Let’s Get Real about BeReal

Higher ed insiders debate whether a brand wasteland equates to institutional opportunity on a growing social media platform.

8 minutes
By: Jon-Stephen Stansel, Andrew Cassel
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The new photo sharing app BeReal is growing rapidly with younger users, and many universities are starting to wonder how they might be able to use it. The app sends its users a daily alert at a randomly chosen time to post a photo of whatever they are doing in the moment. Users then have a two-minute window to snap a photo that uses both front and rear facing cameras to capture a selfie and a photo of what the user is viewing.

Launched in France and sweeping the world, BeReal had 2.9 million active daily users in April 2022 (TikTok has 50 million daily users, so BeReal has room to grow). The app is still considered niche, with an audience higher education marketers and communicators are always looking to reach: 16- to 22-year-olds.

BeReal is an app growing in popularity with an important demographic, but it is not made for professional work. Creating an institutional presence on the platform will take more time and work than institutions have ever done for a social media platform, which is one of the reasons it is so popular. Right now, higher ed is not there screaming for attention in people’s feeds; it is a brand wasteland. 

Jon-Stephen Stansel and Andrew Cassel debate the potential of this wasteland, with Stansel cautious of jumping in too soon and Cassel in favor of higher ed institutions exploring the newest social media platform.

Should Higher Ed Comms Teams Use BeReal?

JSS: Like just about everything in marketing, my answer is that it depends. University marketing teams should, as always, put goals before tools. Does BeReal align with your university’s goals? Does it move the needle closer to achieving them? Or are you just hopping on the latest trendy social platform? Additionally, BeReal is still in its infancy. Even larger brands outside of higher ed are struggling to see how they can use it — and many are wondering if the app will go the way of Peach, Ello and Google+ into the dustbin of failed social platforms. With Instagram and TikTok already building BeReal-type features into their apps, there’s a good chance BeReal won’t last long. 

AC: We should always pay attention to anything that our communities are using to connect and share with each other. We play a large role in their lives, in a strange borderland between parent, friend and ruthless rule enforcer. As crisis communicators, we should always be on the lookout for sparks that could become PR wildfires. As marketers, we should use every tool to stave off the effects of dipping enrollment and weakening trust in higher ed. BeReal isn’t going to prevent budget cuts. However, it is a platform on which students are sharing their stories, one captured moment at a time, and that authentic content can play a part in our work differentiating our place of higher education from all the other ones out there. 

Do You Have the Time and Resources?

JSS: University social media managers already have a lot on their plates overseeing their institutions’ social media efforts. Do we really need to add management of yet another social network to their already impossible to-do lists? On its surface, BeReal seems to be a low lift, but like any social network, it requires time and effort to maintain properly. Social media managers will need to promote the account, organize student and faculty takeovers, reply to comments and perform several other duties to make the account successful. Will other duties be removed from the social media manager’s job description to make way for this one? Will a student worker be hired to assist? Will the social media manager be compensated for taking on a new platform? There are more questions than answers at this point, which all need to be considered.

AC: Time and resources are choices. We choose the places we share, the time we spend, the content we create. Effective use of BeReal for higher education means making time to develop community; reaching out to student ambassadors, staff influencers and faculty superstars; and building a network of people that can sustain a BeReal presence. As social media managers, our roles are changing. What used to be a job curating and creating content is now one curating and creating community.  The time spent on developing the correct resources, such as the students who have graduated and the faculty that bring life to your campus, will create a deep well to access for BeReal content. With care and a clear strategy, it could be a place that’s more worth your time and effort than other platforms that may have lessened in importance. Check your metrics, check your mission, this platform may be a good choice for you.

Can You Be Always On?

JSS: Notifications to “Be Real” can come at any time. Personally, I’ve seen some as early as 8 a.m. and as late as 11 p.m. Although you can post late, it’s not truly in the spirit of the app. Your post is labeled as late and loses much of the authenticity associated with the platform. Should your social media manager be required to post after hours? What would they even post? Do your students want to see what social media managers have for dinner? Additionally, Be Real takes photos from both the front and rear cameras, taking a selfie of the photographer with every post. Does your social media manager want to be that visible to your audience? Do you really want them to be? It’s true that you can do student and faculty takeovers and have them answer the notifications to “Be Real” — but again, does anyone really need to see what your students and faculty are up to at 11 p.m.? What’s the value for your school in that?

