You could argue that the concept of reality has lost all meaning. Reality can be virtual, augmented or extended. It can be television carefully orchestrated behind the scenes by producers. If reality can be curated, is anything actually real?

For years, social media has been dominated by aesthetic. Instagram grids morphed from a product feature into an aspiration—something you could form into the image of your ideal self, life or brand. Facebook feeds went from stream of consciousness to uplifting updates. LinkedIn posts weren’t just about your professional experience, they were about your entire professional outlook. Terms like “personal brand” became part of the lexicon. Gen Z watched it all happen in real-time, growing up in a reality that wasn’t quite real, but it wasn’t fake either. People took those trips and made those life changes. They just edited out the inconvenient details that make life, well, real.

It’s clear that Gen Z isn’t entirely comfortable with that version of reality. Across platforms, young people have decided to share it all, from messy break-ups to professional failures. These posts are engaging for the viewer but seem to be equally cathartic for the poster. It’s a different version of personal brand.

But social media trends shift constantly. Should platforms build themselves around the current moment? That’s the question behind BeReal.

What is BeReal?

BeReal is a social media platform built around spontaneity. A prompt goes out to everyone at the same time. You have two minutes to take a picture of yourself and your surroundings—and if you don’t, the app lets your friends know.

Instead of a post time, it shows how long you took to respond to the notification. You can only add people you know directly. There’s no algorithm dictating whose posts you see, and there isn’t much to scroll through. Two minutes can also make up your total time spent on the app, a welcome change for social media fatigued users. The result is an app that’s reminiscent of past eras but also distinctly grounded in today. BeReal has risen to prominence quickly, with over 7 million global downloads as of May 2022. There’s clearly something to their methods.

Context is key

The fact that BeReal feels different than other apps is by design. The app is inherently reactionary. Even the name suggests that other platforms (and their users) aren’t being entirely genuine. Two minutes isn’t enough time to put together an aesthetic. It’s unfiltered in a world that’s overwhelmingly filtered.

But it’s not entirely clear if people are ready to move away from posting their highlight reel. Scrolling through BeReal’s Discovery page, you might find people posting pictures of their festival tickets 14 hours late. Sure, the photo was taken within two minutes, but there’s a strategy at play.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some photos seem a little too chaotic. The chances that the random notification came out at the exact moment your kitchen caught fire are pretty low. Saving your daily post until something noteworthy happens isn’t exactly real.

What goes around comes around (including user preferences)

Whenever new social media apps come into play, there’s always a question of longevity. We’ve seen it over and over again, a newcomer hits the stage and more established platforms scramble to introduce its functionality into their ecosystems. There is no first mover advantage in social. The spontaneity of BeReal could easily be adopted into other platforms (and already is).

But the functionality doesn’t seem to be what’s driving people to BeReal. The app interface is minimal, with black backgrounds and white sans serif fonts. It could easily be mistaken for a medium fidelity wireframe. The magic of BeReal lies in how it bucks expectations. That’s what’s driving people to download.

How much staying power does this definition of “reality” have?

Tastes shift over time. Right now, it’s trendy to post the lows but we could easily swing back around to highly curated feeds in a few years. Fundamentally, BeReal just has a different answer to the question that all social platforms pose: how do you want people to see you? Only time can tell us if people will keep liking their answer.

Interested in learning more about trends in social media? Check out the Sprout Social Index™, where we break down marketer and consumer opinions on the changing social landscape.