There is money to be made if you can understand the Gen-Z audience and build something they will stick around for. Sadly, these days, building products to make people stick around seems to be a thing of the past. And it's doubly difficult when your audience itself has a hard time sticking around!
Just the perils of getting too used to novelty and dopamine hits, I guess.
Finstas, photo dumps, and endless story posts are quite a sight, especially if like me, you too are a millennial feeling like a boomer on Instagram.
(In case you don't know, Finsta is short for Finstagram, or “fake Instagram,” referring to people making a separate private account along with their public-facing account. The aim is to keep this account for posting the more intimate — and dare I say — the ‘cancellable’ variety of opinions, memes, and content and keeping it open only for close friends. Finstas allow one to be real with a few chosen ones, but on Instagram. Sounds oxymoronic, I know.)
However, my sense is that Gen-Z prefers an “un-glamourized” account of their life (ironically, of course) and is an irony-poisoned generation that can see through the facade and pretension of social media.
Can't blame them now, can I? They grew up getting pummeled by ads and marketing mischief from all directions. Everyone is now just waiting for a sales pitch to come their way.
“Any moment now, any moment... Hah! There it is! The sales pitch! Knew it!”
Naturally, an app like BeReal checks all the boxes of an ideal social media platform for a Gen-Z user.
Well, at least at first glance. But as we'll see, not quite.
If you haven't heard of it (such a boomer!), BeReal is a photo-sharing app that was founded in 2020 and gained popularity among college students.
One of the app's unique features is that it prompts everyone at a random time in the day, asking them to capture a photo that has a view from both their front and rear phone cameras. The point is to encourage them to share authentic and genuine moments.
A report by New York Times articulates the difference between Instagram and BeReal —
“If Instagram had become a catalogue of cosmetic enhancements and painstakingly arranged tableaus, BeReal’s feed full of limp salads, messy apartments and unflattering selfies appeared an attractive refuge.”
By July 2022, BeReal had soared to the top of the iPhone app store.
In 2021, the app had only gained momentum among French university students. But only a year later, it crossed the Atlantic and found its way into the USA.
For viral growth, the startup led with a college ambassador program.
“We're creating a college presence that embodies our brand and serves as an extension of our full-time team. BeReal college ambassadors host parties, manage a marketing budget, identify key moments on campus for us to get involved, represent BeReal's mission and execute creative activations. Our ambassadors get to be part of the next unicorn start-up, receive mentorship from our global team of experienced entrepreneurs, and enjoy great pay!”
These ambassadors were carefully curated, based on the influence they wielded within the campus. An interview with one ambassador read:
“Simran Athavale, a freshman and BeReal ambassador at the University of Texas in Austin, said she was recently tasked with handing out slices of pizza and a can of Celsius energy drink for every download.
Athavale said she was paid $450 for doing six rounds of tabling, and the company offered bonuses of $100 or $300 amounts if an ambassador collected the most downloads in a month.”
“‘I'm in a fraternity ... that was my main help as an ambassador.’
Tiffanie Johnson, an ambassador for Old Dominion University, told Insider that in her interview process she was asked how much of a "pull" she has on campus, specifically with various student organizations.
‘My first task was to get contact information for every sorority and fraternity — I was compensated for that,’ Johnson said.”
Although BeReal positions itself as a more genuine and less ostentatious social media platform than its forerunners, the company appears to be searching for youthful campus representatives with extensive networks and clout.
Not so real, then, eh?
See, sponsoring parties across college campuses is how apps like Tiktok and Bumble gained their first users in the USA. So the marketing technique isn’t anything new, and it seems to work well.
However, it does seem to be at odds with BeReal’s messaging and positioning in the market, doesn't it?
So, I decided to do a general pulse check via what BeReal users were saying on Reddit.
Here’s what I found —
“Some people seem to have a bazillion of friends, but that would be much too busy for me. I prefer to have a nice small interactive circle!”
“... it's more of an app for closer friends because you don't want to share you're daily life with everyone (I imagine) so your friends list will be comparatively smaller than normal. I still have a scroll through my suggestions list once a week to see if there's anyone new to add”
But we already have Finstas and Instagram's close friends feature and for this! So, not coming across posts from strangers doesn’t really make the cut for having a separate app altogether, at least for me.
