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Are Colleges Ready to BeReal? 

Header image: are colleges ready to bereal?

If there is anything constant in social media — it is the rise and fall of platforms. You may have tried one of these in the last decade. Peach, Clubhouse, Meerkat, Vine, Ello. I could go on.

I try to be pretty particular when I bring an app to the attention of my clients and digital community. I’m not saying I’m a futurist, more like a digital explorer, but I was shining the light early on about Musical.ly which was later purchased by TikTok. And we know how popular that app is right now. 

As we kick off the Fall 2022 semester, I’d like to talk about one app that has left all the frills and filters behind. BeReal. Although it launched in 2020, it hit the no.1 spot in Apple’s App Store in July 2022 and has now been downloaded 28 million times. 

Tweet from @Codishaa: "BeReal has gone from an unknown name to the #1 app in the US App Store, and in the process, has been downloaded more than Instagram in the US in July - for the first time. Question is, will it sustain itself?. Tweet is also linked out to an article on appfigures.com.
Tweet from @MarshaCollier: BeReal is the app challenging Instagram's pursuit of perfection. Blowing up on university campuses, the app gives users a simultaneous randomized two minute daily window to upload a @bereal_app which uses both your front & rear camera. #techradio. The tweet has a screenshot of 2 BeReals.

BeReal is a social media app that notifies users once a day to post a photo. Not just one photo, but actually two. You can take a photo simultaneously with the front and back cameras. The app encourages users to “BeReal” by taking a photo of the moment they are currently in.

The catch? The notification comes at a different time every day and you have two minutes to get your post up once you open the app. That’s right — only two minutes! You’ll only see your friends’ photos if you post your own. If you miss the notification, the app will still let you post the next time you open the app, but it will mark it as late. 

(Spoiler alert — these notifications were what turned me off of this app.)

Some users hope the notification comes up as they’re doing something exciting, like this user who was hoping to post during commencement. 

How is BeReal Different From Other Platforms?

All screenshots from bere.al/en

BeReal is focused on an authentic connection. On the home page, it says “Your Friends for Real.” 

They’re trying to break the mold of other social media platforms that have become full of curated moments,  and at times, inauthentic posts. On this app, there is no post scheduling or tagging. You can still post a caption and comment, but there are no likes on the platform.  You can, however, react with Realmojis – also known as a “custom emoji” that replicates a real emoji using the user’s face and body expression. So instead of sending a thumbs-up emoji, you can send a photo of yourself holding your thumb up. You can store Realmojis to be able to react quickly, or you can take what they call an “Instant Realmoji” which is a literal, real-time reaction.

What Are the Challenges of BeReal?

Chris Stedman, author of IRL: Finding Our Real Selves in a Digital World, told NPR “One of the big challenges people feel on social media is I’m seeing everybody else’s highlight reel, but I’m experiencing the fullness of my own life with all of the mundane stuff. To be able to get this reminder that everyone else’s lives largely are made up of mundane moments too, I can definitely see some value in that.” 

Do you hear your students reflecting a similar sentiment about social media? Or maybe you do too.

BeReal is popular amongst teens and young adults (many times referred to by Generation Z) because they quite literally stop what they’re doing to post on BeReal. On nearly every flight I was on this summer, I saw numerous passengers on the app. 

But, is this something full-time communications professionals or campus leaders can build a strategy around? You never know when the notification is coming, and you cannot upload a photo from your camera roll, so it’s always an ‘in-the-moment’ shot. 

Andrew Cassel, senior social strategist at Middlebury College shares “It’s not made for your professional work.” Time will tell if it’s just a fad, but for now, the what some would call ‘boring’ feeds are refreshing amongst college students. 

Earlier this year, it trended on campuses and Georgetown University junior Ben Telerski told InsideHigherEd it’s “a casual Instagram.” When he first heard about the app, he wasn’t convinced. He’s since changed his mind. 

Students across several colleges and universities have reported the rise of BeReal on their campuses. In fact, BeReal is currently recruiting college students to become ambassadors in order to create a college presence.

The Higher Ed BeReal Reality Check 

Let’s Be Real. Does anyone have time for another social media account to manage? Does this platform even make sense as a campus account, considering the timing of posts and structure of the app? Where will you be when that notification pings and you’ve got two minutes to hopefully not just take another photo of you at your desk? 

