BeReal, the app that hit the top twenty among free apps recently is one of a slew of products that has people on the fence. While on one hand it taps into an audience's taste for authenticity and control, critics say it could be a part of the problem. While brands look for a good way to engage and entertain their audience, it’s important they are not falling into traps that bring users to them in the first place. 

BeReal’s anti-Instagram's marketing is clear: the app won’t make you famous - it offers an authentic, honest, and ad-free experience, which panders to a change in user behaviour that craves genuine human connection and interaction. The hype around it has been working: since April 1, BeReal has been one of the top 10 most downloaded free social networking apps for iPhones nearly every day.

Although BeReal claims to connect users in a more genuine way, it is still using similar tactics to the social media apps before it: keeping us tethered to our screens (albeit in a more wholesome way). It sends a reminder to post each day, creating a daily user habit that keeps them coming back to the app. The brand's biggest appeal may just be that it isn’t Instagram or Facebook, whose popularity has declined, seeing a dip in monthly users since February.

But is BeReal really promoting authenticity? Like other apps, it plays on people’s FOMO (fear of missing out) and on our desire to instantly share moments online, rather than being in the moment. Users are still consciously thinking about what kind of content they’re sharing and if it’s good enough. They’re also sharing their BeReals to bigger platforms, like TikTok and Instagram. 

The app also capitalises on the post-lockdown trend of people wanting to foster deeper connections and wanting more real relationships. What the rise in popularity of BeReal truly shows us is that as humans, we’re craving authenticity and belonging. This highlights a big shift in user behaviour that brands need to be aware of. 

Even if it may not be possible to be truly authentic on social media (after all, you’re still putting on a performance for your followers) brands can use this knowledge to provide users with what they need now: honesty and transparency. 

As today’s consumers are more wary and less trusting of brands and greenwashing, brands will have to show consumers they actually care. And do this in a way that isn’t just “for the ‘gram” but that is real. Even BeReal’s sharp rise in users suggests that it relied on marketing or ad spend - not just organic adoption - so that even its rise in popularity can be deemed a little untrustworthy.

The rise of apps that offer more to their audiences means that brands can follow suit in a number of ways. Messaging needs to be authentic and experiential, it needs to have value and honesty to gain users. It shouldn’t be nagging or calling for users to return to it all the time or show that it is hungry for minutes spent with the application. There’s no need to entrap users to endless scrolling of half-baked content. 

Being more mindful is vital and an awareness and responsibility for audience mental health and time spent with apps goes a long way to offering an honest product that serves consumers and not just data collection. 

Brands that help audiences feel connected and a part of a community can be more authentic. It’s why Peloton was so successful during the pandemic - yes, it provided a way to exercise without leaving the house but it also focused around fostering a sense of community and connection that we all craved. 

What consumers want now is open and honest conversations. Instead of claiming to promote authenticity and realness, brands need to show empathy for people and most importantly your brand must show that it gives value to your audience’s life and fits in with their lifestyle - not just on their social media persona. When Axe introduced its dogecoin-themed deodorant, for example, it showcased how brands chase to present a certain image they think their audience will like but has no association with how their product is actually used by its consumers. It’s jumping on the cultural bandwagon in a nutshell. 

Though this has worked in the past for brands, it seems like it is no longer sufficient. Brands are now chasing audiences beyond its products - they need to be intertwined in a user’s life. Apple recently became the world’s most valuable brand for this reason. Apart from its easy-to-use and connected products, it also inspired users to discover new things and save them wherever they please. 

For brands to truly foster brand loyalty, they need to show value to a user’s life and to show empathy that isn’t just skin-deep. BeReal might be all the hype today and it will be exciting to see if this is a product that sticks. But its popularity has highlighted that ​​the brands that encourage genuine connections and relationships between users are the ones that are more likely to be a success. It’s no longer a numbers game: when people want a genuine experience, they can afford to be choosy and brands need to keep this in mind.