Perhaps, the issue is with our thirst for validation. Maybe the way Instagram encourages everyone to gain clout, increase followers and rake in engagement is “toxic.”
But I found out that even this doesn't seem to be the case.
Looks like designing against validation-seeking is actually exacerbating the behaviour further.
What's worse is those who are really being real on the app (like it was intended to be used) feel penalized for being real!
“Since I've been regularly using BeReal, I feel like my FOMO has only gotten worse. Now, instead of finding out my friends made plans without me via Instagram every other week, I can see it in real time almost daily.”
“I had to remove my girl off BeReal because she would get infuriated seeing my pictures whenever I did anything that she wasn't aware of. It didn't matter if it was meeting friends or if I took a walk to the local park, if I hadn't explicitly informed her beforehand, she would feel betrayed seeing it. She also got infuriated whenever a woman reacted to one of my BeReals and would ss (screenshot) the reactions and stalk them.”
Looks like people don't really like others being real with them. Oh well.
“tbh, I might delete the app. I try to post on time, but most of the people I know take their pictures 30 hrs late if they know there will be a more exciting moment to share then. Today I saw my friend in class putting on mascara just to look better in her BeReal late post. PLEASE, BeReal developers, if you ever see this post, make it so that people on your app cannot post more than 1 hour after the notification.”
The issue here seems to be that although the rules tell you that you have only two minutes after you receive the notification to upload your photograph, the app makes it possible to post a few hours later when you are in a more presentable setting.
But from a business point-of-view, doing such a thing makes sense for BeReal. Because, just think about it: how many people check their notifications within two minutes of receiving them? Not checking and responding to the notification within such a short span of time would mean the platform wouldn't get content from you at all.
In a way, BeReal's design works against itself.
And then there’s also the issue of monotony with being really real fr fr.
“I have to say that I do it (posting hours after receiving the notification) on purpose too. Posting a bereal from work everyday is boring. If I know I will be doing something more interesting later in the day, I wait and take the bereal then. As a person that does something interesting only about once a week, I would like to catch that on bereal, rather than take another work photo that day. For this reason I would actually welcome the feature of "early bereal", the opposite of "late bereal".
I don't really take the app as "be real" but as "one photo every day."”
Yeah, everyday posts of people in front of their laptops? I’ll pass. And unsurprisingly, the users on the app have started dropping too.
The harsh truth here is that no one likes being really real, or seeing others be real.
We are too conditioned to post our curated, manicured lives on social media — even if we actively intend on making them look messy.
I call it performative authenticity.
With virtually no revenue streams from advertisements or other sales avenues, BeReal will have to be real about what its business prospects are and wake up to realize this harsh fact about human nature.
See, regardless of how well-intentioned you may be as a founder, you cannot impose your ideal of the world on your customers.
Unless you craft a product so good that users gravitate towards it and stick to it in the long run, you have to design for what the user is willing to spend either their time, money, or energy on.
Otherwise, you’re either dreaming or delusional.
Or, worse — you want millions of downloads and huge time spent on the app every day but are unaware of what the masses really want.
Maybe you think my opinion on this is too real and the criticism is unnecessary. But the market, your customers, and the sensibilities of people shouldn’t be taken for granted.
(Unless you planned on it being like any other fad from the very beginning — which would be nothing new, considering most startups these days.)
Products that disregard the fundamentals of human nature never work.
And the reality is that people don't want real. Real is boring. It's chopping wood and carrying water over and over again, every single day.
People don't want true authenticity, only a fabricated and palatable version of it. Authenticity that looks and feels consistently authentic is rarely authentic because real authenticity is usually quite unappealing and messy.
Now I'm sure there is a large set of customers who love the idea of being real, in principle. But there are only a handful who realize what being real actually entails. Based on whatever I saw, I only found that the few who were being real often ended up getting penalized for it.
Now let me suffer my sed boi hours in silence. And no, I won't be posting about it anytime soon on social media or being real. I've got an image to maintain.