The past few years saw TikTok rise to its fame as people had more time on their hands plagued by the pandemic. The video sharing platform hit a billion active users globally in 2021, placing itself amongst the biggest social networking apps in the world.

In Singapore itself, TikTok’s user base was estimated to amass over 2.09 million users that year, mostly comprised of Gen Zs.

From posting cooking tutorials to comedic takes on social issues, the platform has given Gen Zs a place to express themselves openly. Globally, an average of 61 per cent of TikTok users say that they can be their true selves on TikTok.

The short video format made popular by TikTok has seen the likes of Instagram and Facebook replicate the platform and implement their own short video features, but the performance of these ‘copycat’ features do not come close to TikTok’s success.

In fact, as compared to Instagram’s short video feature, Instagram Reels, TikTok records an average engagement rate that’s six times higher.

But will TikTok continue its reign in the coming years?

Authenticity on social media

TikTok anti-filter trend
Image Credit: Dazed Digital

As with any other social media platform, the usage of beauty filters on TikTok is extremely rampant. Altering your face to suit current beauty trends, be it flawless skin, plump lips or high cheekbones, these filters are reportedly used by nearly 87 per cent of teenagers.

However, despite the popularity of these filters, the usage of beauty filters is often accompanied by a plethora of mental health and self esteem issues.

“I feel constantly pressured to put up a perfect image on social media. More than often, I also find myself comparing my facial features and body type to influencers and celebrities on social media,” said Siti Hajar Samsudin, a 16-year-old secondary school student.

As the concerns surrounding the usage of these face altering filters grow, Gen Zs are stepping up against them and are embracing authenticity.

In fact, in March this year, Gen Z influencers Charli D’Amelio, Brooke Monke and Katie Feeney as well as actress Ashley Tisdale drove a viral trend on TikTok, poking fun at the usage of beauty filters. Dubbed the healthiest trend on the app, the trend sees content creators embrace and celebrate their natural features.

Besides the rejection of beauty filters, Gen Zs also crave other forms of authenticity in different aspects of their digital interactions such as online shopping — which is exactly why TikTok’s latest competitor, BeReal, is giving the app a run for its money.

Creating a sense of belonging online

BeReal
Image Credit: BeReal

Just as the platform’s name suggests, BeReal encourages authenticity — the photo-sharing social media app does not allow the usage of filters and users have no follower counts.

The social media platform was created two years ago but skyrocketed to popularity this year, reaching more than 53 million downloads in both Apple’s App Store and Google Play. In this quarter alone, the app has been downloaded more than any other platform.

BeReal downloads
Surge in downloads of BeReal / Image Credit: Sensor Tower

But how exactly does BeReal work?

Users on the platform are prompted once a day at random to post a photo of whatever they’re currently doing, whether it’s having takeout at home or doing a grocery run, using both their front and back cameras. These photos have to be posted in two minutes — if you’re late, BeReal will notify your friends.

Once users have posted their BeReal for the day, they will be able to browse their friends’ photos and see what they’re up to.

Unlike other social media platforms, however, there’s no option to like other photos. The only way to engage with them is to take a reaction selfie or write a comment.

According to Anna Lomanowska, director of University of Toronto’s digital well-being lab, we seek for belonging and intimacy as humans.

“And we enact that by letting people into our spheres – which is exactly the door BeReal opens. There’s a sense of both belonging in that community, that everyone has dull lives, most of our day-to-day is pretty dull, and validating that experience,” she said.

Agreeing with Anna’s sentiments, Siti said that she can relate more to the content posted by her friends on BeReal. “I don’t feel the need to put up a front — there’s no pressure to be perfect at all times, and I look forward to posting everyday.”

The birth of BeReal copycats

TikTok Now
Image Credit: TikTok

“You know a platform is good when others start copying it,” said Sophia Wong, a 22-year-old student from the Singapore Institute of Management.

Just as TikTok’s features were once copied and integrated into other social media platforms, BeReal’s features have been integrated into apps such as Instagram and even TikTok with the launch of TikTok Now in September — an almost exact replica of BeReal.

