal Is Confusing”

  1. Super interesting to read your perspective on this. Going to have to bring this up at dinner with my young, college aged friends tonight.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this! It’s nice to know others share an interest in this topic. ~ Anna

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