AC: You can’t always be on. That’s why the community support for this platform is essential. The beauty of BeReal is its slow burn. One photo captured at a random moment in the day doesn’t seem like much. Then, after a few months on the app, you visit your memories page on BeReal, and it’s truly stunning how accurately it portrays your life. For our marketing and communications work, a year’s worth of BeReal takeover content will provide a realistic view of what student life is like at our institutions. You don’t have to always be on, but you will have to set up a sustainable framework with ambassadors, influencers and collaborators from across your college, university, department, center, office, what have you. Like all community building tools, you become the moderator rather than creator. You’re not always on, but one of your collaborators will be.

A year’s worth of BeReal takeover content will provide a realistic view of what student life is like at institutions.  Like all community building tools, the social media manager becomes the moderator rather than creator.

 

Does Your Audience Actually Want You There?

JSS: All too often, it feels like universities are chasing GenZ on social media. There’s a huge desire to be “where the kids are.” Although BeReal is growing with this demographic, we need to ask, “Do they want us there too?” With all the other ways for students to get information from their universities, are they actually going to BeReal so we can interact with them there too? Or are we merely placating our own insecurities of not being able to reach our younger audiences on social media?

AC: Let’s be very, very real here. Our audiences don’t want us anywhere on social media with them. We just kind of barge in there and hope they don’t mind too much. We measure engagement as a metric in a rather desperate attempt for external validation for our presence on any platform. I shared a photo, do you like it? Here’s a link, do you want to read it? The constant call to action of “Check out…,” which is maybe 30% of social postings from brands, reeks of desperation for attention. Of course, you want them to check it out. You’re posting it. You don’t have to say any more. So, no, they don’t want us there. It hasn’t stopped us before, and we shouldn’t let it stop us now. If the platform aligns with your institution’s brand and communications strategy and if “authentic” is anywhere in those strategy documents, developing and maintaining a team of BeReal collaborators is a tool that will serve you well.

Do You Have Clear Goals or Just FOMO?

JSS: Higher ed is often guilty of “shiny new object syndrome,” hopping on to the latest trend without really any planning or clear goals. Be sure to ask exactly why you’re creating a BeReal account. Is it because it helps you achieve a goal that you’d otherwise be unable to achieve without it? Or is it because you’re worried your institution will be left out if you don’t?

AC: A shiny new object grabs attention for a reason. Follow your instincts. Download the platform. Try it out for a few weeks. Sense the vibe. See what it’s like. Experience the calm and refreshing feeling that comes from scrolling your BeReal Discovery feed. Goals and strategies can, and should, be realigned when new tools are available. As much as there is “shiny new object syndrome” in higher ed, there’s an equal risk of “this is how we’ve always done it syndrome.” Ask your admissions team, they’ll tell you something’s got to change to reach new audiences and connect with students. Fear can be a good motivator. If you fear you are missing out by not being on BeReal, explore that fear. It may lead to a platform that builds community and strengthens recruiting efforts. 

Final Take Away

JSS: Although BeReal may have some use for certain universities, staff or departments, I don’t think this app is quite ready for campuses to start creating accounts. Unless you have time and resources to spare, the time of social media managers would be best spent elsewhere. Because — let’s “BeReal” — they have enough to do as is.

AC: All platforms, no matter how old or mainstream, “may” have some use for “certain” places. Some of them may no longer be as useful or relevant as they have been in the past. In the early 2010s, dozens of articles just like this one were about how Instagram was a place that the kids were, that we didn’t belong and that our time was better spent elsewhere. Now, we can’t imagine higher ed social media without it. BeReal may never be Instagram, but it is different. If legacy social media platforms aren’t agents for systemic change in higher ed, it’s our responsibility to keep trying to find new platforms that could be.

 

Jon-Stephen Stansel

Jon-Stephen Stansel

Contributor

Jon-Stephen Stansel is the Digital Media Specialist for the University of Central Arkansas and is a social media professional with almost decade of experience managing and creating content for higher education, small business and government social media accounts. He has worked for Texas State University and the Texas Department of Transportation, as well as consulting for many small businesses. In addition, he has taught courses in social media management and presented at many national and international conferences. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Radio and Television Production and a Master’s degree in English both from Arkansas State University.

Andrew Cassel

Andrew Cassel

Contributor

Andrew Cassel has been creating and curating social media content for higher ed since 2011. Cassel speaks regularly about social media content at conferences and symposiums. Cassel was awarded a best in track Red Stapler and is a five-time winner of Aurora Awards of Excellence from the Public Relations Society of America – Alaska. In 2019, he was a host for Higher Ed Live – Marketing Live. His paper based on his HEWeb 2019 session was published in the spring 2021 Journal of Education Advancement & Marketing. Cassel is currently the Senior Social Strategist and Content Producer at Middlebury College.


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