TikTok Now can be accessed within TikTok’s platform in the US, but has to be downloaded as a separate app outside the US.

But was the launch of TikTok Now the wrong move for the short video platform?

Once users realised how similar TikTok Now was to BeReal, the platform was met with a lot of backlash.

In fact, most people took to social media platforms such as Twitter to express their confusion and disappointment with TikTok’s new feature. Some even called TikTok out for “shamelessly” copying BeReal.

TikTok Now BeReal
An industry analyst pointing out TikTok’s blatant copying / Image Credit: Screengrab by Vulcan Post
TikTok Now BeReal
A user on Twitter expressing her confusion / Image Credit: Screengrab by Vulcan Post

Besides confusion and disappointment, users have also expressed that “TikTok is beginning to lose its identity”.

“I’m getting bored of social media platforms copying one another — all platforms are starting to look the same to me,” said Yoon Wei Ling, a 21-year-old student from Nanyang Technological University.

Echoing Wei Ling’s sentiments, Sophia voiced out that with platforms now copying each other, borrowing a feature from another social media platform only makes sense if it adds on to how most people are utilising the platform.

“I mainly use TikTok to unwind, and I use BeReal to connect with my friends — its like my own inner circle. I wish platforms would stay niche and focus on their own strengths and purposes instead of destroying their individuality and meshing into one.”

Does this mark the end for TikTok Now?

TikTok BeReal
Image Credit: Ascannio/ Stock.adobe.com

As of writing, TikTok’s copycat version of BeReal is lagging behind in terms of downloads with about 10 million downloads on Google Play Store — about one fifth of BeReal’s total downloads. On Apple’s App Store, the number of downloads of TikTok Now is undisclosed and has a measly number of reviews.

But this doesn’t mean that the platform may fall out.

Companies have always been eyeing their competitors to identify areas they can improve. TikTok Now’s features that replicate BeReal actually come with a couple of other features in addition to BeReal’s current features.

For one, TikTok Now allows for a longer window of posting of three minutes as compared to the two-minute window on BeReal. In addition to photos, TikTok Now also allows you to post 10-second videos.

Besides that, TikTok Now is a feature of a larger platform that offers a number of ways to earn money in the creator economy, providing an incentive to users to utilise the platform in contrast to BeReal, which does not offer any monetisation options. However, BeReal plans to ramp up its monetisation efforts with in app purchases in the future.

These added features may work in favour of TikTok Now, just as Instagram’s reproduction of Snapchat’s “Stories” worked in favour of Instagram.

According to Instagram’s VP of product, Kevin Weil, Instagram saw that its user base could benefit from the integration of “Stories” into the platform and bring people together. In addition to this, the platform also took advantage of the fact that millions of people had already created an enjoyable Instagram feed — there was a built-in audience from day one.

The replication of BeReal could work in the same way for TikTok Now, drawing from its large active user base of one billion people. The features of TikTok Now can also satisfy the Gen Z craving of authenticity.

Meanwhile, BeReal also has its fair share of drawbacks. As the platform is still fairly new, the app is surrounded by bugs such as the inability to add friends, errors with BeReal notifications, and an unsteady interface.

BeReal performance bugs
Image Credit: Bloomberg

The first two weeks of July saw a 254 per cent increase in the number of negative reviews for BeReal’s performance, according to data intelligence platform Apptopia.

The platform’s commitment to provide a real and authentic experience for users may also affect its longevity. For example, BeReal considers paid ads as intrusive, driving away influencers and brands, as well as investors as they are reluctant to invest in a platform that is not profitable.

Hence, while “BeReal’s core premise of a more ‘real’ social media experience has staying power, the app’s current method of implementing that idea may need to evolve,” said Niklas Myhr, a clinical associate professor of marketing at Chapman University.

Only time can tell if BeReal can maintain its growth sustainably. If the platform can sort out its technical bugs and refresh its authentic take on social media, TikTok Now may be in for a rude awakening.

Featured Image Credit: Social Media College

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