According to one BeReal user in the #HigherEdSocial Facebook Group, she’s seen the notification come through as late as 11:30 p.m. and as early as 9 a.m. This feature may make it difficult for schools to use this app, since notifications are pushed at random times every day.

Things to consider before joining:

  • Is the person who’s going to run the account willing to be on at all times?
  • Would this be better suited for a person/administrator vs. a school account?
  • Is it worth having a group of students run the account vs. a professional staff member?

Cassel suggests takeovers may be the way to use the platform right now, but there’s no toggle feature, so a person would need to log in and out in order to use the app. 

“No taking a photo to color correct and share carefully later. No clutter of hashtags with calls to action, and — as of right now — no ads,” Cassel said. “It’s people, doing things, living normal boring lives. And that’s a joy to see.”

Maybe this real type of content is exactly what your community needs and wants? But still, can you pull it off? 

Do Campuses (or campus leaders) Belong on BeReal?

The answer to this question will be found in trying. So, I’ve got four suggestions for you at this point, from the most basic branding to those looking to explore and experiment. 

  1. Reserve your branded username (just in case).
  2. Ask your students about the app: You can survey students, student leaders or use the polls features on Twitter/Instagram/LinkedIn to ask your current social media audience if they’re using the app and how they’re using the app.
  3. Download and explore the platform as a user. Note that you must post in order to see other’s daily posts.
  4. After using it, think about how you’re experiencing the app and if it makes sense from a brand perspective (the university) vs. a people perspective (campus leader).

Speaking of a campus leader, the chancellor of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith’s Terisa Riley now has an individual BeReal account.

During the university’s first-year welcome event, CubCamp, chancellor Riley shared a motivational message about getting involved and investing in yourself.She also tells students where they can find her on social media. “I’m on Facebook, if you’re old like me,” she jokes, “I’m on Instagram, even TikTok!” 

In 2021, TikTok got wild applause, and though the 2022 students clapped, grinned, and pulled their phones out, imagining their Chancellor on TikTok. This year, the crowd of 300 students also yelled back “What’s your BeReal!?!”She gave a quick glance off stage, and said, “I’ll be on there tonight!” 

Upon exiting the stage her communications director, Rachel Putman, had BeReal pulled up to show her an example. An hour later, Riley posted her first BeReal, (and set her RealMojis.) Camp leaders sent the follow link in their group chat, and the university shared it on Instagram, along with the all-camp photo.

Screenshot of Terisa Riley's BeReal post of the UAFS campus and her smiling near a fountain.

Now, does every campus need an administrator with a BeReal? Probably not. But it’s important to know about the platform, and know that the students are on it. Literally, students were asking for it! 

Another way campus leaders can be present on the app, isn’t actually having an account, but being willing and ready to make an appearance in a student’s BeReal post that day. 

Exhibit A, below. Here, a student from Roanoke College who managed to snag a photo with Dr. Frank Shushok, Jr. (Roanoke College’s President), reposted her BeReal post of the day on her Instagram story, thanking Dr. Shushok for taking the photo with her and speaking to her class. 

Kudos to Dr. Shushok for resharing it in his IG story!

Screenshot of Roanoke College President Dr. Frank Shushok, Jr. appearing in a student's BeReal and the student sharing it on her Instagram story

To Be or Not to BeReal

As digital strategists, whether you are a social media manager or a campus leader, it’s up to each individual to decide whether it makes sense for the campus or a campus administrator to have a BeReal account. I would say if you enjoy exploring and experimenting — go with it. But as I tell leaders, if it is stressing you out (especially those pesky BeReal notifications that turned me off), log off!

The good news is this is an unfiltered app that doesn’t require advanced strategy – it’s a simple post a day of a moment in time. The bad news is, there may not always be moments to capture, since the time of the notification varies. In that case, you can opt to not post that day. 

The ultimate goal of digital leadership strategy, for people and values-based brands like campuses is literally to be real. Be honest. Be accessible. Be genuine. Maybe this app is a good reminder of that — no matter the platform.

P.S. Writing this may have re-inspired me to … BeReal.

Screenshot of Dr. Josie Ahlquist on BeReal, showcasing a post of her outside looking at greenery

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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