Poparazzi and BeReal are ushering in a new wave of 'authentic' social media

New social apps are eschewing the norms of traditional platforms.

Austen Ma and Alex Ma

Poparazzi co-founders Austen and Alex Ma want their app to showcase “the real you, by your real friends."

Photo: Daniel Nguyen

Photo-sharing app Poparazzi has some unusual rules: Users can’t post photos of themselves, or post on their own profiles at all. Instead, they can only share on their friends’ profiles. The purpose is to showcase “the real you, by your real friends,” Poparazzi co-founder and CEO Alex Ma told Protocol.

The platform is part of a rising tide of social media apps attempting to catch Gen Z’s attention by eschewing the norms of traditional platforms like Facebook and Instagram. And it’s working.

A fast rise

After launching in the App Store last year, Poparazzi quickly skyrocketed to No. 1. The unexpected and “extremely overwhelming” rise forced it to speed up hiring, expanding quickly from a staff of four to 15, Ma said. Since Poparazzi’s launch, the app has been downloaded 5 million times, with over 100 million photos and videos shared, the company said. Because of how the app works, users tend to sign up in groups, rather than individually, which boosts user numbers.

The app’s main demographic is Gen Z (users must be at least 12 to create an account): Around 95% of Poparazzi’s active users are under 21, and more than 75% are between 14 and 18. Ma attributes this to users actually being drawn to post, rather than lurking or remaining anonymous due to the pressures of making content that’s good enough.

“Instagram and TikTok are not really a place for friends to just be friends with each other anymore,” Ma said. “1% of people are creating content for 99% of people. And then 99% of people don't feel like their content, or their lives, are worth sharing.”

On Poparazzi, you can't post on your own profile — only on your friends' pages.Image: Poparazzi

It’s clear that Gen Z doesn’t want to use the social platforms its parents do. Facebook’s daily active users dipped for the first time at the end of last year (though it recently bounced back slightly). Meanwhile, Poparazzi is gaining fast traction, and photo-sharing app BeReal, which allows users to post just once at a random time of day, has also skyrocketed in popularity, gaining 13.5 million global installs in the App Store and Google Play since June 2021, according to Sensor Tower. BeReal also hit a growth spurt in April, racking up a high of 3.6 million installs during the month.

“Gen Z [doesn't] feel like they have a safe place on the internet to just express themselves authentically without the pressure of getting likes and comments and having content,” Ma said.

Industry attention

Along with gaining the attention of young users, apps that go against the typical social platform grain have also managed to recruit top talent and VC funding. Ma said that Poparazzi was able to recruit employees from Instagram, Snap and Facebook; the company also announced $15 million in series A funding earlier this month.

“The Poparazzi team understand their audience, and want to give Gen Z a platform that speaks to their values and relieves them of their social media fatigue,” said Alexia Tsotsis, founder and managing director at VC firm Dream Machine, which invested in the app. “They got launch right, and at over 5 million downloads, have the momentum and resources they need to build for a future where social is more social and less media.”

BeReal also raised $30 million in funding and reportedly has a valuation of more than $600 million, and relationship-focused messaging platform HalloApp is led by veterans of WhatsApp and Facebook.

Poparazzi is still working on its business model, but similar to HalloApp, which promises to never run ads, advertising isn’t it. As soon as users start seeing an excessive amount of ads on platforms, Ma said, “the product becomes compromised.” Poparazzi may monetize with brand merchandise and events rather than monetize the platform’s users, but those talks are still early days.

Though gaining users is in any social media company’s best interest, Ma doesn’t consider Facebook or Instagram to be a Poparazzi rival. Meta’s platforms are “fighting for the attention economy” because of their ad model, he said, detracting from the apps’ original intention to be tools for connection. Because Poparazzi isn’t fighting for attention in the same way, Ma thinks it’s going to “win in the long term.”

“TikTok, Instagram, Facebook — they serve a very different purpose. But Poparazzi is always going to be a place for friends,” Ma said. “It's a place for friends now, but it'll be a place for friends even five to 10 years from now.”

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