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BeReal is the #1 Social Networking App on the Apple App Store, and ninth in “free social apps” on google play. Between March and July, BeReal saw 85% of its total lifetime downloads reach 20.2 million, according to data.ai. The platform has found popularity beyond the students it originally attracted, following the trajectory of Snapchat, Facebook and others.

But BeReal focuses on close friends, just like Facebook and Instagram decided to bury them. The global success of TikTok, which vehemently calls itself an entertainment app rather than social media, takes social media companies away from friends and directs them to curated content. BeReal doesn’t want to be like any of them. But what if it’s necessary to survive?

BeReal declined to comment for this story, so it’s unclear what their plans are. In response to an interview request, an investor told Protocol that CEO Alexis Barreyat “asked us not to share anything regarding the company” and then sent a screenshot of BeReal’s position in the App Store. Another person close to the BeReal team said the company is trying to keep a cool head, staying focused on the product rather than airing its plans too publicly.

With plans obscured, it’s unclear what features, if any, BeReal will introduce as it grows. But social media pundits told Protocol that although BeReal is now filling a valuable niche, it will likely need to reiterate its vision for long-term success.

“In a way, asking what I think is going to happen with BeReal is a bit like asking how long I think a certain icebreaker will have at the start of every meeting,” Coye said. Cheshire, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley. “Eventually, people will get tired of it.”

The future of social media, according to social media

At its core, social media is about connection, and there are countless ways to connect. With BeReal, people connect by posting a front and back photo once a day at a random time chosen by the app, within two minutes. Users can’t see their friends’ photos until they take one themselves. Cheshire calls this the “gamification of the way to be social”. Humans have a real need to be social, to share information, and to bond emotionally. Social media companies are responding to this need, but they’ve also found ways to capitalize on it.

“Why are we building social media in the first place?” said Cheshire. “It’s largely because companies, and this is not a bad thing, see a financial incentive to capitalize on people’s need to be social.”

The future of social media, from the perspective of social media companies, is more about what will keep users coming back to their platforms than what will help people socialize better, easier, and perhaps even more meaningfully. . This is why Meta, instagram and Snapchat have pivoted so many times. TikTok, the most app downloaded worldwide, quickly engulfs users with a highly addictive algorithm filled with content from creators they don’t know. Instagram is also moving in this direction, despite a temporary reduction of recommended posts after pressure from high profile users like Kylie Jenner. A video from Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri last month shows the company’s dedication to the recommendation algorithm.

“We want to do our best for creators, especially small creators,” Mosseri said. “We consider recommendations to be one of the best ways to help them reach new audiences and grow their following.”

However, not all social media companies abandon their close friends in favor of creators and algorithms. Clubhouse, even if it’s lost in popularity since launching in 2020, thinks small social communities are its next big thing. Clubhouse is rolling out a new feature called “Houses”: smaller audio rooms that look like “private hallways for your favorite people”. In a tweet about “Houses,” Clubhouse CEO Paul Davison said the best social experiences are “small and organized.”

Another new social platform, Niche, lets people connect according to their common interests. “If you’re connecting people who have hobbies or interests or something in common, that might actually lead to a better social media experience than just connecting people who went to school together or are family members,” co-founder Zaven Nahapetyan told Protocol in an earlier interview.

Where does that leave BeReal?

The arena for a close friends-only social media platform is wide open, especially if Instagram and TikTok are ditching friends in favor of creator-based algorithmic feeds. BeReal’s next step could offer a clue as to whether sharing with close friends is something users think they want or something they Actually want to. Herd, for example, bet that users wanted a “less toxic” social media experience. But it’s struggling to get funding and stopped developing its app as a result.

“Where do teenagers or students see their friends? asked Nikita Bier, founder of the now defunct app called tbh and investor in BeReal. “I think we’re at an inflection point for another app to own that vertical.”

Maybe BeReal doesn’t need to conquer the world to stay popular. Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research at the Pew Research Center, said the next generation of social media users aren’t sticking to one platform. They are increasing the number of platforms they use, and each network tends to have its own focus. In that case, BeReal could remain an addition to the list of platforms people use every day.

“Sometimes they stray from things they used to do, or just drop things they used to do,” Rainie said of user habits. “But in most cases they just let that stuff sit there, and they move on or add to their repertoire.”

Adam Blacker, director of content and communications at Apptopia, agreed that BeReal could thrive under the usual social media regime. Achieving any level of TikTok success is “insane and requires playing with the human brain,” Blacker said. But BeReal could be satisfied and still be able to monetize through ads or in-app purchases, with a less dependent user base.

Sierra Moore, creative director of influencer marketing firm Open Influence, said as BeReal grows and expands beyond college-age users, the platform will need to adapt accordingly. . She said that as users grow in audience by adding more friends or sharing their BeReal posts on other platforms, they might start to move away from posting “raw and real” content to attract even more eyeballs.

BeReal users are already running out of close friends to add and are starting to add free acquaintances, Bier said. But he insists it’s possible to create a lasting app for close friends. He’s also an investor in Locket, a sort of competitor to BeReal where people send photos to friends that automatically update in an iPhone widget. It’s primarily aimed at couples, but Bier acknowledged that expanding to other types of relationships is crucial to attracting more engagement and users. He compared it to Snapchat’s launch of Stories: rather than sending photos directly to close friends, people were able to post updates to their wider social networks.

“I’d be curious to see what the second act is, the ‘Stories’ of BeReal,” Bier said. “Right now, your photos are going out to your whole social graph. So maybe they’re going the other way and focusing on messaging or sending to individuals or things like that.

If BeReal ends up going down the mega-platform route, it could also start attracting big brands. Open Influence’s Moore said the brands’ attitudes toward BeReal are similar to their initial approach to TikTok: hesitant and suspicious, then urgent and necessary. Brands had to learn that it’s okay to post unpolished content on TikTok, and they might need to learn the same about BeReal.

“I feel like it could be a similar development [on BeReal],” she said. “We’re definitely open and hopeful we can find a brand to partner with to try it out.”

BeReal faces the same threats as any fledgling social platform: its death knell could come from one of the biggest platforms. instagram has already integrated BeReal and Twitter’s signature front-to-back photo format thrown circle for users to share tweets with a smaller crowd. But Bier, who worked at Facebook after the company acquired (and quickly shut down) tbh, said he was skeptical that real copycat features would appear anytime soon.

While users won’t know how BeReal is holding up against the current landscape for some time, UC Berkeley’s Cheshire is encouraging people to think bigger when it comes to the future of social media. Platforms are naturally leading the charge in shaping the way people interact on the internet. But really, what it looks like depends on the users themselves.

“Why do we have individual companies or platforms versus, say, a protocol?” Cheshire asked. “We are limited in our imagination by the development of technologies that we already have.”

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