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What is Lemon8 and why is it so popular on TikTok?

ByteDance is pushing a lifestyle app in Western social media markets to compete with Instagram. Here's everything you need to know about it.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor
Reviewed by Alyson Windsor
screenshots of Lemon8 For You landing page
Screenshot by Jada Jones/ZDNET

Over the last month, TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, has been pushing its Instagram-like app to US social media scrollers. Lemon8 is a video and photo-sharing social media platform catering to users' interest in food, beauty, wellness, and travel.

Also: How to create your first Lemon8 post

Lemon8 is not a new app; it's just new to US social media users. Still, a week after it blew up, the app is number one in the App Store for lifestyle apps. The number one spot in this category is a big jump from an app that never reached the Top 200 Overall Charts in the US prior to last month, according to TechCrunch.

Also: TikTok bans explained: What to know

Online -- specifically on TikTok -- social media influencers have described the app as if "Instagram and Pinterest had a baby," with each influencer echoing the words of another. And a report from the New York Times confirmed that ByteDance paid influencers and gave them specific guidelines to post on the app and promote the app.

What is Lemon8?

Lemon8 is a video and photo-sharing social media app. It doesn't support vertical video scrolling like TikTok, and the content created on the app usually centers around a specific topic. 

The top trending topics on the app are fashion, beauty, food, wellness, and travel. Under each topic are suggestions, recommendations, get-ready-with-me style videos, and perfectly curated, aesthetically pleasing content. 

Also: Twitter moves free users to the spam folder and makes a risky bet on its future

Fashion influencers on Lemon8 can "tag" where they bought their clothes and how much they cost. Lemon8 is most akin to Instagram in that the content created on the app aims to influence you to buy something to be more similar to your favorite influencer. 

Instagram is notorious for "contrived spontaneity," or the idea that a perfect moment or photo occurred naturally. Spectators are now more aware that most content on Instagram is edited or staged in some way, which has recently driven some users away from the app.

But those who enjoy aesthetically pleasing content can find it on Lemon8, free of the things they don't like about Instagram's interface.

Screenshot of Lemon8's Food 'For You' tab
Screenshot by Jada Jones/ZDNET

Who owns Lemon8?

Lemon8 is owned by ByteDance, the same company that owns TikTok. Lemon8 is ByteDance's attempt at competing with US-based Instagram, an app slowly losing relevance among American users. With the introduction of Lemon8, ByteDance seems hopeful that its connection to TikTok, the most popular app in the US, can influence users to migrate from Instagram.

Also: How to go live on TikTok (and how it can earn you real money)

But if Lemon8 soars in popularity, its fate will be at just as much risk in the US as its sister company TikTok. Lemon8's success in US markets can do one of two things: push creators to lobby politicians to block legislation that would ban TikTok and Lemon8 or encourage the government to act quicker.

Recently, the US government has proposed legislation that would effectively ban Chinese social media sites in the US, citing national security concerns. Last month, US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told NBC News that the House "will be moving forward" with legislation banning apps owned by foreign companies.

Why is Lemon8 so popular?

Lemon8 is a direct competitor of an app that's popular in the East called Xiaohongshu, or Little Red Book, in English. In China, Little Red Book holds a large share of China's social networking and e-commerce market, and Lemon8 hopes to do the same in the West.

Also: Looking for a less toxic TikTok alternative? This could be it

Lemon8 is already popular in Japan and Thailand, where Little Red Book is less dominant in the lifestyle app sphere. Influencers on Lemon8 can link their TikTok and Instagram accounts to broaden their social media reach. There aren't any popular influencers on Lemon8 right now, but many micro-influencers are on the app – influencers with 900-3,000 followers on Instagram or TikTok. 

Most of the posts on Lemon8 have #Lemon8partner at the end of the caption, signaling that Lemon8 paid creators to start posting on the app to manufacture the platform's popularity. The same influencers also took to TikTok to tell their audiences to join Lemon8.

Lemon8 vs. TikTok: Which is better?

Like most social media platforms, both apps allow people to create content that serves different audiences. Rarely is someone who is not a celebrity wildly successful across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. 

Lemon8 leans more toward influencer marketing than TikTok, which leans toward content creation. Like Instagram influencers, Lemon8 influencers will probably be paid by a brand or company to wear their clothes or promote their products to sell a specific aesthetic or lifestyle to audiences. 

Also: The best Twitter alternatives

TikTok creators typically have a niche that they play into to engage their audience. That niche can range from cooking, dancing, comedy skits, educational content, or just showcasing their personality. But TikTok influencers can convince their audience that their content is more natural since it's in video format. 

On TikTok, some creators are paid to market products or market a product to achieve a particular lifestyle. But most TikTok creators make money based on how many views their videos or live streams receive.

What's the creator culture like on Lemon8?

There's a large number of creators on Lemon8 who create "aesthetic" content. This content is perfectly posed, curated, and edited to show only the best parts of this person's life.

But as the app increases in popularity, some creators want people on the app to be authentic with their followers, dissociating from the perfectionist nature of social media. 

Also: ChatGPT is coming to Snapchat. Just don't tell it your secrets

Other creators opt to recreate the content they post on TikTok by creating short videos about topics that fall outside the fashion, beauty, or wellness topics on Lemon8. If the content does well on TikTok, why not feel out the audience on Lemon8?

For now, it seems that big-name creators with millions of social media followers haven't migrated to Lemon8. That could be for a few reasons: Lemon8 won't formally launch in the US until May. The Lemon8 app is currently available for download, but top creators may be gearing up for the official launch.

Can you make money on Lemon8?

Another reason popular creators aren't on Lemon8 could be that it's unclear how creators can monetize their content on the app. Marketers could be hesitant to invest in Lemon8 because of its ties to ByteDance and the volatile relationship the company has with the US government. 

Also: Facebook will just create your stories for you

Lemon8 is in its infancy but has the potential to be a prominent contender in the US social media market. Some creators hope that being an early adopter will give them an edge in the app's monetization policy once it officially launches. 

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